Thousands of women took to the streets of Turkey yesterday to protest against the violent murder of a female student who reportedly resisted a bus driver’s attempt to rape her.
Turkish authorities found the incinerated body of 20-year-old Psychology student Ozgecan Aslan on Friday, on a riverbed in the southern district of Mersin.
The subsequent autopsy revealed that Aslan had been stabbed to death and beaten with an iron bar.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu offered his condolences to Ms Aslan’s family, promising that those responsible for the crime would be hunted down and punished.
Aslan was last seen on a minibus by a friend who was travelling with her on 11th February; her family reported her missing later that day. Police quickly arrested three suspects, who were identified as the 26-year-old who had been driving the minibus, his 50-year-old father and a friend of the minibus driver.
The driver’s friend, who is recognised in the Turkish media as ‘FG’, told the police that the 26-year-old had waited until all of the other passengers had disembarked from the bus and then tried to rape Aslan.
According to Turkish news source Hurriyet, FG added that Aslan used pepper spray to resist the driver’s attack; he then stabbed her repeatedly and struck her over the head with an iron pipe. Reportedly, the attacker asked FG and his father to help him to dispose of Aslan’s body; the trio tried to burn her remains before throwing them into a nearby river.
The extreme brutality of Aslan’s murder has triggered public outcry across Turkey, where activists are arguing that the horrific tragedy is only one example of a widespread problem and a reflection of the region’s culture of inactivity surrounding violence against women.
Aslan’s funeral, which took place on Saturday in her home town of Mersin, was attended by thousands; a group of women ignored the prayer leader’s requests for them to stay back during the ceremony and carried the young student’s green coffin to be buried.
Mayor of Mersin Burhanettin Kocamaz attended the funeral and gave a brief address, commenting that violence against women is a “widespread phenomenon in Turkey”.
“Values in our society have fallen to a very low level; we are living in a time when women are murdered every day,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, thousands of female activists staged protests in cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Mersin.
Crowds began to gather during the day, holding banners reading “Enough: we will stop the murder of women!” By the evening, the crowds had grown, as women of all ages, from all walks of life, took to the city streets.
Protests have also spread to social media, where the hashtag #OzgecanAslan has drawn thousands of tweets and continues to receive hundreds with every hour.
A Gender Studies student, who wished to be referred to as Zeynep, commented that she thought Aslan’s murder was, in part, a political act.
“It is the result of the radical Islamic atmosphere created by the government. The men say that women should be conservative. They think if they are not conservative, they deserve this kind of violence,” she said.
Women’s rights charities and organisations report that instances of violence against women in Turkey have increased dramatically during the last decade.
An official from the Women for Peace Initiative, Sevda Bayramoglu, called for the huge requirement for new legislation to protect women from violence:
“Men kill and rape and torture women. The state- the ‘men’s state’- is protecting them. We expect parliament to stop this violence.”
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