Turkey Calls for Campaign Against ‘Violence Against Women’ While Honor Killings Remain Rampant

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, March 22, 2011. Erdogan said that he has concerns about possible NATO military action in Libya, but he has not flatly opposed such a mission. "Turkey will not point arms at the Libyan people," he …
AP/Burhan Ozbilici

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has announced an “extensive campaign against violence against women across the country, in the aftermath of the brutal murder of a university student in an attempted rape on a public minibus.”

Three men, now in custody, have been accused of stabbing twenty-year-old Ozgecan Aslan to death, cutting off her hands while she was still alive (to make sure there was no DNA evidence on her fingernails—suggesting she fought back). Then, for good measure, they burned her body. Women are wearing black to mourn her murder. There are discussions underway about the death penalty for woman-murder.

However, violence against women in Turkey is not confined to stranger rape, stranger harassment, or stranger murder. On the contrary, intimate partner and family violence in terms of honor killings are rampant.

According to the Turkish Cultural Foundation, honor killing is similar to “domestic violence,” “knows no geographical boundaries…is not the preserve of any particular race,” but “emanates from cultural and not religious roots.” The report, based on a lecture delivered by Zulfi Livanelli, a member of the Turkish Parliament, notes that “domestic violence” is escalating in Europe—with no acknowledgement that honor killings in Europe– which may, wrongfully, be counted as incidents of domestic violence– are mainly committed by Muslims (from Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.), and not by Jews, Hindus, or Christians.

An honor killing is not at all like “domestic violence;” it is a family conspiracy against a female member, usually a teenage daughter, for a range of alleged crimes: refusing to veil, veiling improperly, standing too close to a non-relative male, talking to a boy or a man on a cellphone, refusing an arranged marriage, choosing infidel friends or husbands, etc.

In 2009, when Turkey was attempting to join the European Union (EU), Turkish girls were forced to commit suicide rather than have their deaths appear as honor killing statistics. At that time, under Turkish law, honor killers “could get a reduced sentence claiming provocation.” Changing this law to ostensibly comply with European standards merely led to the forced suicide option and to a “spike” in honor killings, not only in rural Turkey, but in Istanbul.

In 2011, government figures suggested that honor killings increased “14-fold in seven years, hitting nearly 1,000 in the first seven months of 2009.” Turkish women’s rights activists insist that the “laws are not applied,” that the “police are unwilling or unable to help vulnerable women,” and that there “are not enough safe houses for women.” Some experts suggest that a too-rapid modernization coupled with rural immigration to modern cities account for the spike in Turkish honor killings.

Turkish Muslims in Europe have perpetrated a series of high-profile honor killings.

For example, Turkish-Kurd Fadime Sahindal chose a Swedish way of life. She wanted a “higher education” and chose a white Swedish boyfriend. Her parents considered her “a whore,” her brothers endlessly harassed her in public. Fadime took them to court, but was eventually forced to live in hiding. In 2002, her father finally found and shot Fadime to death. The Kurdish community in Sweden did not condemn him. “If a girl goes out with a boy without being married then she’s a whore” said Kamaran Shwan, chairman of the Kurdish Association in Malmo.

In 1996, Hatin Surucu, a fifteen-year-old Turkish German citizen, was forcibly married to her cousin in Turkey. In 1999, she returned to Berlin, where she had been born, together with her son. Hatin broke with her family, refused to wear the Muslim head scarf, and lived with her child in a hostel. She became an electrical engineer. She said she “simply wanted to live her life.” Hatin lodged frequent complaints with the Berlin police about her brothers’ threats to kill her.

In 2005, Hatin was shot and died choking on her own blood. A bus driver discovered the body and called the police. Hatin’s three brothers, aged eighteen to twenty-five, were arrested and formally charged with the murder.

In 2004, an eighteen-year-old Turkish woman, “Jasmin,” who was also a German citizen, narrowly escaped an arranged marriage to a wealthy Pakistani man who wanted to gain German residency and citizenship. Her parents stalked her at work. They threatened to kill her if she did not leave her job and agree to the marriage. A supervisor hid her for a week. Her parents cased the building. Co-workers did not call the police. (Since Jasmin was a minor, the police might have turned her over to her parents.) Friends helped her sneak out through the garage and escape to a shelter in Berlin. Jasmin said: “I’m not going to get married to somebody that I don’t know just because of my parents. I never even saw a picture.”

Jasmin escaped the arranged marriage, but she has lost her entire family and her freedom as well. Were she to surface and return to her family, she risks being murdered for her refusal.

The German government should prosecute honor killing perpetrators, accomplices, and collaborators to the full extent of the law. After a sentence has been served, these murderers should be deported. Western countries should not have the blood of Western-oriented girls and women on their hands.

As Turkey becomes more and more radically Islamic and as women are increasingly seen as unequal, different, subordinate, how does PM Davutoğlu plan to transform the honor-shame consciousness that traditionally follows this? How much of a budget will he allow for “safe houses,” and for the prosecution of honor killers?

Turkey needs a pro-Western, European Enlightenment-style revolution but, despite a large, secular and sophisticated population in Istanbul, that possibility seems more and more remote.


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