[Marxism] Honor suicides in Turkey
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jul 16 07:25:06 MDT 2006
NY Times, July 16, 2006
How to Avoid Honor Killing in Turkey? Honor Suicide
By DAN BILEFSKY
By DAN BILEFSKY
BATMAN, Turkey For Derya, a waiflike girl of 17, the order to kill
herself came from an uncle and was delivered in a text message to her
cellphone. You have blackened our name, it read. Kill yourself and clean
our shame or we will kill you first.
Derya said her crime was to fall for a boy she had met at school last
spring. She knew the risks: her aunt had been killed by her grandfather for
seeing a boy. But after being cloistered and veiled for most of her life,
she said, she felt free for the first time and wanted to express her
When news of the love affair spread to her family, she said, her mother
warned her that her father would kill her. But she refused to listen. Then
came the threatening text messages, sent by her brothers and uncles,
sometimes 15 a day. Derya said they were the equivalent of a death sentence.
Consumed by shame and fearing for her life, she said, she decided to carry
out her familys wishes. First, she said, she jumped into the Tigris River,
but she survived. Next she tried hanging herself, but an uncle cut her
down. Then she slashed her wrists with a kitchen knife.
My family attacked my personality, and I felt I had committed the biggest
sin in the world, she said recently from a womens shelter where she had
traded in her veil for a T-shirt and jeans. She declined to give her last
name for fear that her family was still hunting her. I felt I had no right
to dishonor my family, that I have no right to be alive. So I decided to
respect my familys desire and to die.
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 offenses 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
Womens 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 Turkeys official secularism. The city was
featured in the latest novel by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, Snow,
which chronicled a journalists investigation of a suicide epidemic among
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.
The calls keep coming, said Mehtap Ceylan, a member of Batmans suicide
prevention squad. She said she had very recently received a call about a
16-year-old girl who had committed suicide, her family said, because they
would not let her wear jeans. But when Ms. Ceylan visited the house,
neighbors told her the girl had been a happy person and had been wearing
jeans for years.
The story just doesnt add up, Ms. Ceylan said. The girls family says
their daughter was eating breakfast, walked into the next room and put a
gun to her head. They were acting as if nothing had happened.
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 like Derya, 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 familys 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 womens rights and that failure to progress could impede its
drive to enter the union.
Until recently, a family member of a dishonored 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
defense 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 honor killings, regardless of
the killers 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.
In an effort to bring honor killings out from underground, Ka-Mer, a local
womens group, has created a hot line for women who fear their lives are at
risk. Ka-Mer finds shelter for the women and helps them to apply to the
courts for restraining orders against relatives who have threatened them.
Ayten Tekay, a caseworker for Ka-Mer in Diyarbakir, the regional center,
said that of the 104 women who had called the group this year, more than
half had been uneducated and illiterate. She said that in some cases the
families had not wanted to kill their relatives but that the social
pressure and incessant gossip had driven them to it.
We have to bring these killings out from the shadows and teach women about
their rights, she said. The laws have been changed, but the culture here
will not change overnight.
Derya, fiercely articulate and newly invigorated after counseling, said she
was determined to get on with her life. This region is religious and it is
impossible to be yourself if you are a woman, she said. You can either
escape by leaving your family and moving to a town, or you can kill yourself.
Derya said the underlying problem was inequality between the sexes, even
though the prophet Muhammad argued in favor of empowering women.
In my village and in my fathers tribe, boys are in the sky while girls
are treated as if they are under the earth, she said. As long as families
do not trust their daughters, bad things will continue to happen.
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