Muslim leaders stress there is no Koranic basis for such killings
An impromptu shrine has been created at the place where Hatun Surucu was gunned down.
There are flowers, candles, messages of support and photographs of the 23-year-old Turkish woman, who died of multiple bullet wounds to the head and chest.
The police have arrested her three brothers, in the belief that Mrs Surucu was the latest victim in a series of so-called “honour killings” that have taken place in Berlin in recent months.
“She had no other enemies. This murder bears all the hallmarks of an honour killing,” says police psychologist Karl Mollenhauer.
“In Islamic culture, the woman is the bearer of the family decency. She must maintain the honour of the family. Men must defend that honour.” If the police are right, Mrs Surucu was the sixth victim of honour killings among Berlin’s 200,000-strong Turkish community in as many months.
She had been married to her cousin eight years before in an arranged marriage, but had then run away – taking her five-year-old son with her.
“Women must make their own decisions,” read one of the banners at her shrine.
Mrs Surucu’s killing has led to an unusually strong public reaction – with Turkish women taking to the streets to protest.
“This tragedy has shaken us awake. We’ve been very surprised by the response,” says Eren Unsal from the Association of Secular Turks.
“This is the first time that political decision-makers, NGOs, and so on have been ready to sit down at the same table together and think about what must be done. This has never happened before.”
But not everyone shares the outrage. On a school playground, just yards from where the killing occurred, children were heard praising it. The victim, they said, had lived like a German.
And it was not the only response of its kind.
“I heard a young Turkish lady said on a Turkish radio station ‘she deserved it because she took off her headscarf’. This is incredible,” says Ozcan Mutlu, one of the few Turks sitting on the Berlin city council.
He says the problem has been exacerbated by the German authorities turning a blind eye to it.
“For instance, when a Turkish man beat his wife, he didn’t get the same punishment as when a German did it. They tried to explain it with the culture, the traditions, and with the religion.
“That’s stupid, you cannot do that. There is no cultural or religious excuse for beating women, and there can be no less punishment for honour killings. But in Germany it was the fact in the past years.”
“We have preached twice in the last year on human rights, saying that it is forbidden to kill, and so on,” says Huseyin Midik, a representative of Germany’s largest association of Mosques.
“It’s natural that when something happens, people think we should respond. But it’s not always the right thing to hold special events at these times, and then for it all to stop again.
“Our job is to explain Islam. That’s what has a permanent effect – clearing up certain false ideas about Islam in people’s minds.”
But the practise continues among Germany’s Turkish and Arab minorities. The police list 45 cases in the last eight years. One woman was drowned in her bath, another stabbed to death by her husband in front of their three-year-old daughter.
Every year dozens of women and girls, some as young as 13, run away to avoid arranged marriages – some in fear for their lives.
“Some were raped – by an uncle, by a cousin, even by the father – and when they should get married they are worried that someone will find out they’re not a virgin anymore. They are afraid that they will be murdered,” says a Berlin social worker who runs a centre for runaways.
She asked to remain anonymous, and the centre is located at a secret address.
Honour killings are, she says, just the most extreme form of repression faced by the people who come to her.
“All these girls who come to us are locked in, in the house, by their families. They only go to school because they have to by law – otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed. They have to stay at home and cook, and care for the sisters and brothers. The parents don’t accept that the girl decides anything by herself.”
Mar. 14, 2005
Ray Furlong, BBC News, Berlin