Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old female student living in the southern Turkish city of Mersin, went missing on February 11. The next day, gendarmerie forces stopped a suspicious minibus and discovered bloodstains and a hat in the vehicle. The day after that, Aslan's burned body was discovered in a nearby riverbed. Her friends were able to identify her only from the remains of her clothes.
During the interrogation, the driver, Suphi Altindoken, confessed to a true horror story. Aslan was the last passenger on the early evening ride, trying to reach home. Altindoken drove to a secluded spot and wanted to rape her. She resisted, using her pepper spray. The man knocked her out in the minibus. Hesitant, he phoned his father and a friend of his and called them to the scene. When they arrived, Aslan was alive, unconscious and breathing heavily. Altindoken cut her throat, stabbed her several times more, then chopped off her hands to ensure that no blood under the fingernails could be matched with scratches the woman made on Altindoken's face during the struggle. Then the three men burned her and threw the body into the river.
Turks were in shock after the story hit newspaper headlines with every detail. How could one of them commit such a monstrous act? Tens of thousands of them took to the streets to protest. Turkish women took to social media; Twitter campaigns were launched. In parliament, politicians made big speeches and vowed to stop violence against women.
Condolences after condolences came, including a courtesy visit to Aslan's family home by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's two daughters. It was as if all Turks were united against a foreign enemy. In reality, the enemy was their own culture.
In 2010, [then] Prime Minister Erdogan's wife, Emine Erdogan, told an audience of dignitaries in Brussels: "In our culture and civilization, which has a great historical background, family and motherhood are sacred."
Mrs. Erdogan, whose family is from Siirt in eastern Turkey, made that speech only days after Turkey had been shaken by another horror story: serial rapes in Siirt, including cases of adults raping minors and minors raping toddlers, and killing one. The mayor of Siirt said: "This is a small town and almost everyone is related to everyone. We have closed the case after consultations with the governor, the police and the prosecutor."
The problem is about the conservative culture in which the Turks take much pride. Child brides and buying brides (mostly in return for gold or cattle), are fine. Killing your own daughter because she was raped is from a tradition to protect family honor. Killing your own daughter because she fell in love with a boy is also normal. Covering up such horrible crimes is fine, too. But a boy putting on an earring or sporting a tattoo would be unacceptable.
In 2009, the 78-year-old Huseyin Uzmez, an Islamist columnist, was convicted and imprisoned on charges of having sex with a 14-year-old girl, but was released from prison after a court suspended his 13-year sentence. After his release, Uzmez defended the Islamic rules that he said permit girls to wed under the legal age of 16.
In a 2013 report, BBC mentioned that between 2002 and 2009, murders of women in Turkey had risen by 1,400%.
Last year, Kader Erten, a girl who had been forced to marry at the age of 12, and had given birth to two children, was found dead of gunshot wounds in unclear circumstances. Aysenur Islam, Minister for Family and Social Policy, said, upon Kader's death, that "most underage marriages were 'innocently-motivated.'"
In October 2014, the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2014 ranked Turkey at 125th out of 142 countries -- compared to 120th out of 136 countries in 2013. According to the WEF's report, Turkey is among the lowest ranked of the 40 countries in the upper-middle income group (and holds the lowest spot in the Europe and Central Asia region).
More recently, in January 2015, Ipsos KMG Research and Consultancy Company released the findings of its survey, "Guide to Understanding Turkey." The research, based on interviews with nearly 16,000 people, found that 20% of Turkish men and 18% of Turkish women think that "women can be slapped if necessary."
Apparently, Turks have high-profile precedents in conservative Muslim thinking, to teach them what is permitted and what is not. In an angry speech, ironically mourning Aslan, the 20-year-old girl who was murdered on February 11, Erdogan addressed Turkey's feminists: "What have you to do with our religion, our civilization?" Erdogan was angry because feminists had objected to his earlier remark that "in Islam women are entrusted to men." We are not entrusted to anyone, they protested.
All that is normal. Former President Abdullah Gul, Erdogan's closest political ally (together they founded Turkey's ruling party), set one precedent. The official web page for Gul's wife described the first lady so: "Hayrunnisa Gul believes that women have an important role in shaping the family, and thus, society; and she supports activities carried out to strengthen women and family." According to the web page, Madame Gul married President Gul in 1980 -- when she was 15 and he was 30.
Turkey's former President Abdullah Gul and his wife Hayrunnisa, pictured standing front and center at an August 2014 reception, married when she was 15 years old and he was 30.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.