Turkey Begins National Campaign to End Honor Killings
Monday, May 16, 2005 1:15 PM

Turkey has begun a national campaign to end honor killings. Honor killing is a term for the murder of a woman by a family member, most frequently her father or brother, due to behavior the family deemed injurious to the honor of the family. Such behavior could include sexual relations outside of marriage, leaving an abusive husband, or even being the victim of a sexual assault. The campaign, through billboards, fliers, television, radio, and movies, calls out: “[d]on’t be a part of this shame; don’t turn a blind eye to murders committed in the name of honor.” The campaign, financed by a grant from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is a collaboration between the Turkish government and nongovernmental organizations. Although this is Turkey’s first governmental campaign on honor killings, it continues the work of women’s groups in Turkey that have been raising awareness of the issue for several years.

The Turkish government acknowledges that in 2004, forty-three women were murdered in “honor killings.” The number is considered by human rights activists to be a substantial undercounting. The number does not include women whose families reported them as missing or having committed suicide. Honor killings occur most frequently in the rural southeastern area of Turkey. "There are only 14 shelters in Turkey, and none in the southeast," said Reyhan Yalcindag, deputy director of the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association. Diyarbakir is the largest city in Southeastern Turkey. Diyarbakir currently has no shelters for women. The lack of shelters puts women seeking safety in a dangerous situation. "Women are deeply hesitant to come to us," said Yalcindag. "Even if they had the courage to file an official complaint, they still must go back to the home where they are targets, and live among the very people they have made charges against."

Recent legal changes in Turkey attempt to address honor killings. Although the new laws are an improvement, they have been criticized for not going far enough. The Turkish Parliament recently passed legislation requiring women’s shelters to be opened in all large municipalities. The mandate does not however address the need for security at the shelters and has prompted criticism for this omission. Turkey’s new penal code eliminates the mitigating circumstance, “protection of family honor,” for murder charges and increases the statutory penalties for honor killings. The defense of “unjust provocation” was not eliminated however, and this worries critics of the law who fear the defense will be successfully invoked for honor killings.

Compiled from: "Turks to Fight 'Honor Killings' of Women," Arsu, Sebnem, The New York Times, 16 May 2005