Cablegate: "Honor Killing" Shocks Istanbul, Highlights

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (u) Summary: The tragic murder of 22-year old Guldunya
Toren on February 26 by two of her brothers at a Bakirkoy
district hospital shocked Istanbul, captured several days of
media coverage, and highlighted the fact that the tradition
of "honor killings" remains deep-set, even in Turkey's most
developed and cosmopolitan city. Such incidents are only the
most visible manifestation, however, of a pervasive attitude
that denies women equal rights. End Summary.

Honor Killings
2. (u) According to reports, Toren, originally from Bitlis in
Southeast Turkey, was raped and impregnated by a family
member last year. Having "dishonored" her family, Toren fled
to Istanbul, where she delivered the baby, but was eventually
tracked down by two brothers, shot, and left to die on an
Istanbul street. She was then taken to the hospital where
her brothers pursued her and killed her in front of
witnesses. The sensational details and timing of the case
fueled widespread interest.

3. (sbu) Human rights activists tell us that a few dozen such
"honor killings" take place each year in Turkey. Although
Istanbul is the city with the largest number of reported
cases in recent years, almost all of the individuals involved
were immigrants from Turkey's Southeast. Drawing on 13 years
of experience and research in the Southeast, Vildan
Yirmibesoglu, the Human Rights Department Head for the
Istanbul Governor, told poloff that "honor crimes" are the
result of a traditional culture that crosses all religious,
ethnic, and tribal divisions in that region. After
immigrating to Turkey's large western cities, fellow
villagers and townsmen tend to "recreate" their rural
communities and to preserve their local traditions, including
gender biases.

Penal Code Reform
4. (sbu) In order to address these and other gender
discrimination issues, activists have made a considerable
effort to press the government to enact vital legislative
reform. Liz Amado, a senior staff member of Istanbul-based
Women for Women's Human Rights, explained that reforming the
civil code was insufficient (note: this was accomplished in
2001); entire sections of the penal code need to be rewritten
to eliminate explicit and implicit language that
discriminates against women. According to Amado, these
efforts suffered a serious setback with the election of the
AKP government in November 2002. Aysel Celikel, the interim
Justice Minister before the elections, and a fellow traveler
for women's rights activists, had accepted most of their
proposals for the draft penal code, but the new AKP
government decided to start from scratch (without consulting
human rights groups). Over a year later, Amado reports that
constant lobbying with (reluctant) AKP deputies and (more
supportive) CHP deputies has led the appropriate
parliamentary commission to finally accept (most of) their
proposed changes in the draft code that is still under review.

5. (u) Assuming that the draft is passed in its current form,
proposed changes will include: making sexual offenses crimes
against "persons" and "bodily integrity," instead of
"society" and "chastity"; deligitimizing "honor crimes" by
removing the "unjust provocation" article that allows for
reduced sentences; deligitimizing marital rape; eliminating
language that discriminates based on marital status and
virginity; removing provisions for reduced sentences for
rapists who marry their victims; and other reforms to protect
children. Additional proposed changes include: criminalizing
forced virginity testing; decriminalizing "indecent
behavior"; and making "honor killings" an "aggravating"
circumstance that is subject to more severe sentences (as is
currently the case with vendetta killings).

Changing the Mindset of the System
6. (sbu) Amado said that the focus will soon shift to
implementation. Amado and Yirmibesoglu pointed to the
attitudes of judges and prosecutors as a key element of the
overall problem. Yirmibesoglu remarked that in many cases
these officials share the same outdated notions of "honor" as
the perpetrators. On an encouraging note, Canan Arin, a
board member of the Istanbul Bar Association's Center for
Women's Rights, pointed to decisions by prosecutors and
judges in two "honor killing" trials last year in
Kahramanmaras and Izmir to deny the application of the
"unjust provocation" article (with its reduced sentence)
based on the argument that the crimes were clearly
premeditated. Arin and Amado both expressed their hope that
the Istanbul prosecutor and judge will approach the Toren
case in the same manner. Additionally, a Sanliurfa court
just this week handed out the most severe punishment ever for
an "honor killing," giving life imprisonment to the
perpetrator and 17-year prison terms to 6 other family

7. (sbu) With regard to the Guldunya Toren case, Arin and
Amado are both among a group that has filed cases charging
the Istanbul police and the Bakirkoy hospital staff with
negligence for failing to protect the victim. They argued
that even before the attacks, the police "knew" that the
woman's life was in danger. The Istanbul police chief has
publicly denied responsibility, and even blamed Toren for
refusing to name her attackers when she was admitted to the
hospital. Although warrants have been issued, the two
brothers have not yet been apprehended.

8. (u) The timing and gruesome details of the case have
ensured widespread media attention. The EU Troika
subsequently drew further attention to the case by citing it
as an example of ongoing human rights concerns. Public
officials and commentators used International Women's Day on
March 8 to speak out on the case and women's rights in
Turkey. The Head of the Religious Affairs Directorate
reinvigorated plans to have imams deliver sermons throughout
Turkey to condemn the practice of honor killings as immoral
and against Islam. Amado noted ruefully, however, that
neither the Prime Minister nor the President addressed the
issue directly. She claimed, moreover, that the Minister for
Women's Affairs unhelpfully denied any relationship between
the lack of women's shelters and honor killings.

A Sign of Things to Come?
9. (sbu) Yirmibesoglu told poloff that the Istanbul Governor
had been pushing the Religious Affairs Directorate for some
time to speak out on this and other issues. Meanwhile, she
noted that the Governor has launched plans to open three new
women's shelters in Istanbul this year (one was opened in
February in the Fatih district, another will open in May).
Additionally, Yirmibesoglu said that following the March 28
local elections, the Governor plans to bring together
officials, police, prosecutors, judges, and civil society
activists for a meeting to discuss honor killings and other
gender issues.

10. (sbu) The continued practice of honor killings in
Istanbul indicates that the cultural traditions of Turkey's
Southeast remain deeply rooted among the immigrant
communities here. Antiquated notions of honor are reinforced
by a more widespread societal bias that leads to pervasive
gender discrimination. The notable dearth of women
candidates, for example, in the upcoming Istanbul March 28
local elections contributes to a general impression that the
advancement of women's rights has been slow. Significant
strides in the area of democratic reform and respect for
human rights can not obscure the fact that overcoming gender
prejudices and biases will take time.

© Scoop Media

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