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Last Updated: Monday, 28 August 2006, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Turkish boys commit 'honour' crimes
Turkish women
Family honour remains a strong value in Turkey
Young children - in some cases a woman's own son - have been used to carry out so-called "honour killings" in Turkey.

The duty of repairing the family's reputation is often delegated to a youth, believing they will get the minimum jail sentence, the World Service's Assignment programme has learned.

Women are the main victims of a practice which is at odds with the country's pursuit of many Western standards and values as it seeks EU membership.

Despite the recent reform of Turkey's penal code, honour killings have continued, mostly in the east of the country where ancient traditions are strong.

Fatal TV interview

A recent case was the murder of Birgul Isik, gunned down by her 14-year-old son Ramazan for apparently bringing shame on her family. She had appeared on a Turkish talk show to discuss her abusive marriage.

She had fled her violent, bigamous husband several times before. Ignored by the authorities and dismissed by her family, she agreed to appear on the Women's Voice show.

Most men refer to honour as something to do with the women in their lives and particularly to do with women's behaviour and their sexuality
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen
UN Population Fund

But in Turkey, domestic violence is an issue few women would dare to discuss outside the family, let alone on national television. Back in her home town, for many Birgul had crossed the line.

She had just returned to Elazig in eastern Turkey by bus, accompanied by four of her five children after taking part in the programme in Istanbul.

Ramazan was waiting for her at the bus stop. When he saw her, he shouted that she had shamed the family, pulled out a gun and shot her five times.

Birgul died in hospital three weeks later.

Ramazan was placed in a juvenile detention centre and Birgul's four other children in orphanages. Birgul's husband was put on trial for incitement, but was later acquitted.

Delegating murder

Birgul's killing by her own son follows a disturbing pattern. In some communities when a family believes that a woman has compromised their reputation, they decide on a punishment.

If the decision is that she should die, they often delegate the actual murder to an underage son or cousin, believing he will get a light sentence if caught.

Elazig, like many poor towns in eastern Turkey, is more conservative than the wealthier cities in the west, such as Istanbul or the capital Ankara.

Turkish mosque
There is no evidence of Turkish imams advocating honour killings

But even in those cities, where on the surface the younger generation appears more westernised, traditional values such as family honour remain strong.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, a UN Population Fund representative in Ankara, has carried out an in-depth study into honour killings in Turkey.

She said: "Whether we have interviewed people in Istanbul or in the south-east of Turkey, most men at least refer to honour as something to do with the women in their lives and particularly to do with women's behaviour and their sexuality."

Her team's research has attempted to establish how the practice fits in with Islam, the country's main religion.

They found that while imams were not known to be advocating honour killings, their strict moral code meant that the general public might feel that Islam was actually condoning such practices.

Meanwhile, families who choose not to carry out an honour punishment find themselves, as well as any relatives, ostracised by their communities and have to move away.

Patriarchal bias

Honour killings happen in many other countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, but Turkey is a nation where women have had the right to be educated, to work and to vote since the 1930s.

Yakin Erturk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, said the Turkish legal system was biased against women.

"A woman who has been assaulted is not considered a total woman, but the perpetrator is punished according to whether the woman was a virgin, married etc."

A new penal code was introduced just over a year ago and was hailed by the government and the EU as a considerable improvement on the previous version.

"The law has changed, but to what extent have those applying the law changed?" Ms Erturk asks.

Moreover, while the new code criminalises custom killings, such as inter-tribal deaths, it makes no reference to honour killings.

Instead of telling people honour killings are illegal or un-Islamic, some politicians have tried to tackle the issue from an economic angle.

They tell communities that honour killings can tear families apart, putting men in jail and children on the street.


SEE ALSO
Turkey 'fails to protect women'
02 Jun 04 |  Europe

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