Özgecan Aslan's killing a 'breaking point' in Turkish fight to end violence against women

People across Turkey wore black Monday to remember Özgecan Aslan, the 20-year-old whose killing has become a flashpoint for the movement to end violence against women.

Protests across country honour memory of 20-year-old

Thousands of members of Turkey's Bar Associations march to the parliament in Ankara on Feb. 16, 2015, to protest the death last week of university student Özgecan Aslan. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)

In part as an act of mourning and in part as an act of protest, women across Turkey dressed in black today to honour the memory of Özgecan Aslan.

Özgecan Aslan in an undated photo (Facebook)
The university student’s killing last week has become a flashpoint for the ongoing fight to end violence against women in Turkey.

“This was the breaking point of intolerance against women,” says Naksiye, an Istanbul lawyer who did not want to give her last name. 

Aslan was a “very innocent young girl," a university student who had hopes, Naksiye says. "She didn’t deserve this.”

Naksiye and Mine, a lawyer who also did not want to give her last name, were dressed in head-to-toe black at a Starbucks in the centre of Istanbul’s Beyoglu district.

“We see one more time that we don’t have personal safety in this country,” Mine says.

"For such an innocent young girl to be taken in such a violent attack as she went about her daily life, it is impossible to ignore,”she says, adding Aslan was heading home at a "reasonable time."

Naksiye says it shouldn’t matter what time a woman is going home, whether she is "showing cleavage, wearing red lipstick, a mini-skirt, or laughing loudly."

“I shouldn’t be seen as different because I wear a skirt with a slit, this is my style. Unfortunately this is still the Turkish mentality,” Naksiye adds.

Vicious crime

Aslan was stabbed and beaten to death on a minibus as she travelled home to the southern town of Mersin last Wednesday.

The 20-year-old student’s burned remains were found in a riverbed on Friday.

Turkish authorities say a 26-year-old minibus driver confessed to the crime. He is one of three men in custody. 

Police believe he tried to rape Aslan and then killed her when she tried to fight off the attack. 

They allege he then asked his own father and a friend to help him cover up the crime.

In a statement to police, released to Turkish media, the suspect said his friend suggested he cut off her hands to ensure there would be no DNA evidence of the attack. The young victim had scratched her attacker’s face several times.

Trending topic

Aslan’s name became a trending topic on social media as activists and women around the world rallied around her case.

Thousands of members of Turkey's Bar Associations stand in Ankara during a minute of silence to remember Özgecan Aslan, 20, a student, whose body was found last Friday in Mersin in southern Turkey. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)
On Sunday, another hashtag emerged: #sendeanlat. In English, it means "You tell, too," and encouraged women to share their stories of sexual assault and abuse.

Turkish actress Beren Saat was among the first to share her story on social media, writing about the "catcalls when I was walking home in my school uniform [and] accelerated steps walking home from school in the dark."

She also recounted "the face of the 15-year-old who followed me into my building and showed me his erect sex organ … hands shaking, racing home and not telling anyone,” and the drunk cable boss who grabbed her at a network event.

Violence against women is a constant concern in Turkey — Human Rights Watch cites independent press agency Bianet’s recent statistic that 27 women were killed in Turkey in the first month of 2015 — but Aslan’s case has garnered more attention than any similar case in recent years.

Yet even with the days of rallies, candlelit memorials on university campuses across the country and the international attention, will this case make any difference to how women are treated in Turkey? 

Naksiye and Mine shake their heads, and say "no."

About the Author

Nil Köksal

CBC News

Nil Köksal is the host of World Report, CBC's flagship national radio news show. She begins her mornings with more than a million loyal listeners. She recently returned from her post as CBC’s foreign correspondent in Turkey.