In Turkey, the number of women who are subjected to violence and murder has increased, but so has the brutality of the violence, according to an Izmir-based jurist.
Nuriye Kadan, who heads Izmir Bar Association’s Women’s Rights and Legal Support Office, says that the last decade has not only seen the increase in the numbers of women subject to violence, but that the violence itself has become more intense and barbaric, “bordering on torture.”
“A woman who came to us for legal protection last year had been stabbed 42 times by her husband,” Kadan told Hurriyet Daily News (HDN) on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. “These women are not just killed; they are mutilated and subjected to additional violence before and after the murder. The dose of violence borders on torture. The so-called third page news on women’s murders include attempts to burn the body, cut it into pieces or decapitation.”
The examples are many. In Gaziantep, a woman was first shot dead by her boyfriend on Nov. 15. He then slit her throat with her 11-year-old child watching.
The murder, decapitation and dismemberment of 17-year-old Münevver Karabulut in 2009 brought together the WSF, one of the strongest advocacy groups that combine activism on the streets with bill proposals and legal support. The platform has established branches in 21 Turkish cities, including Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir in last five years.
“We have agreed to establish this platform in the wake of the Münevver Karabulut murder,” explained Sanem Deniz Kural, the chairman of the Izmir Branch of the WSF. “Münevver, killed by her boyfriend, decapitated, mutilated and dumped in garbage, was the lowest point in femicides. Moreover, there were many circles who were trying to protect the accused. We have brought together many different voices, such as activists, lawyers, families of the victim. We have lobbied for maximum penalty for the accused – and obtained it, even though many thought that he should be released due to lack of evidence.”
Cem Garipoğlu, who was sentenced to 24 years of imprisonment, committed suicide last year. The murder case stayed in the spotlight for months after Garipoğlu, who came from a wealthy family with numerous business interests, successfully evaded police for 197 days after Münevver Karabulut’s body was found dismembered in a garbage can in an upscale Istanbul neighborhood five years ago. It has never become completely clear why Garipoğlu killed his girlfriend, though various speculations range from jealousy to satanic rituals.
Since then, the WSF has been lobbying tirelessly on two key issues: maximum penalty for those who kill women and effective state protection for women who report abuse and threats from (estranged) partners and husbands.
“We have lost 294 women in murders only last year. That’s the number found through our press monitoring. The state does not share all the data. Our focus is to make sure that there is no penalty reduction for good behavior and that ‘passionate crime’ reasoning is not used for those who carried out female homicides,” Kural said at a TEDx event in Izmir. “What we want ultimately is an article in the criminal code that prevents anything but maximum penalty for the perpetrators of femicides, with no pardons. We have submitted a bill to parliament and we remind each Family and Social Affairs Minister of this goal.”
Kural told HDN that they have attended all femicide court cases around Turkey. One is the court case of Sedef Berberoğlu, who was killed by her estranged husband in 2013. Berberoğlu, an accountant in the town of Muğla (a three hour drive from Izmir), had left her husband and filed for divorce. She asked for protection against her husband’s threats and obtained a restraining order against him. He violated the order five times but was not arrested because the police “could not find him.” When he approached her for the sixth time, he killed her by firing seven shots at the car she was driving with two men inside. His final sentence is due to be announced on Dec. 8 and WSF is trying to ensure that he will be not be given a lighter sentence due to “good behavior.”
“A man puts on a suit, lowers his eyes before the judge, says he loved the woman a lot and then gets a lower sentence,” said Kural. “This is not acceptable.”
A small group of 100 women from the platform marched down Kıbrıs Şehitleri Caddesi in central Izmir, carrying the photos of Berberoğlu and other victims on Nov. 26. In Muğla, members of the Women’s City Council wore shrouds, wedding robes and doctor uniforms – all symbols of recent femicides.
Women who rebel get killed
Izmir Bar Association’s Kadan points out that the number of femicides in the last few years has ranged between 5,000 and 6,000. “State bodies either cannot or do not disclose exact records, so different platforms try to fill in this gap in terms of adequate data through media monitoring,” she said.
The most recent of these projects to fill in the data gap is by journalist Ceyda Ulukaya, who has made an interactive “”Femicide Map” of Turkey. The project, supported by the Platform for Independent Journalism, contains detailed data about 1,134 femicide victims between 2010 and 2015, including the victims, the identity of the accused/murderer, the reason and links to newspaper stories about their murders.
Both qualitative and quantitative data shows that the majority of the victims were killed by husbands/ex-husbands (608 cases) and boyfriends/ex-boyfriends (161). The most often-cited reason of the murder is that the woman wanted a divorce or refused reconciliation. “Most of these were women who wanted their independence and freedom from abuse,” said Kural.
“The women who come to us in Izmir Bar Association have been mostly subject to physical violence. The good thing is that nearly half of these women who came to us in the last one year have little or no formal education, so I think the awareness of turning to us for help is improving. Some 82 percent of the women who have come to us have been abused by their husbands or partners.” says Kadan.
This is in line with the overall figures in Turkey, where women are abused or murdered by their closest acquaintances (either a family member or lover).
Once the woman decides to divorce, an abusive partner can become her murderer. According to the “Femicide Map,” out of the 1,134 murders in the last five years, 234 incidents took place during separation or divorce proceedings. In 217 cases, there was systematic violent assault and/or verbal threats before the murders took place.
In 141 cases, the women applied to a public institution demanding protection from assault and/or threats, like Berberoğlu.
“Our lobbying has created a stronger legal framework for women who ask for protection. What we need now is to ensure that this works on the ground,” said Kural. “But the path is filled with difficulty and we need a strong government determined to end femicides.”
This article was published in Hürriyet Daily News in November 30, 2015.