Women killed in the name of honor in Turkey

Despite being outlawed, honor killings are widespread in Turkey. Hundreds of women are killed each year for forming relationships, seeking divorce, or even because they're victims of sexual assaults and rapes.

Diyarbakır – where honor means more than life – is a predominantly Kurdish area in Southeast Turkey. At the local cemetery there are dozens of uncared for and virtually forgotten tombs that only have stones on them. The cemetery director says the graves contain the bodies of girls and women murdered by the men in their families, all of them victims of so-called honor killings which have rocked Turkish society.

Only last year more than 200 women and girls were killed in Turkey in the name of honor.

In one graveyard is the body of 35 year-old mother Asegul Alpaslan. She was killed after being suspected of having an affair with another man. Her husband stabbed her with a knife more than a dozen times in front of her five children.

The municipality and a women’s foundation buried her. Even though her husband is now in jail, she is still seen as a dishonor to her family and nobody visits her grave.

In Turkey it is not just a woman’s infidelity that’s considered to be a dishonor. Girls have been killed for being raped, disobeying their husbands, or simply talking to a man in the street who’s not a family member.

“There are many different cases and also all the tribes have their own rules and if the women don’t obey the rules, then she may deserve to be killed, for example in the Ulfa region a girl was killed because she went to the cinema,” explains Naime Kardas from the women's rights association Kamer.

Elfa has been on the run for eight years. She had to leave her two small children behind and she is still scared for her life. She says her husband was beating her and she told him she wanted a divorce. When the family found out they vowed to kill her, because they consider divorce to be a dishonor.

“I heard my father- and mother-in-law talking about me and they were planning to kill me. They were talking about cutting me into pieces and then telling my family that I ran away with another man,” Elfa said.

Netin Sumer is from a well known Kurdish family with more than 3000 members. He has a wife and two children and is now considering marrying a second wife. He says he condemns the violence:

“We are more moderate, if a woman has cheated, first we’ll investigate and then if it’s true, the conclusion will not be death, we will just handicap the woman.”

His younger brother thinks differently – there can only be one punishment for betrayal:

“If my wife betrays me I will kill her,” Cetin Sumer said.

He says only blood can wipe away dishonor and if a man refuses to kill, then he will be isolated by the community and eventually he’ll have to leave.

“The men live in this area for their honor and honor of their family and it doesn’t matter if a man can get a life sentence, even if the punishment is death, men would still do it,” Cetin said.

Honor killings have been outlawed since Turkey began trying to join the EU. Since then a new phenomenon has emerged – the honor suicide – where women are forced to take their own lives rather than have the man imprisoned.