Foreign Policy Blogs

Honor killings and Turkey

You can’t see her whole face but she is visibly upset as she breaks down.  For the past eight months she has fled to five different cities in Turkey*.

Both her father and her brother want her dead for not marrying a man much older than herself.  At only 18, she now fears the very people she loved.

“Kill youself,” her father said. “Think of your father, think of your brother.  If we do it we’ll have to go to prison.”

Four years ago, Turkey passed a law requiring mandatory life sentences for those who kill women and girls in the name of honor.  In its hope to join the EU, the law has led to a terrible twist.  So-called suicide rates have since skyrocketed.

In Batman, a small city in the southern region of Kurdish dominated Turkey, the cemetary’s director says that in the past year 18 women have committed suicide.

Hanging, shootings, and rat poison are common methods.  He suspects many are simply murdered by their families and then reported as suicides.

In Bismil, another Kurdish city, a campaign for the next mayor is under way.  A woman is running.  She openly condemns the killings and blames the feudal strucutre of Kurdish society as well as Turkey’s oppression.

Turkey refuses to develope the region she says.  But horror stories go beyond the lack of infrastructure.

Throughout the world, and indeed in Europe’s capitals as well, honor killings continue.  One Kurdish woman said that you go to your husband’s house in a wedding dress and leave in a death shawl.  For men who condone the practice, it is another means of control.  Honor is everything they say.

And in a darkened room a young man, who had shot his stepmother and her lover, said that prison guards and inmates treated him with respect.  He spent two and half years in jail.

He too felt saddened and frightened he said.  Because he was under 18 he was selected by the family council to carry out the murder.  His sentence would be reduced.  Now his conscious is clouded. If he hadn’t carried out the killings he would have himself been killed.

In Karabachi, a village outside Diyarbakir, a woman is dishonored for standing too close to a man unrelated to her.  In the village, both women and girls live in constant fear.   In another town that borders the mountains in Iran, men openly admit that they would kill their sisters, their daughters, their wives, their mothers, for anything they would consider a dishonor.

In that same village, a young bride had her eyes gouged out, her tongue cut, her body cut into pieces, and then burned by a jealous husband who is serving 5 years.  Not far away,a  24 year old girl was murdered, strangled in her bed by a newly wed husband.  He was impotent and couldn’t consomate the marriage.

They found her, the henna still visible on her hands.  Only ten days after her wedding night. [kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

*Unreported World: Killing for Honour by Ramita Navai – blog entry taken from this report.

For more information see:

International Campaign Against Honor Killings
Kurdish Women’s Rights Watch


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Nikolaj Nielsen

Nikolaj Nielsen has a Master's of Journalism and Media degree from a program partnership of three European universities - University of Arhus in Denmark, University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Swansea University in Wales. His work has been published at Reuters AlertNet,, the New Internationalist and others.

Areas of Focus:
Torture; Women and Children; Asylum;


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