Turkey grapples with spike in 'honor' killings
Recent government figures suggest the murders of women – including so-called honor killings – increased 14-fold in seven years, hitting nearly 1,000 in the first seven months of 2009.
A drastic rise in reported "honor" killings and fatal domestic violence in Turkey has sparked a vigorous debate about the government's recent attempts to address the problem. It also highlights the clash of conservative values with the country's rapid modernization.Skip to next paragraph
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Government figures released in February suggest murders of women increased 14-fold in seven years, from 66 in 2002, to 953 in the first seven months of 2009. In the past seven months, one rights organization has compiled more than 264 cases – nearly one per day – reported in the press in which a woman was killed by a family member, husband, ex-husband, or partner.
“There’s been an incredible increase," says Gulhan Yag, a young activist who recently attended a funeral for a teenage girl killed for eloping with her boyfriend. "This feels like a genocide against women.”
Amidst a surge of public outrage, the Islam-rooted ruling party is being cast as both villain and hero. While some argue it has fueled social conservatism, others claim that for the first time, a problem that has long plagued Turkish family life is finally being uncovered – in part because women are asserting their rights and drawing attention to the issue.
“We know that violence against women has been a longstanding bleeding wound of the society,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a convention last month on the eve of International Women’s Day. “It is being reflected by the media as a growing issue when it is simply the hidden and unspoken truths being uncovered.”
On paper, progress for women
On paper at least, Mr. Erdogan's government has an impressive record for fighting the problem.
Since 2006, police officers have undergone training to combat violence against women, and now a specialized domestic violence police unit is being set up. Penal and civil codes were changed in 2004 and 2005 to increase sentences for honor killers.
Meanwhile, amendments to the family protection law currently in parliament will for the first time allow judges to impose restraining orders in relation to non-married couples.
“More women know their rights, people are more aware than before, and for the last five years police have been trained in these issues,” says Meltem Agduk, United Nations Population Program Coordinator for Turkey.
Are police willing to help?
But others question both the effectiveness of the legislation, and the government’s own commitment to the problem.
“Laws have been made but they are not being applied,” says Canan Gullu, chairwoman of the Turkish Association of Women’s Federations. “Police stations don’t work as they should and there are not enough safe houses for women.”
The government passed a law in 2005 recommending that municipalities with more than 50,000 people should have a women’s shelter. Few have paid attention to the vaguely worded, noncompulsory legislation, and so far only 65 are operating, compared to the 1,400 that would exist with proper implementation.
Activists claim police are unwilling or unable to help vulnerable women. In February, Arzu Yildirim, a mother of two, was murdered, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend after having requests for police protection rejected. Hers was one among many similar cases.