Turkey: From Honour Killings to Honour Suicides

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...Every few weeks in Batman and the surrounding area in southeast Anatolia, which is poor, rural and deeply influenced by conservative Islam, a young woman tries to take her life. Others have been stoned to death, strangled, shot or buried alive. Their offences ranged from stealing a glance at a boy to wearing a short skirt, wanting to go to the movies, being raped by a stranger or relative or having consensual sex.

Hoping to join the European Union, Turkey has tightened the punishment for attacks on women and girls who have had such experiences. But the violence has continued, if by different means: parents are trying to spare their sons from the harsh punishments associated with killing their sisters by pressing the daughters to take their own lives instead.

"Families of disgraced girls are choosing between sacrificing a son to a life in prison by designating him to kill his sister or forcing their daughters to kill themselves," said Yilmaz Akinci, who works for a rural development group. "Rather than losing two children, most opt for the latter option."

Women's groups here say the evidence suggests that a growing number of girls considered to be dishonored are being locked in a room for days with rat poison, a pistol or a rope, and told by their families that the only thing resting between their disgrace and redemption is death.

Batman (pronounced bot-MON) is a grim and dusty city of 250,000 people where religion is clashing with Turkey's official secularism. The city was featured in the latest novel by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, "Snow," which chronicled a journalist's investigation of a suicide epidemic among teenage girls.

In the past six years, there have been 165 suicides or suicide attempts in Batman, 102 of them by women. As many as 36 women have killed themselves since the start of this year, according to the United Nations. The organization estimates that 5,000 women are killed each year around the world by relatives who accuse them of bringing dishonor on their families; the majority of the killings are in the Middle East.

Last month, the United Nations dispatched a special envoy to Turkey to investigate. The envoy, Yakin Erturk, concluded that while some suicides were authentic, others appeared to be "honor killings disguised as a suicide or an accident."...

Psychologists here say social upheavals in a region rocked by terrorism have played a role in the suicides. Many of the victims come from families in rural villages who have been displaced from the mountains to the cities because of warfare between Turkey and a Kurdish guerrilla group that wants to create an independent state for Kurds in southeastern Turkey.

Young women… who have previously led protected lives under the rigid moral strictures of their families and Islam, are suddenly finding themselves in the modern Turkey of Internet dating and MTV. The shift can create dangerous tensions, sometimes lethal ones, between their families and the secular values of the republic that the young women seek to embrace.

The price can be heavy. When a woman is suspected of engaging in sexual relations out of wedlock, her male relatives convene a family council to decide her sentence. Once news of the family's shame has spread to the community, the family typically rules that it is only through death that its honor can be restored.

The European Union has warned Turkey that it is closely monitoring its progress on women's rights and that failure to progress could impede its drive to enter the union.

Until recently, a family member of a dishonoured girl, usually a brother younger than 18, would carry out the death sentence and receive a short prison sentence because of his youth. Sentences also were reduced under the defence that a relative had been provoked to commit murder.

But in the past two years, Turkey has revamped its penal code and imposed life sentences for such killings, known as honour killings, regardless of the killer's age. This has prompted some families to take other steps, such as forcing their daughters to commit suicide or killing them and disguising the deaths as suicides...

[Source: New York Times]

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