- Doski Azad, a 23-year-old trans woman, was found dead on Monday in Iraqi Kurdistan, police said.
- Her estranged brother was the only suspect in the alleged honor killing, police said.
- Family members had previously threatened to kill Azad for being trans, a close friend told Insider.
Doski Azad didn't turn up to a scheduled meeting, which was out of character, one of her friends told Insider.
The 23-year-old transgender woman, a makeup artist in Iraq's Kurdistan Region, was usually very reliable, she said.
The friend knew something was up, but she couldn't have anticipated the shocking call she received two days later.
"I found out Doski was brutally murdered," she said.
Azad's body was found on Monday afternoon in a village on the outskirts of Duhok. She had been shot in the head and chest, a day or two before the corpse was discovered, Dohuk police said.
An image reviewed by Insider showed that Azad's hands had been tied together, and her body had been left in a shallow ditch.
Police became aware of the body's whereabouts after a tipoff from a relative, the Kurdish media outlet Rudaw reported.
The same relative told police that it was a sibling who had killed her, the report said.
Her estranged brother Chakdar, who spent the past eight years living in western Europe, is the only suspect in the murder, police said on Kurdish television.
People familiar with the matter told Insider that he traveled to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq with the sole intent of murdering his sister.
The murder is being described as an "honor killing," and discrimination was "undoubtedly" at the root of it, the US Consulate General in Erbil said on Thursday.
—U.S. Consulate General Erbil (@USConGenErbil) February 3, 2022
'Her family threatened to kill her a few times'
Azad had a difficult relationship with her family after she came out as trans years ago, a close friend who wished to remain anonymous told Insider.
Being a traditional family in a religiously conservative area meant that many relatives chose not to accept her, the friend said.
She added, "Some of her family threatened to kill her a few times."
Fearful for her safety, Azad left her family home five years ago and moved into an apartment by herself in Dohuk city center.
There, she worked as a makeup artist at a local salon, had many friends, and wanted to live an ordinary life, her friend said.
"She was a peaceful and popular person who never wanted to see anyone sad," she added.
But years after moving out, Azad continued to receive sporadic bursts of transphobic abuse from her brother and a cousin.
IraQueer, an Iraqi LGBTQ advocacy group, said Azad notified the organization several times that she was being harassed by her relatives.
Azad's friend said that while she was aware of the abuse, Azad's murder still came as a shock to her and those who knew Azad.
"When I found out, I laughed a lot and thought it was a lie," the friend said. "I tried to call Doski, but she did not answer. Then I tried to tell my friends, and I collapsed and broke down."
'Her brother killed her because she broke the rules of patriarchy'
Azad's "honor killing" was motivated by transphobia, which is prevalent in Iraq, an activist with IraQueer told Insider.
"Her brother came and he killed her because she broke the rules of patriarchy," said the activist, who asked to remain anonymous. "In the Iraqi concepts of community and manhood, you cannot give up on your masculinity to become a woman because that is seen as degrading."
Honor killings are a practice in which people, seemingly seeking to protect the dignity of their families, murder their family members, primarily women or girls.
But members of LGBTQ communities are also targeted, particularly in homophobic societies. Insider reported on the honor killing of Alireza Fazeli Monfared, a young gay man in Iran, who was murdered last year.
Pishkoo Zandi, a human-rights activist, told Insider that these sorts of murders usually go unreported in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region because queer people are treated as invisible.
"The governmental system is homophobic, and the media is homophobic, too," Zandi said. "They don't want to say anything about us."
Kurdish media reported that a transgender person was killed by family members in July. But Zandi said police didn't carry out an investigation or arrest anyone.
Her brother may have fled the country
Insider understands that police are investigating the murder of Azad, and officers believe her brother has fled to Belgium, Germany, or Turkey.
Two people familiar with the situation told Insider that Kurdish police were cooperating with Interpol, the international organization that facilitates worldwide police cooperation, to locate and arrest him.
Duhok police did not respond to Insider's request to confirm this. Interpol said it was unable to comment on specific cases except in special circumstances and with the approval of the country concerned.
But while the search for Azad's brother is underway, her friends are struggling to come to terms with how such a terrible thing could have happened to such a good person.
"Doski would never hurt anybody," her close friend said. "Not even her family."