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May 25, 2007

Honor Suicides in Turkey

women protesting

After the honor suicide of a classmate, teenage girls tool to the street last fall to protest the treatment of women in their village.

Photo Credit: Jeff Harris

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At the edge of a main artery outside the city, a large house sits behind a high metal fence. For security reasons, the window blinds are always closed. Fourteen women and six children call this place home, having fled the threats of their husbands and families.

Sitting in a wooden chair, Zeynab, 33, plucks compulsively at her skirt with calloused hands. Short and stocky, wearing a floor-length skirt, long-sleeved blouse, knit vest, thick socks, and a head scarf, she is a rural Kurd. Quietly, she tells her story: She and her husband married for love, refusing a customary arranged marriage-something for which her in-laws never forgave her. When her husband, Ali, died of meningitis, she lost his protection. Since tradition decrees that a son and his wife live with his parents, Zeynab was all the more vulnerable.

"They'd hit me with a metal bar, drag me across a room by my hair," she says. "One beating was so bad, I passed out. I was terrified and depressed." Then one afternoon, her brother-in-law walked up to her and shoved a gun into her hand. "'You should kill yourself,' he told me. 'You are a black mark on our honor.' If I didn't kill myself, my mother-in-law said they'd do it for me."

That was spring 2006. By June, Zeynab made her move, slipping out of the house and grabbing her 11-year-old son, Hussein, who was playing outside. A woman she had met in a nearby park had told her about the shelter.
"For the first time, Hussein is in school," says Zeynab. "But every day when he goes, my heart is like a bird in my chest. I'm always terrified the family will capture him, and I won't see him again. I have nightmares every night that I go out and they catch us."

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