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Saturday, 01 October 2005 00:12

A German Court Goes Face to Face with Honor Killings

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By Sven Roebel

Hatin Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ tried to live her own life  " ” and may have been killed for it. The 23-year-old Turkish woman was shot point-blank in the face in February in Berlin. Many believe her own family was behind the murder and her brother is now on trial.

Was Hatin Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼
the victim of an
honor killing?

When Hatin Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ was killed, walking on the sidewalk near her home in Berlin's Tempelhof neigborhood, she was holding a cigarette. It was a French Gauloises, her favorite brand, and while emergency medical personnel tried to revive her with adrenaline shots and electroshocks, her cigarette slowly burned out between the middle and index fingers of her left hand.

The photos taken by police at the murder scene in Berlin show many fine streams of blood flowing from the young woman's head and merging in a dark, shiny pool. It looks almost as though someone had carefully combed Hatin's long, dark hair as her head lay on the sidewalk. Her opened pack of cigarettes protrudes from the breast pocket of her corduroy jacket, a dark blue cardboard box with an advertising slogan printed on it in French: "Libertà © toujours" -- "Freedom forever."

The district attorney's office in Berlin is convinced that Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ died on the evening of Feb. 7 because she had adopted the cigarette pack slogan as her own. Because she felt that being able to smoke in public was one of life's ordinary freedoms. Because she had the courage to walk around without a head scarf. Because she felt it was her right to live in her own apartment and to disobey the men in her family -- and to decide for herself who to love and who not to love.

The murderer shot the 23-year-old Hatin Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ three times in the face, in rapid succession and at point-blank range, using a 7.65 mm pistol. It was like an execution.

According to investigators in the case, the shots that killed this single mother of a six-year-old son represent the last stage in an Arab ritual intended to restore what the killer believed was the "family honor." In a Berlin criminal court on Wednesday, three of her brothers will face charges of having maliciously killed their defenseless sister. Investigators believe that the defendants may have carried out the execution as part of a death sentence imposed by a "family council," which assigned the role of executioner to the youngest son, 19-year-old Ayhan, while his brothers, Mà ¼tlà ¼, 26, and Alpaslan, 24, were responsible for obtaining the pistol and planning the murder.

The men have either denied the charges or refused to comment, but this isn't the only problem authorities have encountered in the case.

The case has long since become a matter of public debate that extends well beyond the articles of criminal law. Germans want to know what's wrong with a country that has seen an estimated 50 so-called honor killings in the past decade. Why, people want to know, is Germany incapable of protecting its female citizens against violent attacks by Muslim husbands, fathers, or brothers?

Some commentators have focused on the political symbolism that elevates the death of this attractive, modern woman to a kind of martyrdom, but they ignore the parallel world in which Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ was killed. If there's any explanation for her death, the best place to look for it would be in Berlin's heavily Turkish Kreuzberg district, where the presumed killers lived and where life follows two basic laws  " ” the law of the neighborhood and the law of the Koran.

On the one hand, there's the Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ family's four-room apartment on the fifth floor of a renovated building. The family prays five times a day and dogs, considered impure by devout Muslims, are barred from the apartment. Hatin's archly conservative father, who comes from the Kurdish province of Erzurum in Turkey's eastern Anatolia region, has lived in Germany for 24 years but hardly speaks a word of German. Her mother wears a head scarf, adding a veil when speaking with strangers.

Ayhan, the suspected killer, grew up in this world. He is a well-behaved Muslim boy who honors his parents, text-messages secret love poems to his girlfriend and, even as a 19-year-old man, has no problem sleeping in a bunk bed in his childhood room.

A different form of honor prevails in the streets of Kreuzberg. It's the kind of honor that can be violated by as little as an unwanted glance into someone's eyes. When this kind of honor is assailed, the way to regain respect might involve fists, knives, or even guns.

Here, in the old territory of the notorious youth gang known as "36 Boys" after one of Kreuzberg's zipcodes -- Ayhan Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ is known by a different name. He calls himself "Carlito," after the hero in the American gangster film "Carlito's Way," in which Al Pacino plays a melancholy former dealer who tries to start a new life, only to find his criminal past catching up with him.

Hatin's death was a
shock to the community.
"No to honor killings,"
read the signs.

No one knows exactly how many times the Kreuzberg Carlito has rented the film, but at some point he must have adopted the notion of an "honorable gangster" as a way of life -- one in which the laws of the neighborhood blended, fatally, with those of the Koran.

At age 15, Ayhan was accused of throwing bricks at police officers during the May Day riots in 2000. (He complains that his friends sold him out to the police "for a lousy â ‚ ¬500.") Four months later he was caught handing out flyers proclaiming that "Jews and infidels" were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Then he claimed that he was secretly in contact with Turkish Islamist Metin Kaplan's "Caliphate State," and in October 2001, apparently in an effort to provoke the authorities, he signed a document in which he claimed that he was "also a member of the PKK" -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is fighting for a Kurdish state.

Later he told the commission investigating his sister's murder that many things in his family's past "weren't pretty." His brothers, he said, "were not always happy in their marriages." Nor was his sister Hatin. These unhappy circumstances had always made him wish for a different life, he said, a better life -- just like his Hollywood hero, Carlito.

The Carlito wannabe needed the right girl for his new lifestyle, and a neighborhood schoolgirl named Melek, 18 years old, seemed to fit the bill. Ayhan worshipped her like a goddess. He sent her text messages praising her "soulful gaze" and "sweet smile." After dating her for all of four weeks he wanted to marry her. Melek's parents weren't so sure, especially when they heard that the young man wanted their daughter to wear a head scarf.

On Feb. 7, the boundaries between Ayhan's twin worlds dissolved. Melek later told the police about a strange conversation she had had with him: He said he was deeply unhappy and that he could only be happy were he to free himself from an old burden. Something terrible had happened in his family when he was 14, he said, something involving his sister. Ayhan apparently told Melek that if she knew what he had been through and witnessed, she would understand why he had to do something his older brothers should have done years ago: kill Hatin.

Investigators now believe that Hatin was once raped by one of the men in her family. She was a victim of incest, and under her community's crude code of honor it was not the rapist but the victim who should be held responsible.

Melek said that on the evening of the murder, "Carlito" kept glancing at his watch, gave her â ‚ ¬100, and said to pass the money to an acquaintance if she didn't hear from him.

Hatin was just 23 years
old when she was shot
in the face and killed.

The next day, the airwaves filled with news of Hatin Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼'s murder. That afternoon, Ayhan called Melek and told her to meet him at the Kottbusser Tor subway station, and the two then took the subway to the Bahnhof Zoo stop. While they sat on the train, Melek says, she asked him: "Ayhan, was it you?" and he answered, "Yes, I did it." He spoke very quietly and rested his head on her shoulder, and they both fell silent for the rest of the trip.

Only later, says Melek, did Ayhan give details of the murder -- that he went to Hatin's apartment and sat in her kitchen; that he noticed a prayer rug and was pleased his sister had apparently started to pray again; that he asked Hatin to walk him to the bus.

Near the stop, Ayhan pulled out a pistol. Before pulling the trigger he allegedly asked Hatin whether she regretted her sins. Melek told the police that while Ayhan told her this story he mimed a pistol with his thumb and index finger and aimed at her head. Then, she says, he told her he panicked and ran from the scene, boarded a bus, and hid his blood-covered hand in his pocket. The bus passed the crime scene and Ayhan saw his sister lying on the sidewalk.

The prosecutors in this case will want to know two things: Why Melek failed to report her boyfriend's intention to commit murder, and how credible her testimony is.

When Ayhan Sà ¼rà ¼cà ¼ was questioned by criminal investigators five days later, he swore, by everything that was holy to him, including his love for Melek, that he had nothing to do with the death of Hatin. One of the interrogators asked him which sentence he believes is appropriate for the murderer of his sister. Ayhan answered without hesitation: "May I be frank? If it were permitted by law, I would hang him -- even if he were my own brother."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Read 5838 times Last modified on Sunday, 21 December 2008 02:10

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