This name has dominated media coverage in Turkey since the New Yorker’s disappearance two weeks ago in Istanbul. The discovery of her body on Saturday headlined newspapers and led TV programs across the country.
But what about Aynzeliha, Damla, Fatma and Irem? These are the names of the four Turkish women who were killed this weekend alone.
Aynzeliha’s body was found in a forest in the southeastern province of Adiyaman. Like Sierra, she received a hard blow to the head. She was also stabbed in the heart. Aynzeliha was no more than 21 years old. Soon after she was found dead, her boyfriend confessed to the murder.
Damla, 21, was able to flee her physically abusive husband and take refuge in a women’s shelter in Samsun, a city that hugs the Black Sea coast. A couple weeks ago, Damla’s parents took her home to stay with them. She filed for a divorce last week. On her way home from grocery shopping this weekend, Damla was confronted by her husband, who shot her eight times.
But gender-based violence doesn’t just plague the small towns and rural villages of Turkey.
Take Fatma, 28, whose estranged husband killed her three years after she left him and moved to the bustling city of Izmir. Afterward, he reportedly said, “My wife took off with my children. I’ve cleansed my honor.” And then there’s Irem, 44, whose partner stabbed her in the chest and leg “out of jealousy” in Istanbul.
These women received little attention in the Turkish media over the weekend. Compared to the daily analyses of Sierra’s online communication, expenditures and relationships, the press coverage of these four murders was at best scattered and episodic.
So what does this say about our priorities?
Sarai’s story is tragic and mysterious, and like so many others, I want to know how and why her life ended so abruptly. But as we mine every new detail for clues, it’s important to keep in mind that Sarai’s case isn’t the only one that should give us pause.
As is true in many countries, violence against women is a serious problem in Turkey. The Independent Communication Network (Bianet) reported a total of 165 women murdered, 150 raped, 210 injured and 135 harassed by men in Turkey in 2012. Of these, 24 women were killed, and 21 more were injured despite demands for police protection.
Also telling is a 2009 survey by Hacettepe University that found 42 percent of women in Turkey have been physically or sexually abused at some point in their lives.
What’s more, most experts and activists consider these to be conservative figures.
The investigation into the disappearance and murder of Sarai Sierra is, of course, important and demands attention. As some journalists and activists already have pointed out, though, we should take this opportunity to address the larger issue of gender-based violence and discrimination in this country.
“To be a person in Turkey is hard. To be a woman is much harder,” well-known Turkish journalist Cüneyt Özdemir said Monday on his nightly news program on CNN Türk.
On both his program and in an op-ed he wrote in the Turkish daily Radikal, Özdemir called on the media to talk about violence against women and to do so responsibly.
“If four women are murdered in one country, that’s news, right? But in Turkey, they maybe make the third page,” wrote Özdemir, referring to the space in Turkish newspapers usually dedicated to crime and traffic accidents.
Violence against women in Turkey will not stop without the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy on this issue and a significant shift in social mentality, urged Özdemir, echoing women’s rights activists.
“In cases other than this [Sierra’s], I call on women and men who respect women to place women at the forefront of their columns,” Özdemir said. “Let’s make our voices heard and say, ‘Stop,’ to this system of violence against women in Turkey.”