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May 25, 2007

Honor Suicides in Turkey

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bahar sogut

After numerous threats and pressure from her family, Bahar Sogut, a Turkish teenager, took her own life.

Photo Credit: France Keyser

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"When it comes to gender issues in Turkey, the picture is mixed," says European Union spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy. "Turkey has the highest proportion of female professors in Europe, at 27 percent. At the same time, we know the stories about victims of honor crimes." Such crimes involve family members taking the life of a wife, daughter, sister, or niece because she has shamed them, usually by wearing Western clothes, forming friendships with men, or marrying someone not chosen by her parents.

Lately, human-rights advocates have noticed a new trend in Turkey: Since the country began expressing a desire to join the European Union, there's been a noticeable drop in the number of reported honor killings. In 2004, for the first time, Turkey made honor killings punishable by life imprisonment. Could the country be cleaning up its act in order to meet the standards set forth by the EU?

Then advocates noticed another unusual statistic: "Between 2001 and 2006, there were 1806 murders in Turkey that fell under the definition of honor killings," says State Minister for Women and Family Affairs Nimet Çubukçu. "Meanwhile, during the same period, 5375 women committed suicide." In Batman, a town neighboring Derya's, female suicide rates are rapidly increasing. "Recently, seven girls committed suicide in a month," says Batman City Council-woman Nurten Uzumeu. "Two months ago, we had 20 more suicides."

Turkish authorities now suspect that "honor suicides" are replacing traditional honor killings as a way to eliminate a woman who has shamed her family, without drawing the attention of the police. "It's not right that girls get treated like this and boys get all the freedom," says Derya, who is now receiving protection from a local shelter. "The men in my family are viewed as God. Women aren't even treated as human beings."


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