No honour in killing

I spoke to Al Hurrah TV’s Kurdish correspondent today. In 2008, in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, approximately 800 women lost their lives as a result of honour killings. But in 2009, there was a sudden and sharp decline in the number of violent deaths.

One wonders. Why this horribly large number in one year? Eight hundred women. That’s at least two very large wedding halls filled with young girls who themselves could have gotten married, some day. If only they had not broken the rules, and put  their families to shame.

And why was the amount of women that died at the hands of their fathers and brothers cut in half in the subsequent year? Did social norms and expectations change overnight? Did the authorities introduce some kind of sweepingly successful new policy? Did women’s rights organizations mount a cunning strategy to conquer the hearts and minds of those that would rather murder than live with a disobedient daughter?

No one seems to know. But although the trend seems positive – if one would indeed qualify 400 deaths instead of 800 as a hopeful accomplishment, thinking outside the box is still a tricky business here in the north of Iraq. In matters of the heart, at least.

In the ethnical, national and religious melting pot that is the Kurdish region, relative societal peace and tolerance between the different groups are starkly juxtaposed by social rejection of intermarriage. A Kurd does not desire a Sunni Arab. An Assurian does not long for a Shia. A Christian IDP from Baghdad certainly does not pursue a Christian from Ainkawa.

An Erbil-based journalist, originally from the south, partly blames the eruption of violence against women in 2008 on the sudden confrontation of previously rural folk with life in the big Kurdish cities, where they have been flocking to in great numbers in recent years. With city life come temptations, unknown to small mountain villages. And loss of parental control over their daughters’ comings and goings.

But why the decrease? Are the men learning to accept the inevitability of radically changed circumstances? And is it even a real decrease, or did they just stopped reporting?

Perhaps the senseless killing continues, but people just stopped reporting them. Maybe measures taken by others paid off. But who knows: maybe the move into mainstream life and a diverse society also did something to the male sense of pride. Perhaps killing a girl suddenly doesn’t seem such an honourable thing to do anymore.

In that case: one more hurray for big city life.


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