Honor and Justice in Turkey

By Tas Anjarwalla and Elyse Whitehead

As Turkey continues to strive to establish itself as a modern state, like many contemporary Muslim-majority societies, success is often met with certain backlash pertaining to age-old conflict and tradition. For the citizens of Turkey and the Muslim World, alike, women are impacted in a unique manner. Women's Voices Now screened "In the Morning" and "Saturday Mothers of Turkey" as part of its Honor and Justice conference in Turkey.

The concept of honor is one that has claimed the lives of many women who, vis-à-vis tradition, continue to be the vessels of their family’s status in the community. In a time when Turkey is striving for reform on both democratic and judicial levels, justice has not been aptly pursued for the stolen lives of women at the hands of their own families.

The film "In the Morning" tells the story of a young woman, impregnated through rape, who is unequivocally at fault for tarnishing her family’s honor; an offense that can only be remedied through her death at the hands of her adolescent brother.

The concept of honor killings is one that pre-dates Islam, but remains prevalent in many Muslim-majority societies worldwide. Its roots reside in tribal tradition and religious ideology. In the context of the Turkish state, honor killings continue to pose a tremendous challenge to the image of Turkey. It is something kept quiet within communities and underrepresented in the greater sphere of the Turkish judicial system. Although reforms to the Turkish penal code in the early 2000s sought to address this oversight in policy, penalties that do exist for committing an honor killing are seldom enforced; and the fact that there is punishment for such acts is certainly not common knowledge in the several communities of Turkey that perpetuate this practice. Moreover, for a number of reasons a significant percentage of honor killings continue to occur unreported.

Similarly, in today’s Turkey, the concept of identity, one integral to human existence, also challenges the integrity of the Turkish state. With regard to the Kurdish community, which saw a resurgence in its ethno-national struggle during the mid-1980s, the last few decades have been wrought with a low level civil war waged between the Turkish authorities and the Kurds of Turkey. The film "Saturday Mothers of Turkey" follows the mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters of Kurdish men who have been disappeared by the state. The women of this film give voice to the struggle for Kurdish identity, and give a glimpse into the significant role Kurdish women have come to play in demanding justice from the Turkish republic.

"In the Morning" and "Saturday Mothers of Turkey" are two films that confront underrepresented issues in both the state and civil society of Turkey. Though one pinpoints a tragedy of a tremendously personal nature occurring within a particular community, and the other brings to the surface inherent issues within the greater context of the framework of Turkish society - both address issues that impact and inform the continuous evolution and cohesion of Turkey, whose multi-cultural and multi-ethnic reality is perceived as a challenge to the greater nation.

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