'We Don't Want To Die': Women In Turkey Decry Rise In Violence And Killings "Domestic violence never happens because there's a problem with the woman. The men are killing. They are the problem," says a rights activist in Istanbul.

'We Don't Want To Die': Women In Turkey Decry Rise In Violence And Killings

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We've got a grim story out of Turkey this morning. The number of women there killed by their partners is rising, and the recent killing of a young mother has prompted protests and calls for change. Activists say the rhetoric of Turkish leaders is partly to blame. And we want to offer a warning - this story for the next four minutes or so may be too graphic for some listeners. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has the report from Istanbul.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: A little girl screams, Mama, Mama, please don't die, to a woman whose white shirt is red with blood.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible).

KAKISSIS: The woman clasps her neck. Her ex-husband has just slit her throat in front of her daughter. A bystander filmed the killing of 38-year-old Emine Bulut last month at a cafe in central Turkey and posted it to social media. A group that tracks domestic violence says nearly 300 women have been killed by their partners or acquaintances so far this year.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Shouting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting in foreign language).

KAKISSIS: Bulut's killing was all over the TV news and so were protests of women chanting, I don't want to die. It all got to another abuse victim, Emine Dirican, a 43-year-old beautician. We spoke through an interpreter.

EMINE DIRICAN: (Through interpreter) I exactly felt how she felt holding her wound, and you just know that you might die. It made me live through all the things again.

KAKISSIS: Dirican's estranged husband almost killed her in January. He hated that she worked. He abused her for years. Sitting in her parents' living room, she shudders as she recalls one incident.

DIRICAN: (Through interpreter) He tied me, my hands, my legs, from the back like you do to animals. He beat me with a belt and he said, you are going to listen to me. You're going to obey whatever I say to you.

KAKISSIS: She left him and moved in with her parents. But when he showed up outside crying, she let him in. In her mom's kitchen, he pulled out a gun.

DIRICAN: (Through interpreter) He pulled me down from my hair, down to the floor, and he shot me. And then he went back to my mum and he pulled the trigger again, but the gun was stuck, so he hit her head with the back of the gun, and he leaves.

KAKISSIS: She almost bled to death after a bullet ripped through a main artery in her leg. Her father took her to the hospital.

DIRICAN: (Through interpreter) I was telling my father, Daddy, please, I don't want to die.

KAKISSIS: Her husband was convicted only of simple assault and is free, awaiting sentencing. Lawyers for women in these cases say Turkey does have strong laws against such abuse. They're just not being enforced. Ozlem Ozkan sees how authorities treat her clients.

OZLEM OZKAN: (Through interpreter) Women who have been beaten go to the police and are told, don't file a complaint. It will just make your husband angry.

KAKISSIS: Hi, nice to meet you.

At a women's shelter filled with children's toys, a volunteer says relatives also push women to stay with violent men.

ELIF: They are thinking violence can be OK. Why you are crushing your family?

KAKISSIS: The shelter volunteer, Elif (ph), won't give her last name because the shelter gets threats from the partners of the women it protects.

FATMAGUL BERKTAY: Men's honor depends on how able he is to make women obey and to control their sexuality.

KAKISSIS: Fatmagul Berktay is a gender studies scholar. She says the rhetoric of the current government enforces this attitude.

BERKTAY: The government is really pushing this traditional ideology of women being only mothers.

KAKISSIS: At the same time, she says, more women are insisting on their rights - the right to work, speak up, divorce.

BERKTAY: All these men, you know, when they're asked, why did you do it, they say, honor, and she didn't obey me.

KAKISSIS: I spoke to several men in Istanbul about this. Jewelry shop owner Hilmi Bilgin (ph) has two grown daughters and his views seem pretty typical. Though he strongly condemns domestic violence, he says it's not only the fault of men.

HILMI BILGIN: (Through interpreter) Women make it worse for themselves by either being meek, which makes men feel more aggressive, or they overreact, which triggers the men.

KAKISSIS: After the killing in August, Istanbul's mayor promised to fight male violence. A popular soccer team held a moment of silence. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even talked about reinstating the death penalty. Fidan Ataselim of We Will Stop Femicide, the group that tracks gender violence here, says this tough talk misses the point.

FIDAN ATASELIM: (Through interpreter) High-ranking members of this government say things like, women should not laugh too loudly, as if this encourages men to attack us.

KAKISSIS: Until Turkey's government stands by women, she says, it's just part of the problem. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Istanbul.

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