Buried Alive: “Justifying” Murder As A Matter Of Honor

Sixteen-year old Medine Mehmi lived in the village of Kahta near Adiyaman with her parents and grandfather, Fethi Memi, a violent widower who regularly beat the family members. In January, after her parents were beaten, Medine reported it to the police. When her grandfather learned of this, he threatened her. After another beating in August, Medine again reported it to the police. Then she disappeared…. So began my post of December 6 (click here)

I continued: This is a case of family revenge, not an “honor” killing, since, according to people close to the family, Medine was under great pressure from her grandfather and wasn’t allowed to leave the house, so there would have been no possibility of her even speaking to a man. Yet the brave girl managed to report the abuse to the police twice. What did the police do? The news article is mute on this issue until the police dug up her body and arrested the father and grandfather.

Today there is an update in the Turkish press (for English, click here) that gives the results of the autopsy. Medine Mehmi’s hands were tied and she was placed in a sitting position in a hole in the ground, completely awake and aware, and buried alive. Large amounts of soil were found in her stomach and lungs.

But what also interests me is the addition of an accusation against Medine that had not appeared in earlier accounts: now the article says she was killed because she “befriended boys” (in the Turkish article, she is accused of “cok geziyor” — she gets around outside the house)

A 16-year-old girl was buried alive by relatives in southeastern Turkey in a gruesome honor killing carried out because she reportedly befriended boys, the Anatolia news agency reported Thursday.

Where did that come from? Did this line of reasoning appear in order to make it a (regrettably) familiar form of “honor killing”, rather than a case of silencing the girl because she reported family abuse to the police?  Did her father and grandfather, after their arrest, use this to justify the murder? Sure enough, that’s the source of this “information”:

The father is reported to have said in his testimony that the family was unhappy that M.M. had male friends.

Supposedly a family council decided Medine should die for this infraction. Is the court going to take the murderer’s word for what happened? Someone had reported initially that the girl never left the house. According to the recent report, Medine had never attended school and no photo exists of her. Where was she meeting these “boys”?

Obviously, it’s impossible to get the true “story” from reading the newspapers, in English or Turkish, but reporters should have some interest in getting their story straight. Honor killings are a familiar story — but this might well be a case of outright murder for revenge and to hide family violence. That would demonstrate the low status of women outside of the “honor” paradigm (and the authorities’ disinclination to take their claims seriously). In the most recent Turkish article, the father and grandfather are reported as claiming that when Medine reported the beatings to the police, the father and grandfather told the police that she was beaten because she was “talking to boys”. The police now say they began a “procedure” (islem) at the time. Yet Medine disappeared for 40 days before anyone investigated.

What is her mother’s account of what happened? So far, we’re just hearing the self-serving account of Medine’s  killers, apparently taken at face value by reporters (and the court?). It’s interesting that a claim of “We did it because she was befriending boys” probably seems like extenuating circumstances.

One additional account is from Medine’s “relatives”: It was an accident. During an argument with her father and grandfather, Medine hit her head on a wall and died. Panicked, her relatives buried her under the chicken coop.

UPDATE: The BBC has picked up the story here.

UPDATE2: For a website about honor killings worldwide, click here.

5 Responses to “Buried Alive: “Justifying” Murder As A Matter Of Honor”

  1. Sickening, disgusting, all the usual emotions. Please post the address of icahk.org.

  2. Absolutely the wrong link. Sorry. Should be:

    http://www.stophonourkillings.com

  3. Significantly, it will be interesting to see if any investigation is made of these local authorities who seemingly did little to prevent Memi’s horrible death. Memi’s case parallels that of Nahide Opuz, whose case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and resulted in a historic decision last summer in which the ECHR ruled that failure to protect women from domestic violence constitutes gender-based discrimination, in addition to violating an individual’s right to life and be free from torture. According to the ECHR, the state has a responsibility to protect women from domestic violence. In the case of Medine Memi, local authorities seem clearly to have fallen short.

  4. I wouldn’t dismiss the claim of befriending boys out of hand. From extensive experience with Turkish girlfriends, anything and everything is treated with suspicion. Did you come home later than usual? You must have been with a girl. Did you come home earlier than usual? You must not have been where you said you were and were with a girl. Did an unknown number call your phone? It must be a girl’s that you’re seeing. Do you not want to give her access to your personal email account? You must be hiding an affair.

    This is from educated, middle and upper class members of society. Now throw in the uneducated poor and add the fact that this was a girl we’re talking about and anything could have been interpreted as her having relations with boys. Most likely it probably was. Did a family friend visiting look at her? Did someone call with a wrong number? Was she using the Internet? The ever-present suspicion that is a normal part of so many Turkish relationships, in particular for girls, makes it hard to dismiss any claims, no matter how spurious.

    It could have just been a case of revenge and the killers could be using it to negotiate a reduced sentence, but one thing we can be sure about is that we will never know. Domestic violence related to issues of honor or otherwise is still not widely recognized here and the authorities will do little. It makes me sick to my stomach.

  5. […] had to do with Memi spending time/having friendships with boys. In a very provocative post, Jenny White criticizes the media for having jumped to the conclusion that the crime was an honor killing, […]

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