An alleged Turkish drone strike in northeastern Syria on August 23 severely injured Delila Agit, a reporter for the women-led Kurdish television station Jin TV, and killed her driver, Najm el-Din Faisal Haj Sinan.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Agit’s car was struck as she traveled to cover a ceremony commemorating the victims of another Turkish drone strike: Qamishlo Canton Co-Chair Yousra Derwish, Qamishlo Canton Deputy Co-Chair Leyman Shouish, and Syriac Union Party member Firat Touma.
Kurdish women’s organizations and media workers believe Agit and her news outlet were deliberately attacked. That makes her the second Kurdish feminist journalist to have been targeted by Turkey in less than a year.
In October 2022, Kurdish feminist journalist and academic Nagihan Akarsel was shot and killed near her home in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkish ambassador to Iraq Ali Riza Guney appeared to admit Turkish responsibility days after the murder.
Akarsel had fled Turkey after facing legal harassment for her writings. She was an editor of the journal Jineoloji and a founder of the Jineoloji Academy in Sulaymaniyah, which promoted Kurdish feminist thought.
Both Turkey’s campaign of extrajudicial killings of activists and political opponents in Iraq and Syria and its attacks on Kurdish media often target institutions established by and for Kurdish women that address Kurdish oppression and gender inequality.
Women who bring Kurdish women’s concerns to the international stage through diplomacy, political activism and media are particularly at risk. The triple persecution of these individuals on the basis of their ethnicity, gender and real or perceived political affiliation is a human rights crisis that contributes to conflict and instability.
Assassinations of KURDISH Feminist Leaders
Since U.S.- and Russian-brokered ceasefires forced an end to Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in 2019, Turkey has used drones to assassinate Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) personnel and members of affiliated civil and political institutions. The strikes occur in crowded residential areas and on busy public roads, meaning politically unaffiliated civilians—like Agit’s driver—are regularly killed and injured.
As a landmark joint report published by the Kurdish Peace Institute and the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy found, Kurdish women leaders and institutions working for Kurdish women’s rights are often targets of Turkish drone strikes. Attacks against these individuals and institutions harm society-wide efforts to promote gender equality in multiple ways.
In 2020, a drone strike on a women’s meeting in Kobane killed multiple attendees, including former Kobane Co-Mayor Zehra Berkal. Berkal was a member of Kongra Star, the umbrella organization for the Kurdish women’s movement in northeastern Syria that has worked extensively to advance women’s rights through legal reforms and social change.
In July 2022, Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) commander Jiyan Tolhildan was assassinated while leaving a conference on women’s rights in Qamishlo, where she had been featured as a keynote speaker. Tolhildan was a founding member of the YPJ and had contributed significantly to both the military defeat of ISIS and the struggle for women’s rights in northeastern Syria.
In perhaps the most egregious attack, an alleged Turkish drone struck a U.N.-sponsored girls’ school in August 2022, killing five students as they played volleyball in a courtyard.
These drone attacks are part of a long-running campaign of Turkish extrajudicial killings of Kurdish political opponents both within its borders and as far away as Europe that began long before Turkey intervened in North and East Syria.
Prominent Kurdish women have often been targets: the 2013 triple murder of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) co-founder and architect of the Kurdish women’s movement Sakine Cansiz, Kurdish diplomat Fidan Dogan, and youth activist Leyla Saylemez by an alleged Turkish intelligence agent in Paris is the most infamous example.
Crackdown on Women-Led KURDISH Media
Kurdish media outlets in Turkey are regularly accused of terrorism by authorities on the basis of their coverage of Kurdish political, social and cultural activities and of oppression, discrimination, and violence against Kurdish communities. Their editors, reporters and media workers face house raids, detentions, lengthy prison sentences, and police brutality.
While women and Kurds are both vastly underrepresented in Turkey’s media landscape, they are overrepresented among imprisoned journalists. The Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) has found that Turkey ranks first in the world for attacks on women journalists and that 60 to 80% of women journalists whose rights are violated are Kurds.
All-women Kurdish publications—of which JIN TV and Jineoloji are examples—are under particularly heavy pressure. These publications often break stories about human rights violations and abuses of power impacting women and Kurds that Turkish and international media refuse to investigate.
The first Kurdish women’s news agency, JINHA, was founded in 2012 by a group of journalists outraged by mainstream media coverage of state violence against Kurdish women and girls. It was shut down by decree in 2016. Its immediate successor, Gazete Sujin, was forced to close in 2017.
Today, JINNEWS carries on that legacy—and faces the same repression. The paper tracks male violence against women across Turkey on a monthly basis, followed the case of a YPJ fighter abducted and mistreated by Turkey-backed militias in Syria and illegally jailed in Turkey, and produced a report on the pattern of rapes and murders committed by ‘village guard’ paramilitary forces in rural Kurdish regions. JINNEWS executive editor Safiye Alagas was recently released after spending a year in pre-trial detention on terror charges related to her reporting.
WHY IT MATTERS
By targeting Kurdish women who share the oppression that women, Kurds and dissidents face and the ways in which they fight for freedom and justice with the world, Turkey seeks to silence Kurdish feminist activism and cover up its own record of rights abuses against these groups. This is first and foremost a human rights crisis—but it also has implications for issues of global concern.
Organized women’s movements are among the most potent threats to far-right nationalists and religious fundamentalists like those that constitute the current political leadership of Turkey. The Kurdish women’s movement has a proven record of success in this context: their roles in the defeat of ISIS in Syria and in the women-led uprising following the murder of Jina Amini by Iranian ‘morality police’ are two examples.
Impunity for crimes against Kurds, women and dissidents drives continued conflict between Turkey and its Kurdish population by fueling Kurdish perceptions of injustice and allowing oppressive practices to repeat. Autocrats worldwide are increasingly silencing the media to make impunity possible at both the domestic and international level—with Turkey often leading the way.
To promote justice, peace, and stability in the region, Turkey must be held accountable for its campaign of extrajudicial killings, its attacks on Kurdish media, and its persecution of women, Kurds and political opponents at home and abroad. To that end, policymakers should:
- Publicly condemn and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuses targeting Kurdish women in Turkey and in regions impacted by Turkey’s cross-border military operations—including extrajudicial killings and attacks targeting civilians.
- As previously recommended by the May 2023 Kurdish Peace Institute/New Lines Institute report on de-escalating the Kurdish conflict, use existing U.S. policy frameworks on gender policy and women, peace and security (WPS) to adjust U.S. policies that, insofar as they facilitate or encourage Turkish decision-makers to pursue militarized approaches to the Kurdish conflict, contribute to the unique gendered harms the conflict causes and thereby threaten regional stability and security.
(Photo: JIN TV)