Australian links in honour killing of Pela
By Sian Powell
April 26, 2008
Mortally wounded and bleeding profusely, Pela
Atroshi covered her head with her hands, pleading
"please don't shoot me, please don't shoot me". As
her sister and her mother screamed, her uncle Rezkar
Atroshi raised his gun and killed her. The family's
honour had been cleansed.
Rezkar had already shot Pela twice in the back in
the upstairs room. Helped downstairs by her mother
and her younger sister, the 19-year-old Kurdish
Swede was confronted by four resolute men - her
father and his three brothers. The men pulled the
women apart. Her youngest uncle then finished the
job, shooting Pela in the head. The bullet went
through one of her fingers and into her brain.
The decision to kill her was made by a council of
male relatives, led by Pela's grandfather,
Abdulmajid Atroshi - a Kurd who lived in Australia.
One of his sons, Shivan Atroshi, helped pull the
women away from Pela so his younger brother could
get a clean shot. Shivan, too, lived in Australia.
Pela Atroshi, 19-year-old Swedish-Kurdish girl, shot
dead in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1999
It is the first time an
officially confirmed honour killing with a
connection to Australia has ever publicly come to
light, but it is likely there have been other
Australian-connected honour crimes that have been
kept hidden within the tight-lipped Australian
Pela Atroshi's murder in
Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, was officially deemed an
honour killing by both Iraqi and Swedish
The Swedish detective inspector who investigated the
murder, Kickis Aahre Algamo, said she had since
heard of another honour crime with a connection to
Australia - this time the attempted killing of an
Australian Kurd that went awry when the girl
She told The Weekend Australian that from 2000 the
Swedish authorities were in communication with
Australian authorities and the Swedish embassy in
Canberra about the 1999 murder of Pela Atroshi.
Breen Atroshi, Pela's younger sister, Inspector
Algamo said, was still prepared to testify in any
prosecution of her Australian grandfather or uncle.
But it is unclear whether Pela's grandfather and
uncle still live in Australia.
An Interpol investigation in 2000 found that Shivan
Atroshi was not at the time living in Australia,
although he may have since returned. One person in
Sydney's Kurdish community said he believed the
Atroshi grandfather - once a freedom fighter - had
hidden in Kurdistan,www.ekurd.net
but had sporadically
returned to Australia in recent years. Abdulmajid
Atroshi had travelled to Stockholm with his son
Shivan in 1999 to finally decide on Pela's fate.
She had made the mistake of leaving home for a time,
frustrated by her family's adherence to restrictive
"Pela's uncle, the oldest son of Abdulmajid, said if
any of the unmarried girls is away from home for one
night, she has to be killed," Inspector Algamo said
on the phone from Stockholm.
Pela was an intelligent and good-looking girl. When
she emigrated with her family to Sweden in 1995, she
took to Swedish ways - eventually leaving the family
home in January 1999. But after a time she missed
her parents and six younger brothers and sisters and
returned, agreeing to an arranged marriage in
Kurdistan. It was a front - the men in her family
had decided to kill her in their home town of Dohuk,
northern Iraq, where honour killings were considered
minor crimes, and where the Atroshi clan commanded
The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women,
Yakin Erturk, in a report last year to the Human
Rights Council, said she had been told that a
"family council of male relatives living in Sweden
and Australia decided that Pela had to die to
cleanse the family honour".
The men of the family - Pela's father, Agid, and her
three uncles, Australian Shivan, and Swedish Rezkar
and Dakhaz - arranged for Pela to go to Kurdistan in
June 1999 so they could kill her. Her grandfather
remained in Sweden, saying, according to the
testimony of Pela's younger sister Breen, "I will
not set foot in Kurdistan until Pela is dead".
In October 1999, in Iraq, Agid and Rezkar were
convicted of her murder, and sentenced to one-year
suspended jail terms. The court referred to a
medical report that said "her hymen was broken" and
to the "defendants' honourable motivation".
A higher court later ordered that the sentences be
served, but by that time, the two Swedes, Rezkar and
Dakhaz, had returned to Stockholm, where they were
arrested. Inspector Algamo and a fellow officer had
travelled to Turkey to bring a key witness,www.ekurd.net
Pela's sister Breen,
back to Sweden. Breen was the first to raise the
alarm, ringing the Swedish police from Dohuk to
report her sister's murder.
Breen was brought by a delegation of Kurds to the
Swedish embassy in Ankara, Turkey. "I got a couple
of minutes alone with her, and she said, 'I want to
go home and I want to testify for my sister Pela',"
said Inspector Algamo, who is now compiling a report
on honour crimes.
"We rushed her away to a waiting embassy car and
drove as fast as possible to the airport."
In Sweden, Breen testified in the trials of her
uncles - who had been arrested in January 2000 and
who were liable to prosecution because Pela's murder
was planned in Stockholm. Breen condemned her elders
in court. She now lives in hiding.
On January 12, 2001, the Stockholm City Court
convicted both men of murder and sentenced them to
life imprisonment. Their sentences were confirmed on
appeal. Pela's father Agid remained in Kurdistan. He
is still wanted for murder in Sweden.
"When we counted all the ones involved in the
planning (of Pela's murder) there were 11,"
Inspector Algamo said. "But some of them were
Australian citizens and some of them were Iraqi
citizens - we could only prosecute three of them."
Swedish deputy chief prosecutor Agnetha Hilding
Qvarnstrom explained that while there had been
contact with the Australian authorities regarding
the Atroshi case it had not culminated in an
official extradition request.
Since the murder was planned in Sweden and committed
in Iraq, it also seems unlikely Australia could take
In Australia, Muhammad Kamal, a lecturer in
philosophy at Melbourne University, remembers Pela's
grandfather, Abdulmajid Atroshi - the patriarch.
In the early 1990s, Dr Kamal had been broadcasting a
Kurdish program on SBS radio, and Atroshi was behind
a campaign to have the program taken off air because
he believed it was preaching immorality.
"He was a practising Muslim and a tribal man," Dr
Kamal said, adding that religious leaders in
Kurdistan never condemned honour crimes because they
believed it was an essential bulwark against
immorality. "I haven't heard any statement from
clergy in the region to say honour killing is
wrong," he said.
In recent years, with the diaspora from tribal
regions, there are honour killings connected to a
number of nations in Europe - and now to Australia.
Inspector Algamo has also been told that in 2004 or
2005 an Australian girl connected to the Atroshi
clan was in the same position as Pela.
"I was told by my informers that the Australian girl
was taken to Kurdistan in the summer on vacation,"
Inspector Algamo said. "She had a forbidden love or
something, they were also planning to kill her." The
girl discovered the plans and fled, assisted by an
American soldier who helped to smuggle her out of
She said the Australian Kurdish community staged two
demonstrations in front of the Swedish embassy in
Canberra insisting on the Atroshi men's innocence.
Unni Wikan, a Norwegian academic who has written a
recent book on honour crimes titled In Honour of
Fadime, has looked carefully at the Atroshi case.
She said the horrors persisted. "In Sweden there is
a development now called balcony suicide," she said,
adding the deaths were really camouflaged honour
Inspector Algamo said her research into honour
crimes had been difficult. "So many murders, so many
girls who fall from the balcony, so many false
suicides," she said.
"There is huge pressure on girls to take their own
lives. They don't have the right to their own
bodies, because their bodies are owned by the clan."
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