Openly Gay Turk’s Murder an ’Honor Killing,’ Friends Claim

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday July 21, 2008

Honor killings are a phenomenon that puzzle and horrify Westerners with their seemingly unlikely mix of love and violence, kinship and death. In Turkey, that concept may have been the reason for the death of a prominent Turkish GLBT advocate.

This was the possibility explored by a July 19 article published in the UK Newspaper The Independent.

Honor killings area often carried out by male relatives to redress perceived slights to family honor; most often, the victims are women, who might be killed on suspicion of adultery, or for having been subjected to earlier episodes of victimization, especially in terms of rape. Even having a conversation with a strange man can be grounds for "reclaiming" the family honor through the killing of an offending female relative, the story in The Independent said.

Though Turkish law has recently attempted to combat the persistence of honor killings, some perpetrators incite or instruct under-age family members to do the actual killing, The Independent reported.

The Independent referenced the spat of anti-gay killings carried out in Iraq by religiously motivated death squads, and cited the case of a Jordanian who was evidently shot by his brother, though not fatally, on account of being gay.

But the killing of 26-year-old Ahmet Yildiz, who was shot as he left a caf?, would be the first such murder of a gay man known to have occurred in Turkey--if, indeed, it was an honor killing.

Yildiz, a student who traveled to San Francisco as a representative of Turkey at a 2007 gay gathering, was characterized as an honor killing in the article, and though it was unclear whether members of Yildiz's family were the killers, friends of the murdered man reportedly said that his family had been pressuring Yildiz to seek a "cure" for his homosexuality and to marry a woman.

The article quoted on friend, who remained unnamed, as saying, "From the day I met him, I never heard Ahmet have a friendly conversation with his parents."

Said the friend, "They would argue constantly, mostly about where he was, who he was with, what he was doing."

Added the friend, "He could have hidden who he was, but he wanted to live honestly."

The friend recounted, "When the death threats started, his boyfriend tried to persuade him to get out of Turkey. But he stayed."

The friend went on, "He was too brave. He was too open."

Yildiz's friends suspect that the young man's death was an honor killing, meaning that his own kin murdered him, both for the tension between the victim and his family in the months leading up to his shooting, and for the manner in which the family has conducted itself since his murder.

Said a friend of Yildiz, "We've been trying to contact Ahmet's family since Wednesday, to get them to take responsibility for the funeral."

Continued the friend, "There's no answer, and I don't think they are going to come."

Families often do not bury those members who have been murdered as victims of honor killings, The Independent reported.

The article cited a sociologist, Mazhar Bagli, who has studied the phenomenon. While Bagli had not encountered any instances of gays being murdered as victims of honor killings, Bagli said that, "Honour killings cleanse illicit relationships."

Added the sociologist, "For women, that is a broad term. Men are allowed more sexual freedom, but homosexuality is still seen by some as beyond the pale."

Yildiz, the article said, had reported receiving death threats some time ago, but an investigation into his concerns trailed off--the result, his friends feel, of a general disinterest in the well-being of gay Turks by the country's society at large.

GLBT advocacy group Pink Life member Buse Kilickaya lamented, "The media ignores or laughs off violence against gays," reported The Independent.

The article sketched a portrait of a country once run according to religious law that, since joining the European Union and coming into greater contact with international culture, has blossomed--though not without a backlash from those holding tight to old ways.

Said a friend and member of Turkish GLBT advocacy group Lambda, Sedef Cakmak, "[Yildiz] fell victim to a war between old mentalities and growing civil liberties," reported The Independent.

Added Cakmak, "I feel helpless: we are trying to raise awareness of gay rights in this country, but the more visible we become, the more we open ourselves up to this sort of attack."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments on Facebook