A murder in Turkey illustrates an altogether different form of ‘honour’ killing, while underscoring the lack of channels for women who need to speak out against their attackers. By Brad Bertrand.
A woman who had been repeatedly raped by the same attacker decided to take matters into her own hands in a bid to restore her honour and that of her children.
Nevin, a 26-year-old mother of two whose husband reportedly works overseas, lives in Turkey’s Isparta province. She alleges that a man, Nurettin Gider, entered her home, raped her at gunpoint and took nude photographs of her. He threatened to reveal the photos to others if she told anyone what he had done. She claims that Mr Gider returned to her home numerous times, continuing to blackmail and rape her.
Apparently desperate and with no place to turn, Nevin says that she invited Mr Gider to an area in the village to ‘talk things over’. Once there, she allegedly shot him dead with a shotgun, stabbed him and cut off his head. Reports describe how she put the head in a bag and went to the town square, disposing of it in front of a coffeehouse. Witnesses say she shouted, “This is the head of the one that brought disgrace upon my honour,” according to Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman. It was unclear exactly when the shooting took place.
Nevin was arrested by police and opted to remain silent until her court appearance, where she said she was five months’ pregnant with Mr Gider’s child. Paternity tests are planned to verify her claim.
Nevin revealed her account of the events during her trial. “He kept saying that he would tell everyone about the rape,” she reportedly said, adding that she had restored her family’s honour. “My daughter will start school this year. Everyone would have insulted my children. Now no one can. I saved my honour… They will now call my children the kids of the woman who saved her honour.”
Although its grisly details have provided distasteful fodder for tabloid media around the world, the case highlights a serious struggle faced by many women – not only Muslims in rural Turkey, but also those of other faiths in villages and cities around the world. Old, unjust laws on the rights of women, mixed with repressive social and political attitudes, create an environment in which victims are sometimes powerless to speak out and name their attackers. Compounding the problem, perpetrators of rape and violence against women routinely fail to be justly punished. Feeling trapped with little redress, victims often end up taking drastic measures, such as running away from their families, committing suicide or even, as is alleged in this case, murdering their attacker.
In many countries, a deep mistrust of police and other authorities prevails, partially owing to their tendency to favour men over women in all kinds of disputes. Even the loyalty of otherwise supportive and loving family members can vanish if they perceive that their family’s honour has somehow been ‘damaged’ by a victim. In many cases, justice is turned on its head, with the victim rather than the perpetrator shouldering the blame and being punished. Some of the most tragic of these result in so-called “honour” killings, spreading a climate of fear that prevents other victims of violence from seeking and receiving justice. To make matters worse, many victims are also prevented from receiving medical treatment and rehabilitative care.
Nevin has insisted in court that she should be allowed to get an abortion, despite being five months’ pregnant – well past the limit of 10 weeks provided by Turkish law. Her case has reignited a heated debate from a few months ago, sparked by comments by Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan that equated abortion to murder. At a conference in May, he declared, “I consider abortion to be murder. No one should have the right to allow this to happen.”
Following the prime minister’s remarks, his government announced its intention to tighten abortion laws by reducing the limit from the tenth to the sixth week of pregnancy. A public outcry of opposition and protests from women’s groups saw thousands demonstrate outside the prime minister’s office. Critics pointed out that the law amendment could end up serving as a ban, since many women don’t realise they are pregnant before the sixth week. Faced with the uproar, the government abandoned the idea a few weeks later.
Public opinion on social media and internet message boards has overwhelmingly been in favour of Nevin. Many of her supporters point to longstanding ill-treatment of women in Turkey, particularly in rural areas, as well as lenient court sentences across much of the region given to perpetrators involved in rape or ‘honour’ killings. There’s little doubt, then, that this case will be watched closely. Will Nevin’s sentence hint at an evolving stance on the rights of women in Turkey, or continue to follow the tragic status quo?