Trans woman murdered by own brother in Iraqi Kurdistan in suspected ‘honour killing’

Headshots of Doski Azad a trans woman

A trans woman was killed by her own brother in Iraqi Kurdistan in an “honour killing” that has appalled officials and shed light on a crisis long kept quiet.

Doski Azad, a 23-year-old make-up artist at a salon, was killed in late January by her long-lost brother in a small village 12 miles north of Duhok in the Duhok Governorate.

Alerted to her body three days later on Monday evening (31 January), Duhol Police said she had been shot in the head and chest in the village of Mangesh, Rudaw reported.

Her estranged brother, Chadkar Azad, later drove out of the region through the northern land border with Turkey.

Another one of Doski’s brothers telephoned police Monday to report the death of his sister, who had left home five years ago after facing threats from her own family for being trans.

“Our investigation so far suggests that Doski Azad was killed by her brother at a location just outside the city before he managed to flee the crime scene,” Duhok Police told VOA.

She had only recently spent her New Year celebrating in Dubai, having reportedly gotten her ID and passport back from her father who had taken the documents off her.

District director Brendar Dosky told local media that he suspects Chadkar tracked down Doski and murdered her for being trans. A warrant for the suspect, who allegedly is now in Germany, has been issued.

US diplomats denounce ‘so-called “honour” killing’ of trans woman

On Thursday (3 February), the US government added to mounting pressure for the government to take action through its consulate in Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Diplomats denounced the “so-called ‘honour’ killing” as well as the “violence and the discrimination that is undoubtedly at the root of this crime”.

“We ask the authorities to thoroughly investigate this murder,” the Twitter statement continued, “and prosecute the perpetrator to the fullest extent of the law.”

Honour killings have a long, grisly history in both Iraq and in the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan, which stretches across western Asia and includes northern Iraq. Deeply rooted in tribal history, such killings have appalled human rights groups and foreign diplomatic missions.

At least 120 women were victims of honour killings in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2019, according to statistics by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Many of the hundreds of thousands of honour killings are hushed or disguised by police to look like suicide, meaning that the real death toll is likely even higher, the Dooa Network Against Violence warns.

Activists added that the killings are on the rise, raising questions over the failure of the region’s legal and religious systems to protect civilians from honour-based violence.

Being LGBT+, activists add, only worsens this. Not only are queer people beaten by vigilantes and, in the late 2000s, targeted by death squads trawling through chat rooms, but they are common victims of honour-based violence, researchers have found.

Some see their sexuality or gender identity as bringing shame to families. 

It was in this climate of fear that Doski sought to live her truth. It was a simple thing to want to do but, for that reason, her death has captured so much of the fear and anger felt and left local trans communities shaken, Hayfa Doski, a human rights activist, told VOA.

“Transgender people, in particular have been gravely concerned about this killing,” she said.

“They already feel discriminated against in our society and attacks like this only exacerbate those fears.”