‘NAMUS MURDERS' IN TURKEY AS A SOCIOLOGICAL PHENOMENON

_ Kubilay Akman


Turkey has a unique position both among Muslim and European countries as located like a bridge between the East and the West, Islam and Christianity, modernity and tradition. And it is possible to witness the reflections of this role and being in-between in economic, political, cultural, artistic and the other social fields. Although the in-between features of Turkey make it richer and more colorful than its neighbors culturally, it may cause some social problems too. ‘Namus Murders’ are one of the most tragic ones of these problems. These murders are also named as “tore murders’.

When we look into the Turkish dictionaries, namus means “fidelity to the moral rules in a society”. It has also the meaning of “honesty, chastity, and straightness”. Tore indicates the totality of behaviors and norms, rules, customs, common habits in a society. (1) Namus is translated into English as honor, honesty or ‘good name’. And custom, rule and law are shown as the English equivalents of tore. However all the English words exclude the contextual and original meaning of these concepts that appear in a connection to their feudal and pre-modern roots. Actually, when a Turkish says ‘namus’ and ‘tore’ he/she mentions something more than ‘honor’ and ‘rule’. Tore seems like a kind of law system and namus is the emotion of the subjects who are applying and re-producing this system in their daily life. And I can recommend ‘tore’ concept to explain a kind of social rules and norms depends on customs, traditions and some religious principles that take place in modern or semi-modern societies, among the members of the communities still apply the same old social rules as before the modern social context. Tore works as coordinating the codes of daily life as the constitution how works in contemporary democratic nations in a relation to the codes. In my point of view not only Turkish or Muslim societies, all the societies in similar conditions have tores too.

Today we can make an abstraction on the ‘namus murders’ in Turkey. This is the situation according to the typology that is beyond individual cases: There are some rigid customary rules in the families trying to continue the traditional values in the modern social environment despite challenges of the contemporary life. These are tores. A woman is under obligation to save her namus because of tores. Women must not be in a sexual or emotional relation with men before marriage for namus. After marriage she must be faithful and obey to her husband, must not resist against his power. The illegitimate relation of a girl  or married woman’s cheating her husband cause make dirty the namus of the families. Tores require the namus to be cleaned. A family which does not clean its namus is rejected by the community. The shopkeepers stop shoping with them; the neighbors do not greet the member of this family anymore. This is a kind of ‘social death’. It is accepted ‘necessary’ to punish the ‘dirtied woman’ for the family to survive. The punishment is death generally; however in some cases a false marriage may clean the namus too. The ‘family council’ is gathered under the presidency of the oldest member in family and this council includes only the men of the family. The council decides to the execution. The youngest male member of the family is charged as a murderer because the legal penalty is less for the people who are younger than 18 years old. He may be the brother, cousin and even the son of the accused woman. In prisons and among the conservative communities of the society, a murderer who is involved in that kind of execution is accepted as a respectful person and valuable as defined “the victim of fate”, although there is a big reaction against this crime in the media and the public opinion. This is the story as a summary.

However, I have to make it clear to prevent a misunderstanding that ‘namus murders’ are not common customs in Turkey. In the cities and towns women from all the social classes who are working and independent from their families have the liberty of illegitimate relations. There is not any pressure on the women except the social control and condemnation of the neighbors. But, in the big cities people are becoming more anonymous everyday and the neighborhood relations are weakening and becoming less forceful. So, metropolitan life provide the liberty of illegitimate relations and experiences to the people. And the Turkish civil law as constituted on the model of the European law tradition includes many main human rights. As an extreme example, the law permits people for transgender operations. I do not think that it is possible in other Muslim countries. However women from countryside are far from using these rights. Namus murders happen especially in the Southeastern Anatolian Region and the suburbs where the immigrants from this region live. There are not official statistic data in Turkey that show the ethnic percentage of the society. However in the Southeastern Anatolian Region where Kurdish people live generally the violence against women is more common than the other regions. In the southeastern towns like Sanliurfa, Batman and Diyarbakir are the towns that there are big Kurdish populations. And in the same towns namus murders and woman suicides are serious social problems. I think there is a deep connection between the violence against woman and the feudal character of Kurdish people.

There was a reduction of penalty for namus murders in the 462. Article of the Turkish Penal Code. The 462. Article claimed that in grievous provocation a reduction is possible for the guilty person. With this reduction the law approved this crime indirectly. The penalty for this crime was imprisonment from 4 to 8 years although normally murder is punished with imprisonment for life. In 1997 a local court applied to the Constitutional Court to cancel this article. But the Constitutional Court refused to cancel 462. Article of the Penal Code. Feminists made protestations about this article for a long time, but these reactions did not work. However this article is cancelled with the 6. Adaptation package to the European Union easily and rapidly in 2003. This is one of the main characteristics of Turkey: the global/external factors are more effective than local dynamics to change some visions of the country. Unfortunately that kind of changes has remained only in the vision. Today in Turkey some legal transformations still continue to participate in the European Union, but the transformations in the real life do not have the same speed.

Actually, according to the UN statistics every year 5000 women are murdered for similar reasons if it is defined as namus or not. And it does not happen only in Muslim countries. The list includes some European and Latin American countries too. Filiz Kardam states that another name for this typology of crime is ‘passion murder’(2) in the different regions of the world. It is supposed that the real amount is more than the official statistics on the world.

Vildan Yirmibesoglu the Turkish lawyer and the Responsible of the Human Rights Desk of the Istanbul Governorship made a research as looking more than 300 case records from Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Mus, Adana, Maras, Bitlis, Van, Batman, Adiyaman, Elazig, Sirnak, Kilis, Hakkari, Bingol, Siirt and Mardin courts between 1995-2002. The results of her research show that 355 murders happened in 300 cases. 213 of the victims were women and 142 were men. The murderer and the victim are children in tore murders. %40 of  the victims and %43 of the murderers younger than 17 years old. %90 of the suspects is men and %10 of them is women. The majority is husbands among the suspect. After them there are brothers, fathers, grandfathers, cousins, brother-in-laws, father-in-laws, etc. Yirmibesoglu says that the most common way to kill is using a knife. And in weapons are used in these murders too. Another way is throw the woman in a well. In some cases the murder is pretended as if it is a suicide. And the real suicides are not ‘innocent’ in these towns. Women are forced to suicide by their families because of their dirtying the family namus.(3)

In spite of a critical approach of the media generally about the namus murders the Islamic newspapers in hesitation on this subject. For example, Islamic writer Hasan Kaya states that the news on ‘tore murders’ are used as materials to attack the traditions, customs, beliefs, ethic understanding, namus conception and value judgments of the society. He claims that the holding media is serving as ‘the ideological missionary of sexual freedom’ with that kind of campaigns. He thinks they (the media bosses) behave without any value and they are ‘the knights of the global Western civilization’.(4)

While the Islamic media and some writers approve the traditional violence against women indirectly Ali Baskanoglu the President of Religious Affairs made one of the strongest critics on namus murders. The President stated because of 8 March that the people involved in these murders are guilty not only in society, but at the same time according to the rules of Allah too. Bardakoglu emphasized that human rights and women rights an important part of it are  not only the common discourse of human experience that comes from the history up to now they are also one the main values manifested by the essence of the holy religion. Bardakoglu said: “This understanding that do not accept woman as the subject of her own existence adventure, is in the mistake of taking women lower than men and coding them as the secondary gender from born, and later this conception in the effort of making this mistake approved by religion. (...) The living right of human is more important and prior than the other rights. Persons can not have the authority of judgment and penalty independendently from the official and legal authorities. None of family councils is court and the tores are not codes. Who find such a right with them can not legitimate and never justify their murders through the religion.”(5) I think the statement of Ali Balkanoglu proves that the Presidency of Religious Affairs in a big opposition against namus murders. Balkanoglu also states that they are always ready to make contributions with an active role on this social problem.

However in spite of all the statements of legal, secular and religious authorities, namus murders do not stop. While writing this paper (2 March 2005) I have learned another murder from the media. Actually I do not suppose that this crime will finsh in the near future. So, what can be the solution for this serious social problem in Turkey? As a sociologist I think that finding a solution is beyond the borders of our field? And nobody asks us about the solution in our country. The daily political interests determine the social policy of Turkey. I do not believe that the political, official, legal and social authorities have a detailed plan to prevent women murders. However, at least sociologist could work to analyze the problem before deciding any solution. For now the most practical step seems that to strengthen the women shelter houses and to increase amount of them. KAMER (Women Center) is one of the important institutions which help women who are decided to murder by family councils. The center of KAMER is Diyarbakir, however is organized in the other towns of the Southeastern Anatolian Region. KAMER save the women from their families and arrange safe settlements to them in the other towns. This institution works in coordination with the official shelters. But, although this institution and related organizations make a big effort to save women from tores it is not sufficient to prevent new victims yet.

Consequently, I can say that a total transformation is the mentality in the Turkish society, a common education of people about human rights and remove the infrastructural factors (feudal economic relations, unemployment, etc.) that cause namus or tore murders  may be a contribution to the solution this social problem. However, this requires some political steps beyond populism. Maybe the active, critical attitudes of women in Turkey can force the political parties and leaders to be more sensible on this issue.


(1)Turkish Dictionary, Turkish Language Institution Pub., Ankara, 1998

(2) Filiz Kardam, Namus Gerekcesiyle Oldurulme ya da Kendi Canina Kiyma: Kadın Cinselligi Uzerinde Baskilarin Benzer Kosullarda Farkli Sonuclari mi?, http://www.huksam.hacettepe.edu.tr/namus.htm

(4) 2 May 2004, Vakit

* ‘Namus murders’ indicates to ‘namus cinayetleri’ or ‘töre cinayetleri’ in Turkish.

** This paper is presented at the Social Development and Family Changes, International Seminar, FLACSO, Mexico City, Mexico, March, 2005 which organized by ISA (Internattional Sociological Association)

 

Kubilay Akman mkakman@mail.com