Two young Berlin Turks protested publicly against so-called honor killings. Besides positive reactions and media interest, they also reaped tense responses from family members and schoolmates.
Saithan (left) and Sinan (right) took a stand -- publicly
Journalist Güner Y. Balci initiated a postcard campaign against so-called honor killings in the Berlin girls' club "MaDonna," in early 2005, after a young Turkish woman was killed on the streets of Berlin by her brother. Balci asked young people to let themselves be photographed for it. Seventeen-year-old Sinan and his one year younger friend Saithan immediately agreed.
They thought it was important to publicly set an example against violence and repression. "Honor is fighting for my sister's freedom!" read the slogan on the postcard, of which 20,000 were printed and circulated last year.
The boys didn't inform their families. They assumed that their parents and relatives would not find out about it. But when the first article about the campaign appeared in the spring of 2005, media interest grew. In autumn, Saithan and Sinan won the taz newspaper's "Panther Prize," an award for civil courage.
The German and European press celebrated Saithan and Sinan as heroes, and media outlets asked them to appear on TV. At the same time they were forced to deal with the ambivalent reactions of those around them.
Suspicious of publicity
Their parents discovered what their sons were doing by chance, when they appeared on a television show.
"Sinan's father thought Sinan was celebrating my birthday at my place," Saithan explained. "And my parents thought I was invited to a birthday party at Sinan's. Then they suddenly saw us on the TV screen."
Saithan was lucky. His parents were not enthusiastic about their son's presence in the media, but they agreed with his engagement. "My mother is proud of me."
Balci was inspired by a Swedish campaign to start the project
Sinan's family's response was less positive. From the outset, the parents were suspicious of the public attention. His father now doesn't want his son to make any more statements to the press.
Sinan and Saithan also had different experiences with their peers. At Saithan's school, the topic was treated thoroughly in class in the wake of the postcard campaign. His classmates, 70 percent of whom are from Arab and Turkish migrant families, share Saithan's rejection of forced marriages and honor killings.
But Sinan, who attends another school, has been harassed by some of his classmates. "Because they don't really understand what it's about. They think he's saying that he doesn't care what his sister does," said Saithan.
"Honor killings and forced marriages are still a taboo subject in many migrant families," explained Balci, who is pleased about the scope of the discussion triggered by the project. Saithan's and Sinan's civil courage sends a signal to their peers, she said.
"Boys in migrant families often live with constraints, as much as the girls do. It is extremely important that these young people see that it is possible to free themselves from those conventions that are wrong."
More campaigns planned
This year the campaign, inspired by a similar campaign by Muslim youth in Sweden, will continue across Germany. The postcards will eventually also be printed in Arabic and Turkish and distributed in male domains, such as cafes and sports clubs. A poster campaign is also planned.
"We have to make it clear that these murders have nothing to do with religious duty," said Balci. Many Muslims are not aware that forced marriages and honor killings come from archaic, pre-Islamic traditions.
A television feature about Saithan is being planned for this year, which Balci is involved in realizing. "We want to follow Saithan around in his everyday life and take a look at the personal circumstances in which he and many young migrants grow up."
It remains to be seen how Saithan will hold up in front of the camera. He is reticent, even a bit shy. When asked if he'd like to continue to speak out against violence and injustice, he replied, after thinking for a while: "Actually, yes. I'd like that." He wants to become a lawyer one day -- so he could always speak out for justice.