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May 25, 2007

Honor Suicides in Turkey

text messaging

"Kill yourself, or your family will kill you" (text translation) [photo is a recreation of an actual message]

Photo Credit: France Keyser

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Last June, Derya threw herself into the fast-flowing Tigris River near the Iraqi border, but a passing police patrol pulled her out. At home the following day, she attached a rope to a stout ceiling hook meant to hold a baby's cradle, then tied it around her neck and kicked over the chair on which she was standing. When her uncle heard the crash, he cut down the half-conscious teenager and rushed her to the hospital, having summoned some sympathy for her. But after she was released, the text messages intensified-her family cursing her for failing at suicide and her uncle for saving her. Derya made one last, failed, attempt, cutting her wrists with a kitchen knife. "I so hated my life," she says. "I just wanted it to end."

Walking along the Bosporus or strolling through Istanbul, the look is familiar: girls sporting skinny jeans, high-heeled boots, cropped tops, and tattoos, smoking cigarettes. On the surface, relationships between young men and women seem decidedly Western. There's no shortage of bars and discos; there's even the occasional store selling sex toys. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that modern Turkish women are expected to live with their families and guard their virginity until they marry.

But then, Turkey has long been a paradox. Women received the right to vote and run for public office in 1930, years before their counterparts in many European countries. In 1993, Turkey elected a female prime minister, while the United States has yet to give a woman the top job. Still, though primary-school education has been mandatory since 1927, in rural regions, nearly half of all women have been denied schooling by their families and remain illiterate. Head scarves are banned in government offices and universities, but a growing number of women wear them as part of an Islamic resurgence. Just as confounding, Turkey's current Islamist government won by an overwhelming majority-but claims to be committed to secularism. And in a country where forced virginity tests in high schools were only recently outlawed, abortion is legal and more readily available than in the U.S.

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