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HONOR KILLINGS AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN TURKEY
Zulfu Livaneli

The Turkish National Assembly has recently published an extensive report on violence against women and children in general and the case of honor crimes in particular. This report is important in that it includes the first official statistical data regarding honor crimes. According to the report, 1091 honor crimes have been committed in Turkey between the years 2000 and 2005. According to police records, 29% of these events are due to issues of honor, 29% due to disagreements within the family, 15% due to extra-marital affairs, 10% due to blood feuds, 9% due to sexual harassment, 3% due to rape, 3% due to disagreement in marriage arrangements and 2% due to other reasons. Unfortunately, it is impossible to accurately determine the number honor crimes. Suicides should also be considered within the framework of honor killings. Because in most of the cases the woman in question is forced to kill herself or she may kill herself knowing what awaits her. The whole question of shame and threats within the community ensures that no one is willing to be a witness and the deaths are usually explained and registered as either accidental or as suicide.

There is a consensus over the fact that crimes of honor emanate from cultural and not religious roots and that they can be found worldwide, mainly in patriarchal societies or communities. However it’s also an established fact that they mostly take place within Muslim communities. The paradox is that crimes against women committed in the name of family honor are not sanctioned by Islam and many Islamic leaders have condemned this practice on the grounds that it has no religious basis. In the case of Turkey, it can generally be said that crimes of honor are more common in Eastern Anatolia, within communities where tribal/feudal ties and relations continue to exist. In certain parts of Eastern Anatolia, patriarchal norms and hierarchies can still be found in their harshest and most anachronistic forms and women are denied all of their rights. On the other hand, honor crimes also occur in the big cities of Western Turkey as well as in the major cities of Europe where migrant communities reproduce their traditional cultural norms and practices.

Honor crimes should be contextualized within the larger problem of violence against women in general. Many European women suffer from domestic violence, from crimes that are committed within the conjugal home by the women’s spouse or companion. According to a report presented to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on September 16, 2004, domestic violence against women is escalating in Europe and the problem extends to all Council of Europe member states. The report states that domestic violence against women “knows no geographical boundaries, has no age limit, is not the preserve of any particular race, and occurs in every kind of family relationship and in every sort of social milieu.” According to a report titled “So-called honor crimes” presented to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in March 2003, the so-called “honor crimes” occur and affect a whole spectrum of cultures, communities, religions and ethnicities in a wide range of countries around the world including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, the United States of America, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany. Also from the same report: Some 5,000 women fall victim to "honor killings" around the world every year. As noted earlier it is impossible to accurately determine the number of honor killings. Because of shame and threats within the community, witnesses are not willing to speak up and the deaths are usually explained and registered as accidents or suicide. In many countries women are not even aware that a crime has occurred and they may sometimes think that the punishment is deserved.

It is clear that the problem of honor crimes in particular and violence against women in general cannot be solved by legal measures alone although legal measures are absolutely necessary, especially in countries like Turkey where laws have for long remained insufficient in protecting women’s rights. However, much more importantly, what is needed is a change in consciousness and it can only be achieved through education and economic development. Unfortunately, in Turkey, laws have for a long time reinforced unequal treatment of men and women. There were articles that confirmed women’s secondary status and their dependency on men. There were also articles that justified and reinforced certain anachronistic norms and values in society. Until recently, laws were either not sufficient or they were not strictly applied.

As a result of the process of EU membership, important steps were taken. Turkey signed international agreements including CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) for the protection of the rights of women. Also, there were improvements in the legal framework. There were changes and amendments in the Constitution, the criminal code, the civil code and the laws regarding the family.

In 2004, with an amendment made to Article 10 of the Constitution, the state was made responsible for ensuring that men and women are treated equally. Again with an amendment made to Article 90 of the Constitution, it was made clear that whenever there’s a disharmony between national laws and obligations resulting from international agreements, international law will be applied.

The most important changes particularly regarding violence against women and honour killings were made in the New Penal Code that took effect in June 2005. Until then, honor killings were considered to be crimes of extreme provocation, and sentences were often minimal. Indeed, the Turkish Penal Code allowed for a reduction in sentence when the killing is carried out in order to purify the honor of the family. Article 463 of the old code reduced imprisonment by 1/8 when a killing was carried out immediately before, during or immediately after a situation of anticipated adultery or fornication.

With the new law honor killings are defined as a form of voluntary homicide and are punished with life-long imprisonment. There is no reduction in the sentence. Also, according to the new penal code, those family members who encourage another member of the family to commit a murder or to commit suicide will be punished. Those who encourage children to commit a crime will be punished more severely.

It is clear that the problem of honor killings in particular and violence against women in general cannot be solved by legal measures alone although legal measures are absolutely necessary, especially in countries like Turkey where laws have for long remained insufficient in protecting women’s rights. The state should adopt appropriate legislative, legal and financial measures in order to prevent and punish honor killings and to assist the victims. However, much more importantly, what is needed is a change in consciousness and it can only be achieved through education on the one hand and economic development on the other.

Currently, in Turkey, there are a number of civil institutions that organize educational programs and consciousness raising activities for both men and women. Education of both men and women is a very important long term goal and it requires the cooperation of state, local governments and civil society.

Reference: Summarized from a talk given by Zulfi Livaneli at NYU, NYC USA in April 2006. Zulfi Livanelli was a member of Turkish National Assembly.

Turkey is one of the countries in which honor crimes occur with alarming frequency. . These crimes are justified or explained by the perpetrator(s) on the grounds that the crime was committed as a consequence of the need to defend or protect the family honor. How is “honor” defined? We see that male honor is defined through women. Honor lies in a man’s capacity to defend the “namus” of the female; here I am using the Turkish word “namus” which has very strong connotations. A man has honor and a woman has “namus”. “Namus” is about virginity, modesty and selfless love. It is a concept which is at the center of a complex web of meanings and practices that structure and control women’s relationship with their bodies and with society.
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