Honor killings a misunderstood concept, study finds

August 01, 2010, Sunday/ 16:15:00
A recent study by the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) has found that 460 honor killings were committed in Turkey in the past decade, but certain misconceptions about these murders, such as the widely held belief that they are unique to the Kurdish culture are wrong.

Recep Doğan, the legal undersecretary of SHÇEK and a doctoral candidate at England’s Keele University, wrote his doctoral thesis on honor killings in Turkey. Doğan is known for legal proceedings against the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, who filmed images of disabled children in a SHÇEK institution after illegally entering under a false guise. Doğan’s report asserts that most of what we think we know about honor killings is wrong. Speaking about his thesis to Sunday’s Zaman, Doğan said he spoke to 97 convicted criminals jailed for honor crimes in 65 prisons in 37 provinces.

Eighty-six of these individuals were men, while 11 were female. A further 31 inmates refused to participate in the survey, Doğan said. For his thesis, Doğan extensively studied 88 cases.

No such thing as traditional killing

In his thesis Doğan emphasizes that Article 82 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which includes the concept of “homicide motivated by tradition,” has no anthropological or sociological standing. Doğan says, “Whenever somebody uses the concept of “a killing of tradition” they are referring to an arbitrary and personal definition unique to their own understanding.” He also said that those who see murder as justified by feuds are ignoring the basics of criminology and sociology. “The act of killing a human being under motivation by tradition is a concept that has been produced by the Supreme Court of Appeals,” said Doğan, who notes that the Supreme Court of Appeals takes into consideration every murder where the decision to kill a person is made by “the family elders” or “the family council.” Doğan says, by doing this, the Supreme Court of Appeals ties the definition of such crimes to an ambiguous and a non-legal entity.

Doğan said; “The Supreme Court of Appeals sees ‘murders of tradition’ as a special version of ‘murders committed on the basis of honor,’ and by emphasizing the method by which the murder decision is taken, it assumes that the decision has to be product of a collective will or a group decision. This, in turn, causes the perception that the killer’s individuality and character are less important in cases of murders motivated by traditions. Doğan believes that this also contributes to the misconception that only Kurds commit honor killings.

Not a crime unique to Kurds

Doğan asked his interviewees to define themselves ethnically: 46 percent said “Turk,” while 31 percent said “Kurdish.” Others described themselves as Laz, Arab, Kurd-Alevi, Zaza and Roma, suggesting that figures attributing honor killings or killings of tradition to the Kurdish culture are wrong.

Another misconception was the age of the murderers. Although widespread belief in society is that usually minors -- who would get less time in jail -- commit these murders, Doğan’s study indicates that the highest number of individuals who committed such crimes were aged between 19 and 24. There were only two juvenile honor killers in Doğan’s group.

In the past 10 years, the oldest suspect in such murders in Turkey was 68, while the youngest was 15. He said patterns common to all honor killings include a reluctance to hold a proper burial for the victim, not participating in the funeral or, at times, not claiming the body. Doğan said that denying the individual a proper burial is a custom that was also practiced in ancient Greece.

Doğan stated that it was a complete urban legend that women killed for honor were adorned in black dresses or black wedding gowns, saying no such case has ever been reported. He said that claims of relatives hosting ceremonies to celebrate the death of the unwanted one, dyeing the tombstone black or painting the outside walls of the victim’s house with stucco are also fictional.

Doğan said honor killings were not a problem unique to Turkey. He also clarified that women were never stoned as in the case of Şemse Allak -- a seven-month pregnant woman killed by her family over an alleged affair. Doğan said the murdered woman died from injuries as a result of being attacked with sticks and stones, but noted that this was not stoning.

Not bloodthirsty murderers

Doğan also said that contrary to popular belief, a majority of the suspects actually regret having committed the murder. Forty-four percent of convicted males and 60 percent of convicted females said they would not do the same thing again under the same conditions. However, 39 percent of the men did say they might commit murder again under the same circumstances.

Again, contrary to popular opinion, perpetrators of honor killings are not bloodthirsty individuals with a propensity toward crime. In fact, none of the convicted women in the study and 76 percent of the convicted men had a criminal record prior to the killing.

Another finding of the study was that the decision to commit the murder was not an easy one and that perpetrators had acted after thinking about it for five to seven years, under pressure from their relatives. The study also found that perpetrators looked for alternatives that might present a way out of the situation other than killing.

Doğan said those who present honor killings as killings of tradition were trying to make Turkey look bad, saying that the courts have a tendency to interpret murders as a result of violence against women or murders in which the victim is a spouse as an “honor” killing. He said that data from the Prime Ministry’s Human Rights Commission and Parliament’s Commission on Honor and Tradition Killings are misleading. According to the commission, 1,099 such murders have been committed in the past 10 years. However, that number is 460 according to Doğan’s study.

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