A culture of honor (or horror) – revisited

A culture of honor (or horror) – revisited

In 2010, Turkey was “shaken” by the surfacing of alleged serial rapes in the southeastern city of Siirt, including “shocking” cases of adults raping minors and minors raping toddlers, killing one.

After the scandal fell into the public domain, the mayor of the same town said: “This is a small town and almost everyone is related to everyone. We’ve closed the case after consultations with the governor, the police and the prosecutor.”


And a cabinet minister from the ruling Justice and Development Party criticized the media for reporting rapes “that had occurred a year ago.” 


Siirt is typically an overwhelmingly Kurdish, conservative Muslim town, run by, apart from an elected mayor, a Turkish elite class of governors, prosecutors, judges and military and security officials. Like every other conservative Kurdish (or Turkish) town, it boasts strict “honor codes.” What would violate the town’s “honor,” typically, are acts like dating, holding hands in public, smoking during Ramadan, tattoos and earrings for men, or a woman letting a piece of her hair be seen in public. Raping minors and covering up the crimes in collaboration with government officials did not violate the town’s “honor.” Child brides, too, are fine.  

In that year, 2009, a total of 12,635 cases on charges of child sex abuse were opened in Turkey, according to the Justice Ministry’s judicial records and statistics office. The number rose by 43 percent to 18,104 in 2014.

The increase between 2004 and 2014 was nearly 350 percent.  

Should we be surprised? It may be a good thing that at least child sex abuse cases have been rising, as it may illustrate bolder law enforcement against criminals – not like in Siirt. But, empirically speaking, it is not too difficult to guess that the number of cases represents only the tip of the iceberg. Most Anatolian cities and towns feature similar conservative cultural and “honor” codes like the honorable locals of Siirt. 

In Ankara, for instance, 12 girl students at an imam school complained that their Quran teacher, S.A., a man of 55, had sexually abused them numerous times. After an investigation was opened by prosecutors, S.A. petitioned for his retirement. So far so good. At least not another Siirt case. 

Recently, at the first hearing of the case, which was closed to the public, 10 girls who had complained about S.A.’s abuse testified before a chamber of judges. Suddenly three of them changed their minds and dropped their accusations against the suspect. Why, all of a sudden, did they decide that the man, whom they accused of a heinous crime throughout the prosecution process, was innocent? There could be many reasons, including concerns over a “bad reputation” in their future lives. It’s quite curious, but let’s leave it to the judges to find out.  

In their testimonies at the first hearing, the other seven girls insisted that S.A. abused them sexually. All 10 girls were in the courtroom with one of their parents – 10 parents. Now fasten your seatbelts. Of those 10 parents whose daughters were allegedly abused by their Quran teacher, eight (EIGHT!) testified that they wanted to drop their allegations against S.A. 

That left the number of complainants at nine: seven girls who accused S.A. of sexual abuse and two parents.

In other words, five parents whose daughters insist they were sexually abused by their Quran teacher wanted to drop charges against the man who abused their daughters. Now we came closer to Siirt.  

The same parents must now be preaching to their daughters that a girl’s dignity requires her to cover her hair, not flirt with boys and … not accuse a teacher of our holy book.