22 Lina LiVolsi – Turkey’s Honor Killings

Lina LiVolsi

English 102

Turkey’s Honor Killings

Imagine anxiously awaiting your own death. You know it is coming, yet do not know when or where. Suddenly, your male relatives arrive and your fate is understood. Unfortunately, this scenario is not one of imagination. Instead, thousands of young women within the country of Turkey have experienced this exact scene. Most would consider this situation as one practiced from centuries earlier. Notorious rulers such as Roman emperor Claudius and England’s Henry VIII have been known for planning murders of their female counterparts due to rumors of disgrace and impurity. While most believe such acts of violence are a thing of the past, the reality is that these premediated murders of young women are still transpiring today. Practices known as honor killings are a common occurrence in modern day. According to the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights, article 5 affirms “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (2017). Unfortunately, this proclamation is not exercised collectively throughout the world, specifically in Turkey. The victims of honor killings are degraded by society members, endure extreme torture, and ultimately murdered against their wishes, all of which contribute to the direct violation of article 5 in the declaration of one’s human rights.

To begin with, in order to fully understand the depth of this violation of human rights, one must define what honor killings entail.  The concept denotes to the premediated and systematic slaying of someone for bringing shame and embarrassment to their family and peers (Corbin, 2014). This dishonor can be brought on by many different factors such as marrying someone against family wishes, having premarital sex, or talking to someone that another is not intended to marry. While both genders can be victims of honor killings, most often, women are the ones who suffer the consequences.  Once villagers get word of a woman’s impurity, leaders of the family and community, which are exclusively men, meet and decide the fate of the woman accused. Together, they organize the step by step process in which how the girl will be murdered. The men then nominate who will be elected to kill the woman. The male chosen is usually the youngest in the family. This is done to ensure that the young man will not be tried as an adult and have a shorter sentence, if any. Ultimately, honor killings are seen as the only option to restore a family’s reputation and decency.

Moreover, women in Turkey suffer from degrading treatment. Within communities, men obtain complete control over the women. They are treated as mere property that the men govern.  Due to this sort of thinking, when women rebel against the norm and push to make their own choices, whether it be marrying someone against the families wishes or talking to a boy, they are killed for their disobedience and dishonor. As stated in the article, “Women are transformed into bearers of the public identity of the community that takes the family, kinship group or tribe’s values as common representative objects” (Gültekin, 2011). Evidently, women hold no influence over their own body or making their own choices. In this aspect, they are seen as property owned by their fathers or husbands. As women are considered lifeless objects rather than human beings, they are talked down upon and extremely humiliated, a clear violation of article 5, which prohibits any form of demeaning treatment. Ultimately, women are responsible for the way outsiders perceive the community. If the community is given a bad image, women are held accountable and punished. Following this further, because a women’s purity is so highly valued, young girls are subjected to examinations which ensure they are telling the truth about their virginity. These tests are demeaning and make girls feel inhuman because even if they confirm their purity, their say is completely disregarded.  According to the text, “Commonly forced on minors by their families, the exams have an immense effect on the girls who experience them. The feelings of shame and humiliation evoked are often precisely what the families want their daughters to feel” (Kogacioglu, 2004). In other words, families aim for females to be ashamed of themselves and their bodies. This is done with the effort of preventing women from mingling with the opposite gender. Women in these Turkish communities are taught to be subordinate and inferior to men. They are not only perceived as unequal to men, but inhuman as well, an obvious example of article 5’s “degrading treatment”.

Likewise, the victims of honor killings do not experience a quick death. Instead, women are subjected to countless methods of torture and cruelty before they are murdered. For example, one can learn of Cemse Allak, a victim of Turkey’s honor killings. Presumably, Cemse was raped and soon became pregnant. Being an unmarried woman, Cemse tainted the name of her family. Her relatives and other male members of her village stoned her nearly to death. However, she was stronger than they thought. As described in an article from the New York Times, “For seven months after her stoning, Ms. Allak lay semi-conscious, her skull crushed, unable to move or speak” (Filkins, 2003). It is also noted that her unborn child held on to life for six weeks after their attempted murder. Cemse’s will to live died after her child did. Clearly, Cemse suffered for a long period of time before succumbing to her injuries. Not only did she experience cruel punishment by being stoned, but even worse, she lay imprisoned in her body for months, which is its own form of torture. Surely by that point, death seemed welcoming. Clearly, article 5’s “No one shall be subjected to torture” (2017) was not considered in Cemse’s life. Equally, women are exposed to grotesque methods of torture comparable to that of the Middle Ages. The last moments prior to their death, women experience extreme pain. For instance, male leaders intimidate and persuade other male members in the community with monetary incentives to punish and discipline females that disgraced their family through inflicting pain. The article details that, “These include various forms of physical amputations such as ear, nose, and tongue cuttings” (Ahmetbeyzade, 2008). In other words, when women are insubordinate and bring dishonor to their families, they are first maimed. Obviously, this sort of society resorts to medieval means to mutilate and torture victims, a direct violation of one’s human rights that often results in their death. This practice is all done to serve as a lesson for not only the victim, but also other women. It demonstrates the consequences of bringing dishonor to the family.

Following this further, nearly all honor crimes result in death. In most cases, the idea of being killed is not the choice the victim wishes for. For instance, according to data records from Turkey, researchers approximate a minimum of 200 females are killed by their kin every year (Moore, 2001). Based on this information, the practice of honor killings is as strong as ever. While the number of deaths is astonishing, it is not completely accurate because it does not include honor suicides. This new term has been seen on the rise and is not recorded as “murder” because it is self- inflicted.  Honor suicides are when women are persuaded by their family to kill themselves as a way to serve penance for their sins and restore honor within their family. The victims of honor suicides experience cruelty because they must plan their own death. For instance, a case study that discusses this is of a young woman named Derya who communicated with a boy against her family’s wishes. As noted in the text. “The overwhelming shame and guilt forced Derya to jump into the Tigris River in an effort to commit suicide. But the attempt failed and she survived. Determined to fulfill her family’s wishes, Derya next tried to hang herself; an uncle saved her life. Finally, Derya slashed her wrists with a kitchen knife” (Corbin, 2014). Clearly, this young woman was brainwashed into believing she greatly sinned, which tormented her enough to try to kill herself three different times before finally succeeding. Honor suicides are the result of being pressured by family members who do not want blood on their hands. While the woman may by the one to actually kill herself, it is her surrounding peers who forced it upon her. An obvious violation in the Declaration of Human Rights is murder. Evidently, honor killings include this.

On the contrary, members of the Kurdish community in Turkey do not consider honor killings to be a crime. In fact, they see it as the only way honor can be restored in their families after it has been tarnished. According to a documentary called “Honour Killings: Turkey”, a man interviewed describes how he himself murdered his sister. He nonchalantly mentions how he shot her and her lover with a riffle with no regrets. Based on his accounts, her actions brought disgrace to the family (2008). Ultimately, Turkey is a country that highly values reputations. In a society governed and run by patriarchal dynamics, reputations influence their lives and the way they are perceived by their peers. In this aspect, I understand why any acts of impurity reflect badly on the family. It is simply small town logic. However, regardless of the importance of reputation, it does not permit by any means that others can murder anyone. In addition, those who exercise honor killings defend the practice because they view it as a tradition. The text cites how “these traditions are also presumed to be resilient to change” (Kogacioglu, 2004). Remarkably, honor killings are viewed as a timeless custom that has been practiced for generations. While it is beneficial for societies to hold on to certain traditions within their ethnic or religious background, the tradition of honor killings is completely inhumane. One can look at ancient Rome’s “tradition” of having gladiators fight to the death. Obviously, this custom ended long ago because people recognized it as immoral and an unjust action. The same should go for honor killings. They simply must end.

In addition, the first step in finding a resolution to a problem is accepting it. Once the culprit of an offense understands why they are wrong, progress towards peace can be made. The families who practice honor killings must first understand why this method is unjust. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party attempts to end honor killings by establishing educational programs that are especially created for young women and their families. These programs teach modernized ideas that push away the “traditional” logic that honor killings stem from. (Kogacioglu, 2004). Instead, the students of these programs learn how women must be treated with respect and gain a more equal position with communities. Turkey furthers their progress in demolishing honor killings by educating young children of both genders of the importance of equality and mutual respect. The documentary, “Honor Killings: Turkey”, highlights Turkey’s efforts by establishing such concepts of respect and equality for the next generation of citizens. The film depicts young children interacting and learning with one another, a sign of hope to end the inferiority of women. Through these efforts, Turkey hopes to rid of traditional honor killings.

Furthermore, in order to prevent lawbreaking activities, the government must take more disciplinary action.  When it comes to honor crimes, Turkey has attempted to discourage the deed. For example, in 2009, Turkey dramatically reedited its Penal Code to dishearten honor crimes.  These newly added provisions impose life sentences on the perpetrators of honor killings. As mentioned earlier, younger males are chosen to commit the murder to reduce the length of sentences. However, Turkey’s new Penal Code also includes a provision that tries minors who commit such crimes as adults (Kremen, 2015). Evidently, Turkey is making progress in eliminating honor killings. By imposing higher punishments to those responsible for the deaths, it will hopefully prevent violence in the future. While the murderers will never be punished in the way victims of honor killings experienced, a life sentence in jail is about as close as they will get to the living hell women in these communities experience.

Similarly, what victims in any circumstance crave most is safety and security. People who are in difficult situations, such as women in Turkey who live in communities that practice honor killings, must maintain an environment in which they feel protected. Turkey in recent years has made an effort for women seeking refuge, however they are not as successful as they could be. In fact, when describing facilities that have been created, Kogacioglu’s journal mentions, “shelters or hotlines to protect women from honor crimes and other types of violence are extremely few or altogether absent” (2004). In other words, while there are some safe homes, the number is so few that it offers little help. In this case, I propose a small solution that may aid in the war of honor crimes and all together violation of human rights is that more refuge homes be available for women seeking protection from their families. These homes should be secluded enough that families who want to kill their daughters cannot find, but women who are seeking help have easy access to. Should an increase in safe homes for women occur, women who suffer from honor crimes will be able to regain some of their natural rights. Women will no longer have to experience degrading and embarrassing treatment from their community members. They will not suffer from torturous methods of inflicting pain. Most importantly, women will not have to be murdered for the sake of honor.

All in all, as women of honor killings are embarrassed by their community, subjected to cruel punishment, and murdered without their consent, article 5 of the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights is completely violated. Every human being is entitled to each of the articles listed, yet women in Turkey are denied of them and ultimately killed for the idea of honor. Evidently, honor killings are not an extinct practice of the past, but rather a traditional custom exercised in modern day. Now, imagine being in the same position as countless women just moments from their death. While they may think there are not any alternatives left in their short life, you know there are other methods that can help save them. Ultimately, society must recognize any and all violations of human rights and take immediate action to restore every human’s liberties.









Works Cited

Ahmetbeyzade, Ci˙han. “Gendering Necropolitics: The Juridical-Political Sociality of Honor Killings in Turkey.” Journal of Human Rights, vol. 7, no. 3, July 2008, pp. 187-206. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14754830802286095. Accessed 23 Mar. 2017.

Corbin, Bethany A. “Between Saviors and Savages: The Effect of Turkey’s Revised Penal Code on the Transformation of Honor Killings into Honor Suicides and Why Community Discourse Is Necessary for Honor Crime Eradication.” Emory International Law Review, vol. 29, no. 1, Oct. 2014, pp. 277-325. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.scottsdalecc.edu:2443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=100141897&site=ehost-live. Accessed 06 Apr. 2017.

Filkins, Dexter. “Turkey: Honor Killings Still Continue in Rural Areas.” The New York Times, vol. 29, no. 4, Oct. 2003, p. 44. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.scottsdalecc.edu:2443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=11084819&site=ehost-live. Accessed 23 Mar. 2017.

Gültekin, M. Nuri. “Tradition, Society and the Concept of Honor: Stories on Implementation.” Eurasian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 2, no. 2, June 2011, pp. 70-84. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.scottsdalecc.edu:2443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=83134079&site=ehost-live. Accessed 09 Apr. 2017.

“Honour Killings: Turkey.” Youtube, uploaded by United Nations, 23 Jun. 2008, www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtUS_JSxnwI.  Accessed 06 Apr. 2017.

Kogacioglu, Dicle. “The Tradition Effect: Framing Honor Crimes in Turkey.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, Summer2004, pp. 118-151. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.scottsdalecc.edu:2443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=14092002&site=ehost-live. Accessed 09 Apr. 2017.

Kremen, Ayla M. “Suicide in the Name of Honor: Why and How U.S Asylum Law Should be Modified to Allow Greater Acceptance of Honor-Violence to Prevent “Honor Suicides”.” William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law 21.1 (2015): 214-35. http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1399&context=wmjowl. Accessed 29 Apr. 2017.

Moore, Molly. “In Turkey, ‘Honor Killing’ Follows Families to Cities.” The Washington Post, 08 Aug. 2001. www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2001/08/08/in-turkey-honor-killing-follows-families-to-cities/514d15c2-7e98-4b65-abee-d94e3fdfe3ce/?utm_term=.5dc3d762c17a. Accessed 09 Apr. 2017.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations. United Nations, n.d. Accessed 01 May 2017.


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