MENTION Turkey as a holiday destination and most people think of sandy beaches and spa hotels full to the brim with westerners.
It’s currently the third most popular country for UK tourists after Ibiza and Spain, and is expected to shoot to number one this summer as recession-hit holidaymakers look for destinations that don’t have the ailing euro.
Yet, away from the sandy shores and exotic mud baths that make this European country so popular with Brits, there is a dark side to Turkey.
In the past year alone, more than 200 girls and women have been murdered in so-called “honour” killings.
The Turkish government is desperate to hush up the statistics as they are trying to join the European Union.
In 2004 they scrapped a law that offered leniency to such killers.
But a new Channel Four documentary this Friday, Unreported World, discovers the crackdown hasn’t worked. In fact even MORE young women are being murdered than ever.
And experts believe that men who feel wronged are no longer killing their female relatives but forcing them to commit SUICIDE to escape prosecution.
Reporter Ramita Navai travels to Turkey and is told the strict rules of “honour” that bind many women mean they cannot even stand too close to a man they’re not related to.
And she meets relatives of murdered brides, women on the run from their families, and even a boy whose family forced him to kill his stepmother.
The chilling documentary, which airs at 7.30pm, casts a new light on the country that is visited by more than a million Brits a year.
First Ramita meets the relatives of a young bride called Sever, who is believed to have been killed to spare her husband’s blushes after he was unable to have sex with her.
According to Sever’s aunt Husna, the 24-year-old was strangled in her bed just ten days after her wedding in Karajada, near Diyarbakir in the south east of Turkey.
Sever’s husband confessed to her murder and is awaiting trial, adds Husna.
Ramita says Sever still had henna on her hands — a marriage custom — when she died last December. She adds: “Husna said the autopsy showed she was still a virgin. The family suspects Sever’s husband was unable to consummate the marriage and killed her to spare his honour.
“Husna told me these killings are common here, and three have happened in the area recently. She said brothers and husbands will kill a woman just for being seen with a man.”
Ramita also meets the father of a man who killed his wife.
Cavus Alir’s son Ferzende suspected his wife Nazime of infidelity — and was “driven mad” by the thought of his honour being betrayed.
He gouged out 21-year-old Nazime’s eyes, cut off her tongue and put her remains in a plastic bag before taking them to the mountains near their village and burning them. He was jailed for just five years.
Ramita also meets Fatima, who was forced to leave her two children and flee two years ago when she discovered her husband’s family planned to kill her, cut up her body and dump it in a shallow grave already dug outside her home.
She had intended to divorce her husband — but his furious family decided they would rather kill her. The 30-year-old has been in hiding ever since.
Ramita says: “Fatima explained her death sentence had been passed during a family meeting. Wanting a divorce is seen as being disobedient, and disobedience is a dishonour.
“She told me women are not treated as equals, and honour is used as control.
“There’s a local saying where she’s from — you go to your husband’s house in your wedding dress and you’ll only ever leave in your death shroud.”
Later Ramita meets Mehmet, who was chosen to perform an honour killing at 17-years-old because, being under 18, he would get a shorter jail term.
Despite shooting his stepmother and her lover in the back, he served just two and a half years in prison.
Ramita says: “Mehmet told me he didn’t want to kill them and that he felt sad and frightened, but that he was under pressure from his family.
“If you don’t kill, the community stops talking to you, you’re cut off. You can be beaten, you can even be killed.
“There were many other honour killers in his prison and they were all treated with respect for what they had done — even by the prison guards.”
Political experts say most of the honour killings are in Kurdish communities, and the problem is being made worse by the Turkish government sidelining the Kurds, making them more insular.
As part of Turkey’s campaign to join the European Union, it introduced a mandatory life term for all murders in 2004. Before then, honour killers could get a reduced sentence claiming provocation.
But the change in law doesn’t seem to have reduced the killings — merely introduced a new twist.
A town called Batman has been nicknamed Suicide City because in recent years hundreds of women have killed themselves in suspicious circumstances. And soon after the honour killing laws were tightened, suicide rates rocketed.
Three quarters of all suicides in Batman are by women; in most other countries, suicide is three times higher among men.
In the past year, 18 young women in the town have committed suicide by hanging, shooting and drinking rat poison.
Many believe the women were forced to kill themselves by their families after “dishonouring” them.
Ramita says: “Batman’s chief prosecutor told us he believed many of the suicides in the town are forced, but that they’re almost impossible to investigate. Those women who escape the attempt flee into hiding.”
Indeed, to prove the theory, Ramita meets a girl who was asked to commit suicide by her own family.
Ramita says: “Elif told me that when she was 18, her parents wanted to force her into marriage. When she refused, it was seen as dishonouring her parents.
“Her family told her: ‘If you don’t marry this man you will have to kill yourself’. Her father said to her, ‘You’ve got to think of me and your brother, because if I kill you I’ll have to go to prison, and if your brother kills you, he’ll have to go to prison, so you have to do it, you have to kill yourself’.”
“Elif was shocked. She considered killing herself because she loved her father so much, but she didn’t want to die so she ran away. She says she still loves her father.”
Elif — who has been on the run for a year — broke down as she revealed her aunts and uncles are pressurising her father to find her and kill her.
Through Ramita, the terrified young woman says: “I just can’t believe it because I loved them all.” Even Istanbul, the supposedly westernised capital of Turkey, now has one of the highest levels of honour killings in the country, with one every week.
Experts say many Kurds are moving to towns and cities to look for work, and bringing their traditions with them.
Vildan Yirmibesoglu, a lawyer working for the Istanbul governor’s office, tells the film crew honour killings aren’t always properly investigated as some police and prosecutors have the same views as honour killers.
Ramita says: “The Turkish government has condemned honour killings and launched a commission with the aim of reducing them. Yet, in the three weeks we were in the country, we counted 12 cases in the press.
“As Turkey negotiates to join the EU, it’s rewriting its laws to confront the traditions that lead to honour killings.
“But Turkey’s government also needs to end the isolation of the Kurds, and draw them into the mainstream.
“Until that happens, the old traditions will live on, and each year hundreds more women will be murdered in the name of honour.”
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