February 17, 2015

The brutal murder of Ozgecan Aslan, who was raped and burnt in the Southeastern province of Mersin, caused a great shock in Turkey where the surge in violence against women has long been a major problem. Ozgecan was going home on a minibus on February 11 when the driver attempted to rape her. She pepper-sprayed the man for protecting herself before he stabbed and beat her to death with an iron bar. Her family, failing to contact her, had reported Ozgecan missing, and on February 12, the gendarmerie forces stopped a suspicious minibus in which they discovered bloodstains and a hat. The driver of the minibus along with his father and friend were detained when the victim’s father confirmed that the hat belonged to his daughter.

The suspect, identified as Suphi Altindoken, has confessed to the murder, and during the interrogation, he gave the details of the murder in defiance. He told the investigators that he drove the minibus to a secluded spot after all other passengers have disembarked. While Ozgecan was protesting against the apparent change in the route, the driver stopped the car in a deserted lot and tried to rape her. In his testimony, Altindoken told, “When I went near her to rape, she took a pepper-spray from her pocket and sprayed it on my face. She scratched my face with her nails. Although I wanted it very much, she prevented me raping her. She hurt me so much; I lost control over myself and started to stab her. Due to fear and anger, I didn’t know what to do; I don’t remember how many times I stabbed her. Then for not leaving DNA behind, I cut her two hands from wrists and burnt the body.”

He also gave some gruesome details of the murder: “I saw that she didn’t die after I stabbed her. And I started to hit her on the head with an iron bar. When she died, with the body hidden in the minibus, I went to the city centre. I picked up my father and friend and told them that, for not leaving any evidence behind, we needed to burn the body.” The father and the friend were also arrested, and whether they involved in other crimes is also being investigated.

Suphi Altindoken was married with a three-year-old child. He is reported as an abusive husband who has beaten his wife many times. Contacted by Turkish media, his wife, who now stays in her family’s house, stated that she filed for divorce a few months ago; however, she had to withdraw the file and return home because her husband threatened that, if divorced, he would kill her and their child. She also stated that she demands the heaviest punishment for her husband who ruined both her and Ozgecan’s life.

The murder of Ozgecan Aslan, who was a twenty-year-old psychology student, was protested throughout Turkey, and she has become the symbol of struggle against gender inequality and violence in the country. According to women’s rights activists, the rapid increase in violence against women in Turkey indicates the insufficiency of political will to combat gender inequality. In 2014 alone, 281 women were murdered, which marks a thirty one percent increase on the previous year. The bleak condition of women in Turkey is aggravated by a reluctant justice system which hands mitigated sentences on murderers and rapists. In courts, perpetrators of heinous crimes on women receive mitigated sentences when they claim that victims have seduced them. In one striking case, a rapist received mitigation in the Turkish Court after claiming that the victim was wearing a red jacked and it provoked him to rape.

People who took to the streets to protest the brutal murder of Ozgecan demanded heavy sentences on the perpetrators. The cruel murder brought the issue of death penalty and other forms of severe punishment into attention, as many think that the perpetrators should get more than prison time. Although Turkey abolished the practice of capital punishment in 2002, in major cases, public always discussed the possibility of death penalty. Ozgecan’s father addressed the growing demand for capital punishment by saying “death penalty is not a solution.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly condemned the murder and added that he will be following the case very closely. In the same speech, he slammed the feminists who criticized him for not taking necessary actions to tackle the growing violence against women. Some women’s right activists claim that Mr. Erdogan’s attitude on women’s rights issues is exacerbating the violence against women. In 2010, Mr. Erdogan publicly stated in a speech that he does not believe women are equal to men; he also argued gender equality is not probable as women and men are created differently.

Turkish Public has a hope that the murder of Ozgecan will mark the start of a new era in Turkey where justice system will be equitable and politicians will be striving to substantialize gender equality in every sphere of social life.