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It is by now a familiar scenario for German police. The lifeless body of a teenaged Middle Eastern girl, missing since November. Discovered in a hidden spot with signs of a violent death. A suspected honor murder at the hand’s of the family, some of whose members were already in custody.
But this time the script is slightly different.
While most honor murders in Germany originate within the country’s four million strong Muslim community, the latest victim, Arzu O. from Remminghausen (German law does not allow for the release of the last name), 18, whose corpse was found last week, belonged to a little known Middle Eastern religious sect called Yazidism. And it is this sect’s adherents who are becoming better known recently for their part in the nightmarish phenomenon of honor killings in Germany. Already in 2003, the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, wrote:
More and more often, police must protect young women from the Yasidi faith community from their own relatives – and help them flee.
The Yazidis are Kurds who inhabit primarily northern Iraq but are also found in Syria and Turkey. Many Yazidis have immigrated to Germany where they form the second largest Yazidi community in the world, numbering an estimated 30,000 to 80,000, outside their home countries. Over the centuries, their religious beliefs have often put them at odds with their Muslim neighbours, who have at times cruelly discriminated against them, forcing them to convert on pain of death or sometimes just outright massacring them. Since Yazidis are not ‘People of the Book’ in the Koran, like the Jews and Christians, they were afforded no protection in Islamic lands.
Yazidi religious beliefs, like those of other religions, are complex. The Yazidis believe in one God, who created the world and left it under the care of seven angels. They don’t believe in the devil, since that would limit God’s power. Nevertheless, they have often mistakenly been called devil worshipers. Yazidism is described as being “syncretic,” influenced by Sufism and Iran’s pre-Islamic religion, Zoroastrianism. One also cannot convert to Yazidism; one is born into it.
But the problem Yazidism poses for young Yazidi women (and a few men) living in a modern Western state like Germany where freedom of choice and development of the individual are regarded as virtues is that they are not allowed to marry outside their religion. They are also not supposed to marry outside the three castes that make up their culture and usually wind up taking a cousin as a spouse. And like their Muslim neighbors, women are expected to be virgins when they marry.
“When a girl tries to marry outside the community, that is perceived not only as a dirtying of the family honor, but a break with the religion and the community,” wrote one German reporter.
Another reason Yazidis probably do not want their daughters to marry outside their religion is money. According to one report, the bride price for a Yazidi girl can cost a prospective groom and his family up to $ 80,000, “although the highest Yazidi spiritual leader…wants to limit the bride money to $5,000.” A woman marrying a non-Yazidi would probably add nothing to the family’s coffers.
Police believe Arzu’s breaking of these age-old religious restrictions is probably behind their gruesome discovery last week. Arzu, a high school student, had developed a forbidden love last summer with a 23-year-old apprentice baker, a non-Yazidi, at a bakery where she worked weekends. Her mother and older sister had also once worked there. But for wanting to determine her own life path, which includes selecting her own boyfriends like most normal teenagers do, this vibrant, young woman had to pay with her life.
Although the family, which originally came from Turkey, was described as “a shining example” of successful integration, they still acted out their archaic religious and cultural customs behind closed doors. Last August, Arzu’s family members tried to put a halt to her blossoming romance by giving her a beating, which got police attention. The assault only resulted, though, in Arzu’s fleeing the home for a women’s shelter, which alone is often reason enough for an honor killing. Once away from family control and observation, even for one night, it is suspected the girl may have lost her virginity.
“Every woman who flees the home is the object of an honor murder,” noted one German social worker. The Federal Crime Office (Germany’s FBI) registered 48 such homicides between 1996 and 2006 with a further 22 people surviving attempted honor killings.
Other reasons for honor killings, besides a loss of virginity, range from the female victim living too Western (re: independent) a lifestyle, to wanting a divorce, to fleeing either an abusive or an upcoming forced marriage. Conversion to another religion is sometimes punished by death as well as marrying or having a boyfriend outside one’s religion, race or ethnic group. Only with the blood sacrifice of a fellow human being do the murderers believe their family honor can be cleansed and restored.
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