"She was very happy, they said, they can't imagine what got into her." 


The Times

May 25, 2006


Honour suicides: death by a bullet in the back

>From Suna Erdem in Istanbul

ZULFINAN BAYCINAR died from a bullet in her back. Her husband's family went
into mourning for the 27-year-old's "tragic suicide". She was very happy,
they said, they can't imagine what got into her. 

But now Baycinar's husband is on trial for murder. Prosecutors say she was
killed because she dared to oppose against her husband's wish to take a
second wife, refusing to bow to tradition and know her place. 


Such mysterious "suicides" have always been treated with suspicion in
southeast Turkey, but they have increased so dramatically in recent months
that the UN has launched an inquiry. Yakin Erturk, its special rapporteur on
violence against women, is visiting the region to investigate Mrs Baycinar's
case and other allegations that women deemed to have sullied a family's
"honour" are being ordered to kill themselves. 

The increase in suicides follows a change in Turkish law a year ago to
sentence to life imprisonment family members who carry out so-called "honour
killings". This year 36 women are said to have attempted suicide in the
region, more than all of last year. 

"The general suicide rate in Turkey is low compared to the rest of the
world, but the nature of these deaths is very different. Whereas worldwide
there are about three to four times as many male suicides as female, in
Batman, in Turkey, for instance, it is quite the reverse," Ms Erturk told
The Times. 

Until the laws changed, men who killed their female kin for reasons of
honour or tradition were treated leniently. Often, a young brother, a minor,
would own up to the murder and be let off with little more than a slap on
the wrist. The killings, and what was effectively legal collusion, figured
large in EU reports on the progress of its latest candidate country. 

One brazen case was that of Guldunya Toren, who was killed in an Istanbul
hospital two years ago by her brothers for having a baby after being raped.
She had refused to marry her rapist, run away, gone to police several times
and been shot once already in the streets of Istanbul, before her brothers
tracked her to hospital. 

Now that the stakes are higher, women's groups believe that the errant women
are being told: "Here's a gun or here's some poison, go and kill yourself so
I don't have to go to prison for it." If they don't comply, they are killed
anyway and declared to have committed suicide after a bout of depression. 

"This law is a real improvement, but we did worry that tougher punishments
would lead to this and were watching out for increased cases of suicide,"
said Zelal Ozgokce, founder member of Va-Kad, a new women's association in
Van, near the Iranian border. 

She says that where once there would be the occasional whiff of suspicion
surrounding a suicide, now she hears of odd cases almost every other day. 

"There have been around 20 suicides that we know of just in the Van region
this year. Last year there were 45 the whole year and around 80 in the years
between 2000 and 2003. There are many cases of overdoses and several like
Zulfinan's, where women are said to have shot themselves in physically
impossible ways."


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