Tuba Akyılmaz (Nujiyan Erhan)

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Kurdish Turkish journalist Tuba Akyılmaz, also known as Nujiyan Erhan, died on March 23, 2017, from injuries sustained 20 days earlier in an area between Sinune and Khanasoor in the northwestern Iraqi region of Shingal, according to news reports and the local human rights group 17 Shubat for Human Rights. 

Akyılmaz was a reporter for the pro-PKK Iraq-based Roj News and Gazete Sujin, a Turkey-based women’s news agency that Turkish authorities have since shuttered, according to news reports. Roj News editor Soran Hussein told CPJ that Akyilmaz also worked as a correspondent for Kurdish female-only Jin News Agency (JINHA) at the time of her death. A former employee at JINHA confirmed to CPJ on May 11, 2017, that Akyılmaz worked for the news outlet, but did not specify if she was on assignment for the agency on the day she was injured.

Akyılmaz was shot in the head on March 3, during clashes in northwestern Iraq between Rojava Peshmerga, a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that claims autonomy in the northern Iraqi Kurdish region, and the Shingal Protection Units (YBS), which are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), reports said. She was taken to a hospital in the northeastern Syrian city of al-Hasakah, where she later died from her injuries.

Two other reporters–Hadi İlyas and İzzet İsmet, who both work for ÇIRA TV–were injured in the same attack, according to news reports.

İlyas told CPJ that he believed the Rojava Peshmerga fired on them. He told CPJ that he, Akyılmaz, Ismet, and Roj News cameraman Ahlam were returning from an area between Khanasoor and Sinune early on March 3, where they had been trying to interview Rojava Peshmerga troops. On their way back to areas held by the YPG-affiliated Shingal Protection Units at around 6 a.m. they decided to cover some clashes that had broken out.

İlyas said that after Akyılmaz was shot, he tried to take her to the hospital in his car, but was also shot and the car they were using was destroyed. “Nujiyan lost a lot of blood. Two hours later an ambulance came to take her to hospital in al-Hasakah. My colleague, Izzet Ismet was injured, too, and he was also taken to hospital,” Ilyas said.     

Rahman Gharib, head of the Kurdistan press freedom group Metro Center to Defend Journalists, told CPJ that the organization could not independently determine whether Erhan was working as a journalist or a combatant when she was injured.

“Sources from a Kurdish government agency told us that Nujiyan was part of the group that laid an ambush on the Rojava Peshmerga and was among the attackers in the subsequent clashes,” Gharib said.

ÇIRA TV reporter Ilyas, who was with Erhan when she was shot, denied that the journalist was armed. CPJ couldn’t independently reconcile the conflicting accounts of Erhan’s death.