Another Honor Killing

I ran across a Turkish news item that was in many respects not unusual: A newly wed couple murdered by the brother of the bride in order to restore the family honor.

Apparently the bride’s family strongly objected to the relationship, disapproving and trying to dissuade her. But this was not in a rural area but the center (not the slums) of a huge metropolis, and the bride asserted her independence. Finally, however, the older brother of the bride said that he was provoked and had no choice but to kill the couple, who had been married for only ten days.

So far, this reads like a routine honor killing. It’s urban rather than rural in character, and it’s after a marriage rather than some trivial unallowed-male-contact. And the man involved got killed as well as the woman. But Turkish news items like like this are depressingly common. Ordinarily I wouldn’t even read the details.

Here’s an unusual aspect: a major reason the wedding was contentious was that the bride and the groom belonged to different religions: Islam and Christianity. The bride’s family could not countenance the mixed marriage.

And here’s the kicker: the bride’s family are the Christians, not the Muslims. They belong to Assyrian Christianity, now a very small minority in Turkey. (One of my close high school friends is an Assyrian Christian; I’d be surprised if he doesn’t know some of the people involved.) The bride’s family had insisted that the groom convert to Christianity and that the wedding had to take place in a church. But even then they were reluctant. The couple had already tried to elope once, and the woman had returned home after threats that “only blood will cleanse this” (the offense to honor). But then, they got away again and got married in secret. They were hoping that after it was a done deal, the bride’s family would learn to live with the fait accompli.

Things didn’t work out that way.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    I am curious about the kind of "honor" that is involved in these "honor killings." I am an umpteenth generation Southerner, born in Macon, Georgia and with more Confederate ancestors than most of these "re-enactor" guys. The American South is famously an honor culture (or "honuh" as we say down heah). Now the southern idea of honor also placed a great deal of emphasis on the worthiness of spouses. In fact, I had several great uncles and aunts (decayed aristocracy right out of Faulkner–or maybe Flannery O'Connor)who never married because they never got matched with partners quite "good enough." Yet the idea of killing a member of your family to restore the honor of your family seems very bizarre to me. What goes into this sense of "honor?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    St. Paul was quite clear on the matter: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (2Co.6:14). It is clear that the brother took any violation of Paul's command to be a capital offense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Keith

    I'm not an anthropologist, so take the following speculation with a grain of salt.

    Honor translates into reputation in the community: a community where individuals and families depend in almost everything on their status as members in good standing. This community sets a high value on the sexual purity of women, to, for example, ensure the legitimate paternity of children. A family's reputation for producing pure women is vital for their marriage prospects. It is therefore incumbent on members of the extended family—men as well as women—to closely police the sexual behavior of their female relatives.

    When honor is compromised, the family will need to send a very strong signal to others in the community that they are not lax in policing, and that they can still be trusted to supply women of purity. Killing the compromised female wipes the slate clean: it penalizes the offense, demonstrates the operation of strong policing, and broadcasts to all that the family in question will do all it takes to control their female assets. Therefore they can still be trusted to supply marriageable women.

    Now, if you're asking about how it is that people can feel that all this is terrible but still on balance right and proper, well, I can't help. This is pretty distant to my direct personal experience.

    Nonetheless, many Middle Easterners do strongly feel that it is right and proper. Their moral intutions about honor are not quite the same as mine or your Southern examples.

    Actually, "honor" doesn't quite adequately translate what's at stake here. I don't know a good equivalent. Turks call it "namus" from the Arabic, which derives from the Greek "nomos." And yet it isn't quite "law" or "custom" either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Thanks, Taner. The whole thing must be pretty complex, however. I note that while honor demands the sexual purity of women, in some quarters it is quite compatible with grown men having anal sex with boy prostitutes. See:

    http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2010/12/wikileaks_texas_company_helped.php


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