“My family attacked my personality, and I felt I had committed the biggest sin in the world. I felt I had no right to dishonor my family, that I have no right to be alive. So I decided to respect my family’s desire and die.” Derya, 17 years old. Turkey.
The order to kill herself came from her uncle in a text message to her cell phone. “You have blackened our name, kill yourself and clean our shame or we will kill you first,” it said. Derya’s crime was to fall in love with a boy she had met at school. She knew it was dangerous because her aunt had been killed by her grandfather for speaking with a boy.
When news of the love affair spread to her family, her mother warned her that her father would kill her but she refused to listen. Her brothers and uncle sent her text messages every day threatening her. Filled with shame and afraid, Derya decided to commit suicide. First she jumped into the Tigris River, but survived. Then she tried to hang herself but another uncle cut her down. Last she tried to slash her wrists with a kitchen knife.
Elif, another young girl received her death sentence when she declined the offer of an arranged marriage with an older man. Her wish was to continue on her education. The disobedience brought shame on her whole family and the only way out was death. She managed to escape.
These honor suicides in Turkey has reached new heights as they have turned into honor suicides. This phenomenon emerged after the new reforms to Turkey’s penal code in 2005. Before, killers could receive reduced sentences claiming provocation but after the reforms, the government introduced mandatory life sentences for honor killings. Soon after the law was passed, honor suicides increased in numbers. Batman, a city in the south east with a population of 250,000 has got the nickname “suicide city” because of the high number of suicides among girls. The city was also featured in the novel by Turkish writer and Nobel literature winner in 2006 Orhan Pamuk’s “snow”. The story was about a journalist’s investigation of a suicide epidemic among teenage girls. Between 2001 and 2006, there were 1,806 murders in Turkey that fell under the definition of honor killings, according to the State Minister for Women and Family Affairs Nimet Çubukçu. Meanwhile, during the same period, 5,375 women committed suicide.
A majority of the murders happens in the Kurdish regions where people have been segregated from the rest of the society. Education usually ends in an early age and ignorance seems to transfer from generations to generations. These rural communities are ruled under a strict patriarchal system and decisions are usually made by a “family council” when the extended family meets to discuss honor. They discuss everything from how the victim should be killed and if it isn’t a forced suicide, a killer is chosen. The youngest member of the family is often chosen in hope that they will receive a shorter sentence. The families have the choice between sacrificing a son to a life in prison or forcing the daughter to finish the job herself.
23-year-old Yildiz A. from Turkey was stabbed in the stomach six or seven times and her nose and ears and part of her lip cut off, then she was dumped in a field. She managed to crawl to the side of the road where a passing motorist took her to hospital.
13 year old Rojda was raped and as punishment for “allowing” herself to be raped, her nose was cut off
There are many honor killers in the prisons and oddly enough, they are treated with huge respect among the other inmates and even some prison guards. In the recent years, many Kurds have fled their hometowns and settled to other cities across the country because of the fighting’s between Turkey’s government and the rebels PKK. With the migration, the honor killings and suicides are spreading as well.
Turkey has the highest proportion of female professors in Europe, at 27% and the lifestyle has developed into modern and secular. Families who move to bigger cities and face a modern secular lifestyle have a hard time adjusting and the clash of culture makes it hard on the females who are forced to behave conservatively when there are more temptations around.
Almost every week, a young female tries to commit suicide in Batman or in the nearby areas which are commonly poor and rural with deeply rooted tribal traditions. Others have been stoned to death, strangled, shot or buried alive. Their crime was everything from looking at a boy, wearing a short skirt, declining an arranged marriage, wanting to go out with friends, being raped or engaged in sexual relations out of wedlock. Once the shame has spread to the family, the only way it can be restored is through death. Some women’s group have reported that the girls are being locked up in a room for days with a gun, rat poison, rope etc. they are constantly reminded on that their disgrace is punished by death.
In an effort to help these girls, Ka-Mer, a local women’s group has created a hot line for women who fear that their life might be at risk. They help the girls find shelter and to apply to the courts for restraining orders against their relatives. Ayten Tekar, a caseworker for Ka-Mer in Diyarbakir stated that half of the 104 women, who called the hot line, were uneducated and illiterate. Some had also told that the families hadn’t wanted to kill them but the social pressure and the village gossip had driven them to commit suicide. “We have to bring these killings out from the shadows and teach women about their rights. The laws have been changed, but the culture here will not change overnight,” she said.
A worldwide epidemic
According to the United Nations, about 5,000 honor killings take place each year, most of them in the Middle East. Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders. But honor crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations.These killings have spread throughout Europe and reached to the US during the last 10 years as migrants have settled down. Police authorities across Europe who wasn’t familiar with the problem met in 2006 to discuss the reasons and preventions. Denmark was the first country out in a European court to sentence several family members for honor killing instead of just the triggerman. It can now be found in USA, Germany, Sweden, France, Netherlands and United Kingdom.
Ghazala Kahn, a Pakistani 18 year old, had an intimate relationship with her future husband, Emal Khan 3 years before her murder. She kept the relationship secret but eventually revealed her feelings to her mother, who became outraged and beat her, joined by Ghazala’s older brother, Akhtar Abbas, the same man who would later shoot her. After this, Ghazala was locked up inside the house and “frozen out” by the rest of her family, all of whom refused to speak to her or eat with her. Finally, on 5 September 2005 she managed to escape and lived with Emal. In the period up until her murder they lived with various friends in Denmark. They repeatedly contacted the police for protection, but were denied help. On 21 September they married and two days later, the family, pretending to want to come to a peaceful reconciliation, convinced the newlywed couple to arrange a meeting at the railway station where Ghazala’s brother shot both Ghazala and Emal Khan. Ghazala was killed instantly while Emal, shot twice survived.
The family was upset so they persuaded Ghazala’s brother to shoot her. The court however convicted 9 members of the family, including her father who conceived the murder and received a life sentence. Her brother received 16 years in prison and an aunt will spend 14 years in prison for luring Ghazala to what she believed would be a family gathering.
Migrants have lived in Europe for many years, so why haven’t they managed to integrate to the society? The problem goes way longer than a couple of years. After World War 2, Europe, especially Germany was left war stricken and the country needed guest workers to rebuild its cities. A huge amount of immigrants, mostly Turkish and Kurds migrated to West Europe and most of them were poor and uneducated. The mistake Germany commit was to allow separate schools for over 20 years and special housing for the guest workers where only their native language was spoken. This led to closed communities where Western culture and values were disregarded making room for ghettoes. Today, there are still classes at public schools where the native language is spoken and in the afternoon the children go home where the parents doesn’t speak German.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has regularly highlighted “honour” killings of Kurdish women as being among the country’s most severe problems. Most of these crimes are reported as deaths caused by accidental fires in the home. 12,500 women were murdered or had committed suicide between 1991 and 2007 for “honour” reasons in Iraq’s 3 major Kurdish provinces. Authorities have admitted that they feel powerless when it comes to preventing the honor killings and honor suicides following by an increase of 70%. On reason can be that there is almost no conviction. Few years ago, 81 women were reported murdered and the authorities had made only 5 convictions. The police release the killers shortly after the arrest and does little attempt to track them down.
Rand Abdel-Qader was killed after her family discovered that she had formed a friendship with a 22-year-old infantryman whom she knew as Paul. She was suffocated by her father then hacked at with a knife. Abdel-Qader Ali was arrested and shortly after released without charge. Rand’s mother, Leila Hussein, who divorced her husband after the killing, went into hiding but was tracked down weeks later and assassinated by an unknown gunman. Her husband had told The Observer that police had congratulated him for killing his daughter. The father has left Basra. He was held by police in connection with his daughter’s murder for only two hours and a local businessman who described the actions of Rand’s father as ‘courageous’ was believed to have given a huge amount of money to him and his two sons, who disowned their mother after she objected to Rand’s killing.
An Iraqi lawyer said that some fathers had started to hire professional hitmen to carry out ‘honour killings.’ “The life of these women isn’t higher than $100. You can find a killer standing in any coffee shop of Basra, discussing prices of a life as if he was buying a piece of meat,” he said.
Mariam Ayub Sattar, an activist in Basra, said that any woman caught speaking to a man in public who was not her husband or a relative was considered a prostitute and punished. Three women were burned with acid while walking through a market in Basra after stopping to speak to a male friend, Sattar also told. This shows how narrow minded the Iraqi’s are and how much they try to isolate the women while the men have enormous freedom. A blow to the face was when The Women’s Rights Association in Basra was forced to close down after receiving death threats following the murder of Rand’s mother. Two women from a voluntary organization who had been helping her to hide from her husband were also injured.
Besides the murder, hundreds of women commit suicide every year by setting themselves on fire. In the first half of 2010, 80 suicides were reported in the Kurdish city of Suleimania according to a human rights activist named Suaad al-Khazraji. These suicides are actually not suicide but murder since they are forced by family members to restore the family honor. Looking at the numbers in Suleimania that is regarded to be the most open and modern city, the numbers are probably in thousands in the more conservative provinces like Baghdad, Basra, Arbil and Dahouk.
I don’t think that the elder generations will change their opinion about honor killings and suicides. For them, this is the only right thing to do and honor goes before everything. What the government should do is to target the younger generations in the rural areas. Education is number one solution to everything. When they know their rights, know how to read and write, then they also can escape this horrible practice. We cannot afford to lose more daughters, sisters and wife’s.
“In my village and in my father’s tribe, boys are in the sky while girls are treated as if they are under the earth. As long as families do not trust their daughters, bad things will continue to happen.”Derya, 17 years.