Turkish honour, to which an assassin refers, has nothing to do with Western honour, which one feels when one receives a ribbon from the mayor for merit to the community, receives high visitors or makes a promise. The somewhat old-fashioned sounding word expresses a very positive, distinguished, uplifting feeling. As a rule, the honour is earned: one honours a scientist for his research or a politician for his efforts for peace.
In the Turkish-Islamic culture on the other hand, the good name is not earned, but defended. Seyran Ateş, one of the most prominent German women’s rights activists from Turkey, also points out in her book The Multicultural Error the completely different meaning: ‘Whoever hears namus in a Turkish context usually does not associate something positive with it, but a burden, something that needs to be protected and for which people are prepared to give their lives, something that they can lose very quickly and lose their right to exist. For he who does not defend his honour becomes a namussuz adam, a man without honour. This is “the worst thing that can happen to a Turk”.
The Turkish woman on the other hand – especially when she is young – is not seen as an independent being. Her function is to carry the honour of the whole family, including aunts and uncles. Therefore, all clan members have the right (and the duty) to constantly interfere in the life of the woman in the name of defending honour. In this way, honour becomes an instrument of total control.It promotes the supervision and the indictment.
Because the clan’s honor, which the woman wears, consists of her sexual abstinence. She must be a virgin before marriage and then remain faithful. That sounds conservative at first. But a single word, a single glance can tarnish the clan’s honour. This means that a father can lock up his daughter for wearing her hair loose or not following the general rules of the family. A man can beat up his wife if she contradicts him or because he thinks she has looked too long at the cashier in the supermarket. A brother can shoot his sister because he thinks she’s too western or just because she doesn’t want to wear a headscarf.
The German Federal Police assesses honour as a motive for violent crimes as follows: “The focus of the discussion on motives and cultural backgrounds was partly very superficially on Islam and Turkey as the country of origin of the perpetrators (and the victims). A further analysis of the reliable police data, however, shows that the phenomenon of so-called honour killings is rather caused by the rigid roots in pre-modern agricultural economic and social structures and the associated extreme patriarchal understanding of the family that continued to exist after migration. – In patriarchal family structures, the understanding of the role of women is partly linked to oppression and extreme regulation, where the male head of the family and the male family members see themselves as the guardians of the family honour”. Simply put, honour is not a part of religion, but an instrument of power of the man against the woman.
When is a murder an honour killing?
A common definition is: a murder is an honour killing if the perpetrator presents family honour as the motive for his deed. However, this does not go far enough: there are murders that are only disguised as honour killings, but that in reality are about something else, for example money or land, or covering up another crime, for example incest. On the other hand, there are murderers who kill for honour, but who are careful not to use the word honour at all.
A description: An honour killing is usually committed by a male relative: Father, brother, uncle, nephew, husband or ex-husband murder a young woman, rarely a young man. The victim has (often only minimally) violated a family rule. The male family members see their claim to power challenged by this. They are often encouraged by the female members in their desire for revenge. To restore order, the girl is killed. The community sees the crime as legitimate. They can even be proud of it.
Consequently: An honour killing is usually not committed in the heat of battle. It is true that men are under enormous social pressure, which they cannot bear because of their weak male ego. They feel hatred and helplessness when they hear over and over again, “What kind of an honorless man are you? You let your wife live a free life. She’s going crazy.” A Turk who wants to live differently has to leave the community. If he wants to stay in the community, he has to play by the rules.
In a society where individual freedom means nothing, but family everything, the whole clan can be involved in planning the honour killing. That means: all family members can betray the woman. She often can’t even turn to her own sister. Even her mother could lure her into an ambush. If anything, help and support can only come from one man. But the girl must not make contact with a man outside the family, otherwise she will stain the family’s honour. The only people a girl can turn to are her father and brother – but it is their power that is often at stake. Precisely these two are interested in preserving the totalitarian system.
In some cases men are also victims of a murder of honour, for example as a friend of a girl or as a homosexual.
An honour killing is a murder with a very specific pattern. The following aspects can help in the identification:
Important: Of course not every honour killing has all these aspects. But the list helps to better identify honour killings.
What distinguishes honor killings from “normal” relational killings
There are also crimes committed in relationships in European countries where men kill their partners or ex-partners. Westerners also use common children to assert their claims to power.
The most important first: For the perpetrator himself, the assassination of his partner can be just as motivated as an honour killing. In both cases the man feels violated in his honour or in his masculinity and commits the murder. But for the woman there is a difference.In the West, the murders of women are almost exclusively committed by their husbands or ex-boyfriends. No fathers, uncles or cousins are brought in for the murder. So the threat is quite a different one, as is the ability to bring yourself to safety.
Even if there were still an isolated arranged marriage on a backward farm somewhere in the country, the woman could refuse to marry without fear of being killed by her uncle. In addition, she can turn to the women’s shelter, social workers, the church and the police. The Turkish woman, on the other hand, finds no support even in her own community. Often not even with the police or in the mosque. On the contrary: these are also male groups that are interested in maintaining their power.
Another difference between an honour killing and a relational killing is the feeling of injustice: an honour killer is usually not aware of any (moral) guilt. On the contrary: he has done something very valuable in his eyes. His environment is of the same opinion and has no interest in cooperation with the judiciary, which makes it even more difficult to solve the crime. If, for example, a sister wants to testify, she too is threatened. On the other hand, a man who physically hurts his wife usually knows that he has committed a serious crime for which there is no excuse.
Under the question When is a murder an honour killing? you will find questions that help to understand the difference between the Western murder within the relationship and the honour killing.
How many honour killings are there?
There are no reliable figures on honour killings in the world. Not every honor killer reveals his true motive. In many trials, a motive for honour is not investigated and not mentioned. Girls and women are taken abroad, murdered and reported missing. Or they are driven to suicide.
There are also questionable cases, for example when a killer gives an honour motive, but is later declared mentally disturbed.
This archive contains the honour killings we find. Consequently: The more we search, the more we find. The less we search, the less we find. This also applies to other “studies”. The claim that one knows how much honour killings exist somewhere, has more to do with removing or causing unrest. Figures on honour killings should be treated with caution.
For the year 2018 can be found in this archive:
Honor killings in Germany 2018:
46 (+ 4 unborn children)
But these figures are provisional. Many cases can only be found when the trial is opened or when a decision is made. Some murders are never solved.
Among the perpetrators: 12 come from Turkey, 10 from Afghanistan, 16 from Syria, including 2 Palestinians. Another Palestinian, who has been in Germany for a long time, does not know where he comes from. There are 4 offenders from Iraq, 2 of them Kurdish Yezidi. From Iran there are 4 perpetrators. 2 perpetrators each come from Kenya, Egypt, Albania and Bulgaria. Probably 2 perpetrators come from Roma families. One offender each comes from Russia, Kazakhstan, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Libya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Somalia, Tunisia and Algeria. One double killer each comes from Niger and Mozambique. The origin of 7 perpetrators is unclear.
That’s for reference only. It can be assumed that some perpetrators do not tell the truth about their origins. More cases will be added in the course of 2020.
For the year 2017 you will find in this archive:
Honor killings in Germany 2017:
56 (+ 3 unborn children)
47 (+ 1 unborn child)
For the perpetrators: 15 come from Turkey, 18 from Afghanistan, 16 from Syria, 9 from Iraq, 5 from Albania and 5 from Serbia. 2 offenders each come from Kenya, Egypt, Albania and Bulgaria. Probably 2 offenders come from Roma families. One offender each comes from Russia, Kazakhstan, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Libya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Somalia, Tunisia and Algeria. One double killer each comes from Niger and Mozambique. The origin of 7 perpetrators is unclear.
That’s for reference only. It can be assumed that some perpetrators do not tell the truth about their origins. More cases will be added in the course of 2019.
How many children are affected by honour killings in Germany is hard to say. In some cases it is not known or the number is not mentioned. However, more than 140 children are certainly for the year 2017.
How many perpetrators are Roma is also unclear, in one case it is certain, in the other it can be suspected. In at least 4 cases the perpetrator is Yezide.
These numbers can change, sometimes we find a case only after years.
For the year 2016 can be found in this archive:
Honor killings in Germany 2016:
41 (+ 4 unborn children)
38 (+ 1 unborn child)
At the perpetrators: Among the perpetrators are 8 Syrians, one of them throws 3 children out the window. From Turkey there are 15, including one who stabbed 3 sisters, from Afghanistan 11, including a double murderer. From Iraq there are 7 perpetrators, 2 of them Yezidi. One killer each comes from India, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, Togo, Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Egypt, Pakistan and Lebanon. Two perpetrators are from Morocco. Another double murderer comes from Mauritius. Six perpetrators are from Albania. Two perpetrators are from Serbia, including a Roma. Three are from Iran. In 3 cases the nationality is not clear.
Compared to previous years, the flow of refugees will lead to a significant increase in the number of Syrian perpetrators from 2015 onwards.
For the year 2015 you will find in this archive
Honor killings in Germany 2015:
25 (+ 1 unborn child, 1 further pregnancy is unconfirmed)
14 (+ 1 unborn child)
At the perpetrators: 6 perpetrators are from Iraq, in addition a double murderer (Yazidi) and an offender from the border area between Turkey and Iraq (probably Kurds, probably Yazidi). In addition to this case, there are 13 perpetrators from Turkey and 3 others whose origin is unclear, but who are probably Turkish. One of the perpetrators, who murdered his daughter, comes from Pakistan, in case of an attempted murder the perpetrator is probably Pakistani with a British passport. One perpetrator comes from Sri Lanka, one from India, one from the Ivory Coast, one from Kenya, one from Jordan, one from Lebanon, the last two (presumably) Palestinians. There are 3 offenders from Syria, 4 from Afghanistan, and in one case the offender is probably a Roma from Bulgaria. In one case the origin is completely unclear.
According to a United Nations study, there are about 5000 honour killings worldwide each year, 300 of which take place in Turkey. The number of unreported cases is significantly higher, up to 100,000 murders per year. The country with the highest rate of honour killings is probably Pakistan.
Should honour killings be called honour killings?
An honour killing is a murder in the name of honour. When a brother murders his sister to restore family honour, it’s an honour killing.
Some say not to use the word honour killing. It would mean the murder had a positive motive.
But the Turkish (Moroccan, Serbian, Iraqi …) honor is not a positive characteristic. In conservative Muslim communities, honor legitimizes the rule of the man over the woman, the rule of the family/clan over the individual. This honour must be defended, whatever it costs. It has nothing to do with the beautiful western sense of honour that you experience when you receive a prize or are honoured for something.
Therefore, it is important to refer to honour killing as such. They are crimes in the name of family honour. If you understand the pattern, you can better identify them. For example: Knowing that honour killings are often planned by the clan, the police may ask specifically about the entourage of the perpetrator during the investigation. Or: If a girl is to be protected from an honour killing, the security measures should be much more extensive than in the case of a threat by a single perpetrator.
That’s why honour killing is the right term for a certain kind of relational act. In German, murders in the name of honour are also called “Ehrenmord”, in the Netherlands eerwraak and in Turkish cinayetleri.
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Report on femicide in Iran (2022)
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