A glamorous 23-year-old make-up artist was executed by a family member – dig deeper and you uncover a disturbing culture of “extermination”.
Doski Azad had been in hiding from her own family.
The 23-year-old make-up artist had been forced to move to another city and start a secret life in order to avoid scrutiny about her sexuality.
In Iraq, being transgender comes at a cost. Members of the LGBTIQ+ community are not only shunned, they are hunted down and, in extreme cases like hers, murdered for being who they are.
Azad, who is Kurdish, was killed in January in what police believe was a so-called “honour killing” carried out by her own brother.
She was murdered execution style – with her hands tied and a gun pressed against her face.
Her body was dumped in a ditch near the city of Duhok in the Iraqi autonomous Kurdistan region.
Her brother is wanted by police who say he travelled from his home in Germany to murder his sister in a twisted bid to restore honour to his family.
A Duhok police spokesperson said: “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.”
Her friends are now speaking out about what they say was a targeted, ongoing campaign to have Azad executed.
“When I called her a while ago she didn’t answer me,” a friend told The Guardian.
“Later I said, ‘Doski, where you have been?’ And she said, ‘My brother came to kill me and I went to the police.’”
Activists say Azad’s story is the tip of the iceberg. A Human Rights Report headlined ‘They want us exterminated’ reveals just how big the problem is.
The organisation spoke with a man named Hamid who had just seen his boyfriend of 10 years murdered for being gay.
The Baghdad man said it was part of a widespread attempt by Iraqi men to “exterminate” those that don’t identify as straight.
“It was late one night in early April, and they came to take my partner at his parents’ home, Hamid told Human Rights Watch.
“Four armed men barged into the house, masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name; they insulted him and took him in front of his parents.
“All that, I heard about later from his family. He was found in the neighbourhood the day after. They had thrown his corpse in the garbage. His genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out.
“Their measuring rod to judge people is who they have sex with. It is not by their conscience, it is not by their conduct or their values, it is who they have sex with. The cheapest thing in Iraq is a human being, a human life.
“It is cheaper than an animal, than a pair of used-up batteries you buy on the street. Especially people like us.
“I can’t believe I’m here talking to you because it’s all just been repressed, repressed, repressed. For years it’s been like that.
“If I walk down the street, I would feel everyone pointing at me. I feel as if I’m dying all the time.
“And now this … I don’t understand what we did to deserve this. They want us exterminated. All the violence and all this hatred: the people who are suffering from it don’t deserve it.”
HRW reports that “death squads” are targeting men they believe are gay.
For transgender individuals like Azad, there is nowhere to hide.
SBS reports that hate towards the LGBTIQ+ community in Iraq is so deeply entrenched that when the 23-year-old was murdered, many celebrated.
“This event prompted a huge interaction in social media in the region from people who blamed the murderer to others who supported and encouraged his action,” the publication wrote.
Insider spoke with a number of sources close to Azad – all of whom said the same thing.
“Some of her family threatened to kill her a few times,” one friend said.
A local activist said she had heard similar things from Azad who had reported “sporadic bursts of transphobic abuse from her brother and a cousin”.
“Her brother came and he killed her because she broke the rules of patriarchy,” the activist told Insider.
“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.”