From Turkish, this literally means “blood pulls.” Like most Turkish phrases and sentiments, this is deep and loaded with meaning. In an emotional context, this phrase illustrates the idea that regardless of where you are in the world, you are what is in your blood and you act accordingly. You act, whether you are overtly aware or not, with your biological make up (symbolized in terms of blood) through both mental and physical outlets such as your personality traits or your medical situations. From this, there is a lot of pride that gushes out of this sentiment. People can immigrate, emigrate, change location, et cetera, but are they suddenly no longer tied to their roots, heritage, and traditions? Maybe not to you or maybe not to your immediate awareness, but Turks never forget the history (past, present, and future) of their blood.
The Turkish personality is seeping with preoccupations with honor– largely in the context of family and a “tribe.” This sense of eros focuses specifically on the family domain and it is unfathomably strong. The tenets of the Ottoman identity are fluid, highly nuanced, and occasionally contradictory. It is customary to maintain, what the Italians call, bella figura or “a good impression. This is a huge preoccupation with image– both in the physical as well as managing the perception in which they are seen. To Turks, an individual identity in just a small pattern of the entire cloth to which they are sown. According to this precept that is shared by various Middle Eastern traditional customs, one application of this is the belief that one is obligated to show hospitality to all (specially those who are foreigners or strangers). I experienced this more so when I visited a small village in south-west Turkey. As a guest, I was fed, sheltered, and protected. This is hospitality at its finest, most pure form. They wanted to be seen as good by going above an beyond to make me feel welcomed. For me (one who has not been exposed to anything to this degree before), I looked upon it as a show. Do not misunderstand me, I was incredibly grateful for the kindness and appreciative towards their efforts but, as one who studies human nature, I could see the line between what was genuinely real and what was a superficial act. They did not go out of their way entirely to make me feel welcome, but to maintain their family’s reputation and honor.
As a society strongly based upon the conceptions and applications of eros-based honor combined with strong religious ties, there are often extremes. As one could see the extreme pole of kindness in which honor was conducted as a result of actions like hospitality and friendliness. The other extreme of preserving a family’s honor can be executed when a member acts in a manner that is perceived as being disgraceful and shameful. The rationale for punishing such offenders of “honor” in Muslim societies must be subjected into wiping out such shame and insult by being killed, generally by family members (frequently by the father, husband, brothers and sometimes with the helping hand of the mother and sisters).
The traditions of honor derive from ancient desert tribes with a prioritized focus on value for the strength of a community comes from the multitude of its people. In this context, women’s role and value was to marry and carry children. Procreation is incredibly valuable for a society, marriage bonds are considered sacred (for both men and women) for it is their combined duty to contribute their offspring to the tribe. In a condensed formulation, a fertile female’s body is considered to be a commodity and an investment that a male makes towards his honor and standing in the community. Complimenting this idea of male-derived honor, a woman can be perceived as both valuable and honorable to her community if she is healthy, chaste, attractive, and fertile. A marriage is the “purchasing” (via promise of support as well as a dowry) to a female’s reproductive capabilities and the female then becomes obligated to keep her womb exclusive for his children. This exclusivity and monogamous expectations are reserved only for the female, for the male can procreate with as many women he can take care of.
An adulterous female gives her lover what her husband “paid” for and consequently dishonors him and the agreement.
A woman who engages in premarital sex gives up her “value” to a male without the support from a marriage contract and renders herself worthless for it it perceived that she will have nothing to give her husband and she will unlikely marry or procreate.
In this sense, the deeper implications of understanding one’s honor and social value are solely based upon another’s obedience to cultural expectations, traditions, and norms which consequently creates strong need for dependence. Men, as guardians of female “value,” are held responsible for the conduct of women for a male’s dignity is closely related to it. With this, men have sought to control female behavior to control their own situation by reducing females to their reproductive abilities.
These basic societal assumptions and trends became fused with religious culture. In the Quran and hadiths, the Islamic faith expresses that sins such as adultery, apostasy, fornication, and homosexuality are prohibited. Offenders of such have been punished through the traditions of Muslim societies that date back to the time of Prophet Muhammad. These traditions call for killing the offenders, in perfect harmony with sanctions of the Quran, Sunnah and the Sharia.
Turkey is considered by the western world as being the only “role model” Islamic country for its economic success and seemingly liberal government. In 2o02, the eight decades of strict secularization promoted by Turkey’s figurehead Ataturk, a more conservative AKP-led Islamist party came to power and allowed for the gates of gradual Islamization to open in Turkey. This has had many negative effects in a social context for Turkey has now risen to be the world’s “number one honor killing country” with a killing rate that is five times higher than that of Pakistan (a nation notoriously known for honor killing).
Today, these traditions have evolved into the conception of honor killings. An honor killing is defined as “the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor or shame upon the family or community”and it is a traditional practice that occurs in various cultures. The victims of such are murdered for “dishonorable” reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, having a poor academic standing, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, or engaging in homosexual relations. The is the other extreme of “honor”– its principle behavior that fears the opposite, that is violently executed in the forms of stoning to death, lashing (which frequently leads to death), shooting to death mob-lynching, being buried alive, and being burned and disfigured by acid.
In 2007, a report released by the Council of Europe estimated that there were over 200 women in Turkey that were killed in the name of protecting a family’s “honor” (http://www.voanews.com/content/a-13-2009-05-21-voa39-68815262/363828.html). Less than a year later, another report was released by the Turkish Prime Ministry’s Human Rights Directorate stated that in Istanbul alone there was one honor killing every week. This report went onto address that there were over 1,000 (reported) honor killings executed during the five years previous. It added a sentiment that suggested that metropolitan cities were the location of such violence based upon honor due to growing Kurdish immigration to these cities from the East (http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=107834).
2008: A 26 year old physics student was shot after exiting a cafe in Istanbul. Ahmet Yildiz represented Turkey at an international gay conference in the United States that year and became the country’s first gay honor killing victim (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/was-ahmet-yildiz-the-victim-of-turkeys-first-gay-honour-killing-871822.html).
2009: A 2-day-old boy who was born out of wedlock was reported to have been killed for honor. The infant’s maternal grandmother (with the help of six other individuals, one of whom was a doctor who had reportedly accepted a bribe to not report the birth) were arrested for the crime. The baby’s mother was arrested as well for knowing that her family had made the decision to murder the child. The grandmother of the newborn suffocated her grandson in an attempt to protect her family from dishonor, disgrace and shame (http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2010/04/16/un-bebe-de-2-jours-victime-d-un-crime-d-honneur-en-turquie_1335090_3214.html).
2010: A corpse of a 16 year-old girl Kurdish girl was found 40 days after her disappearance. She was buried alive by members of her family because she befriended boys in Southeast Turkey (http://www.montrealgazette.com/Girl+buried+alive+honour+killing+Turkey+Report/2521342/story.html).
2011: Elif was an 18 year old girl who had declined the offer of an arranged marriage with an older man by telling her parents she wanted to continue her education. This was her offense of dishonor to which her father intended on murdering her for, but she was quoted prior to saying”I loved my father so much, I was ready to commit suicide for him even though I hadn’t done anything wrong,but I just couldn’t go through with it. I love life too much.” This helped to reveal the adverse trend of an attempt to decrease “honor killings.” As the government called for harsher penalties such as advocating for life sentences for honor killers, a new trend that promoted “honor suicides” sparked. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/27/honor-killings-have-morph_n_179928.html; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/women-told-you-have-dishonoured-your-family-please-kill-yourself-1655373.html).
2012: An 18 year old woman and her unborn child were stoned to death at the hand of her father and the Imam for having pre-marital sex.This was an unreported incident of honor killing in a remote village in Turkey that was described to reporters from the victim’s sister (http://www.islam-watch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=984:with-the-islamists-rise-to-power-turkey-became-the-worlds-leading-hotspot-of-honour-killings&catid=65:khan&Itemid=58).
2013: Today, honor killings continue to enjoy public support in parts of Turkey (especially in the Southeast). A recent survey conducted in Diyarbakir found that when locals were asked about the appropriate punishment for a woman who has committed adultery, 37 percent of respondents said she should be killed and 21 percent said her nose or ears should be cut off.
The statistics and reported incidents above all reveal the same basic pattern of behavior. Honor killers resort to self-help tactics by taking personal vendettas that are the result of culturally perceived transgressions and “sins”into their own hands and justify their actions through tradition. This type of behavior is outside any means of formal legal policy and these personal feuds cannot be resolved through normal judicial proceedings. Due to this, families and communities determine the guilt or innocence of the supposed criminals. This is a stacked, informal jury with no just procedure for the accused have no chance to defend themselves nor is there any appropriate legal sanction other than the punishment of death.
Honor killings exist in the traditional realm with religious implications and biases, therefor so few are reported and are properly dealt with. Governmental statistics show that two hundred deaths are reported in the name of honor each year. Not only are these numbers skewed for the negligence of reporting but also are reported as being lower with the corruption in regards to the legal system. The number reported constitutes half of all murders in Turkey A complimentary study reveals that In Istanbul alone, at least one person is reported to have died as a result of honor killing every week. Victims cases are continuing to rise
The AKP-led Islamists growth of power and influence correlated with the increase in violence in the name of honor (especially with sentiments focusing on the family rather than the protection of women). The rate of violence increased dramatically just within a three year span after their induction into power (2002). In 2005, the government was forced to form a parliamentary committee to specifically investigate the underlying reasons for the high rates of honor killing violence (particularly in the deeply religious south-east Anatolian religion of Turkey). Various measures have been undertaken by the government to stem the rising tide of honor killings in Turkey in the past decade. The severe increase in punishment (such as life sentences) to honor killers seemed to have some impact, but this led to alternative approaches and methods to honor killings. As family members began to fear legal punishments if they were to execute offenders that dishonor their name, the encouragement and guilt-tripping of “dishonorable” women to commit suicide commenced and has been uncomfortably popular in recent years.
Through various methods and alternative approaches, the measures in which the Turkish government has attempted to address the issue of killing in the name of honor is not working for the rate of such crimes continue to rise. The reality of Turkey: Where Islamists come, Islam must come too– regardless if it is accepted as being “secular. ” The Islamic influences infused with both cultural and emotional implications result in confused and dated precepts of honor that falsely justify the act of murder.
As Islam promotes the sanctity of human life (Al- Quran 6:151), honor has become an overestimated concept. Honor is an elusive idea that should never take priority over life.
“If any one slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (Al- Quran 5:32)
3 November 2013
(Photograph: Hürriyet Gündem Her türlü hakkı saklıdır.)
Thousands of Turkish citizens gathered in Kadıköy İskelesi for a rally promoting “Eşit Yurttaşlık” (Equal Citizenship) hoisted by Alevi Dernekleri.
Alevism (Alawite) is a Shi’a sect of Islam that uniquely combines traditional Anatolian values of Shi’ism with elements of Sufiism. This religious minority group is predominantly a Turkish faction but has even smaller fellowships in surrounding countries. Alevism is also seen as a group identity which is interpreted as being cultural (e.g. traditions of poetry, music, dance, etc.) and/or political (leftist or Kemalist).
The Alevi group set the tone as well as the purpose of the rally with its slogan “İnkarcılığa, asimilasyona karşı eşit yurttaşlık ve inanç özgürlüğü” (Denialism, equal citizenship, and the freedom of religious belief against assimilation.”
Noon was the time the citizens were called to the pier at Kadıköy, and responded they did– in the thousands. Within appromiximately two hours, the rally reached its peak. The energy has highly charged with frustration and emotion, but calm in terms of peace.
Citizens chanted the following:
“Devletin Alevisi olmayacağız”
(The state will not be Alevisi)
“Aleviyiz haklıyız, kazanacağız”
(Alevis are in the right, we will win)
“Haksızlık karşısında asla boyun eğmeyeceğiz”
(We will never bow in the face of injustice)
The Alevis rally had a cause of its own in promoting equality from the standpoint of a religious minority group. Their dissatisfaction and frustration with the government is a reoccuring theme among various walks of life in Turkey. The president of the Federation of Alevi Associations, Hüsniye Takmaz, preached:
“Türkiye’de yaşayan tüm insanların inançlarını, kültürlerini eşit koşullarda yaşayabilecekleri her türlü ayrımcılıktan uzaklaştırılmış toplumsal uzlaşmanın içinde, laik, demokratik hukuk devletinde eşitce, özgürce yaşamalarının arzusu içindeyiz. Bu özlemi gerçekleştirmek Türkiye’deki bütün insanların boynunun borcudur”
(Beliefs of all people living in Turkey, when when they are removed from any form of discrimination, all cultures can live on equal terms of public consensus in secular, democratic state of law equally and they desire to live freely. To accomplish this aspiration is the duty of the neck of all the people in Turkey “
This sentiment of equality and rights of all Turkish citizens has deeper connotations within recents times. Shortly after these remarks made by Takmaz, the rally commemorated those who lost their lives during the events at Gezi Park. The names of the victims were read out one by one, and the thousands of people present at the rally shouted “Burada!” (Here!).
The co-chairman of the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples Democratic Party), Sebahat Tuncel was a lively contributor to the rally. She expressed her thoughts behind the idea that Democratization in Turkey is a serious problem. She justifies this but addressing the key issue of the government’s failure to properly secure the freedoms of all its citizens. In the specific context of Alevi citizens, they have struggled with this for a long time. The HDP are promoting the call for equal citizenship through the removal of compulsory religious education for they would like their religious beliefs to be shown respect. From this, the frustration became apparent in her remarks as she changed the tone from thoughts of negotiation to the call for immediate action from the Prime Minister and the AKP.
Last month, there was controversy over a traditional head scarf ban which was resolved. Incidents like this influence the call to action for restructuring the framework for freedom of belief and drive the Alevi’s plea for immediate action. The proposed democratization package seems to be a good alternative solution to the problem, but it has not been taking into realistic consideration from the ruling AKP. The Alevi organizations have been working on negotiations regarding the preparation of a new package that will be less transparent and will benefit all.
If a proper democratization package with a focus on equality is not passed into legislation, it will lead the nation into an even more tense political situation for the developments in Turkey mirror those in the Middle East in terms of the Alevi (Shi’a)-Sunni conflict.