Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Ph.D student at Princeton University and a fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, has been potentially held captive by a militia in Iraq since March, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s office said on Wednesday that Tsurkov, who holds both Israeli and Russian citizenship, was conducting research in Baghdad when she was abducted by Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful armed group that receives financial and military support from Iran.
“We hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement, adding that the matter was being handled by “relevant parties… out of concern” for Tsurkov’s “security and well-being”.
The Iraqi government has opened an investigation into the kidnapping of Elizabeth Tsurkov, a government spokesperson told Reuters on Friday.
Tsurkov entered Iraq on her Russian passport, Netanyahu‘s office said. She is a prominent researcher and analyst on the Levant region, especially Syria, where she has documented the atrocities of the Syrian regime and its allies.
The New Lines Institute said that Tsurkov last contacted them in March and that they later learnt from sources of her kidnap by a “anti-government militia”.
“Our first instinct was to shout about her disappearance on the internet, in the media and on these pages,” the institute said in a statement in its magazine, adding that it decided not to do so because of her family’s wishes and in the hope of a quick resolution.
Elizabeth Tsurkov Situation
According to the institute, Tsurkov’s situation was complicated by the fact that she was “an outspoken critic” of the three countries that may be involved in negotiations for her release: Israel, Iran and Russia.
“All of us feel that the United States needs to be involved in some way in helping [Elizabeth Tsurkov],” it said, pointing to her involvement with New Lines and Princeton.
Princeton University said in a statement posted on Twitter: “We are deeply concerned for her safety and well-being, and we are eager for her to be able to rejoin her family and resume her studies.”
The US, Russia, Iran and Iraq have not officially commented yet on Tsurkov’s case.
Tsurkov’s family said in a statement that they hold “the Iraqi government as directly responsible for her safety”, the Washington Post reported.
They also appealed to anyone who can help secure her release to do so.
“We miss Elizabeth terribly and are very worried about her,” they said. “She is a wonderful person who dedicated her life to helping others.”
Tsurkov’s abduction is not the first case of a foreign researcher being kidnapped in Iraq. In 2019, French-Iraqi academic Hisham al-Hashimi was shot dead outside his home in Baghdad by unknown gunmen. He was an expert on Islamic State and other armed groups.
Iraq has been plagued by violence and instability since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein. The country has also been caught in the crossfire of regional rivalries between Iran and its allies on one hand, and Israel and its allies on the other.
The fate of Elizabeth Tsurkov remains uncertain as the international community calls for her safe return. Her case highlights the risks and challenges faced by researchers who seek to understand the complex dynamics of the Middle East.