Elizabeth Tsurkov

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Elizabeth Tsurkov (born 1986) is a Russian-Israeli researcher who was kidnapped in Baghdad in March 2023 and allegedly held by the group Kata'ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia backed by Iran. The militia has denied involvement.


  • The [Syrian civil] war has transformed the Alawi community in numerous ways. The most profound and obvious one for a community numbering about two million people is the scale of loss of men of military age. The Syrian regime stopped releasing statistics regarding casualties in its ranks early in the war, but Gregory P. Waters, a researcher at Berkeley School of Law's Human Rights Center, estimates that tens of thousands of Alawi men have been killed fighting for the regime. Tens of thousands more have been gravely injured, sustaining disabilities that preclude them from participating in the labor force.
  • Although Alawis are overrepresented in the ruling elite, this does not translate into any alleviation of their generally deprived circumstances. Those with ties to the ruling family, whether through tribal or business dealings, are rich, while most Alawis live in underdeveloped villages. Unlike the Sunni underclass, which largely resided in rebel-held territory, Alawis—who cannot afford to emigrate, enroll in university to defer their service, or bribe their way out of military service (or into noncombat posts)—reside entirely in regime-held territory, where the draft is imposed and enforced through routine raids and at checkpoints.
  • The recruitment to Azerbaijan and Libya reveal the desperate pragmatism of Syrians who have been reduced to subsistence in a country ruined by war—a war whose end is nowhere in sight, and which will, in any case, be determined by outside powers that helped destroy the country. The two countries that intervened most decisively in Syria to advance their interests, Turkey and Russia, as well as those that stood by as Syria drowned in blood, place virtually no value on Syrian lives, but see them instead as pawns in their own geopolitical chess game. Syrians—former rebels, militia members, and ordinary civilians—are simply leaning into the part they’ve been assigned: as pawns. Refusing to accept this logic means they and their families go hungry.

About Tsurkov

  • Liza believed from early adulthood that caring about the citizens of Israel also meant caring about the rights of Palestinians in Israel. Later, she turned her attention both professionally and personally to our Arab neighbors in their fight for freedom during the Arab Spring. But she didn’t want to merely view them vis-à-vis their relationship with Israel; she believed that the right thing to do was to try to understand our neighbors from inside their own societies, the way they experienced and understood themselves.
    She became fluent in Arabic, and she visited many countries most Israelis will never enter.
  • Liza went to Iraq for similar reasons. She intended to research the way Iraqis, and women in particular, were living after ISIS and in the shadow of sectarianism — not, as some online critics have said, to spy for the Israeli government.
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