Murder in Berlin: The Lost Honor of the Sürücü Family

Hatun Sürücü died in 2005 when her youngest brother shot her for the sake of their family honor. What followed was a family's self-destruction. A new documentary reconstructs the story, and interviews the murderer for the first time.

Photo Gallery: The Death of Hatun Sürücü Photos
rbb/ WDR

The young man who shot his sister just over six years ago in Berlin, Ayhan Sürücü, has good manners. He welcomes his guests in jail with fresh tea. "I was at peace with myself (at the time), because I finally did something I had carried around in me for a long while," says the 25-year-old, who's served time since age 19 in a Berlin correctional facility.

The youngest brother in an immigrant Kurdish family, Ayhan shot his sister Hatun three times in the head near a bus stop in Berlin in early 2005. "I'll sleep with anyone I want," Hatun allegedly said that evening, according to Ayhan (there were no other witnesses). For her father and brothers, her attitude was too Western -- a dishonor to the family that required her death.

The story horrified Europe in 2005. Hatun's sisters and parents talked to the press in the immediate aftermath, but a new documentary on German television has interviewed Ayhan, for the first time, in prison.

Hatun, 23, didn't know Ayhan was armed that night. But she did know she was in danger. She'd written a letter about her family troubles to the youth welfare office asking for help. At the same time she maintained contact with some family members, including Ayhan, whom she trusted.

"She lived too openly when it came to her relationships to men," Ayhan told Matthias Deiß and Jo Goll, two journalists for public broadcaster ARD, in their film "Verlorene Ehre: Der Irrweg der Familie Sürücü" (or "Lost Honor: The Folly of the Sürücü Family").

Onscreen, at least, Ayhan never names the crime. "I've always assumed (my family) approved of that," he says, meaning the murder. "Behind the word 'honor' there was always the word 'woman,' in parentheses."

An Arranged Marriage, and a Pregnancy

When Hatun turned 15, her father pulled her out of a well-integrated high school in Berlin because she was too rebellious. He sent her to Turkey, where she was married to a cousin. She returned in 1999 -- legally divorced, but pregnant with her son Can. For a while she lived with her parents and tried to raise the boy with her brothers and sisters in a crowded, four-bedroom Berlin apartment.

But after several months, she left. She quit wearing a headscarf, entered the German welfare system, began wearing makeup and trained as an electrician in another neighborhood.

Her new life came across as too Western to her parents, who had moved to Germany in the 1970s as so-called "guest workers" from a hardscrabble village in eastern Anatolia. It's a Kurdish region of eastern Turkey where some people today still live in stone huts -- though local values, according to the documentary, have evolved more than the Sürücü family's in Berlin.

Ayhan's girlfriend, Melek, was a witness during the murder trial. She claimed Ayhan's two older brothers, Alpaslan and Mutlu, procured the murder weapon and hammered out the plan. Alpaslan and Mutlu are now sought for a new trial in Berlin with an international arrest warrant. But Ayhan pled guilty alone. Melek has gone underground because of perceived danger from the two other Sürücü brothers, who are still at large. "As long as they don't pay (for the crime)," she says in the film, "I won't have any peace."

Mutlu appears on camera in Istanbul, where he continues to evade German authorities. If Ayhan seems westernized, Mutlu is a strict, radicalized Muslim who denies having anything to do with the murder. The film shows him praying on a rug and relaxing on a sofa with his two children. A court in Berlin wants him to stand trial again, but Turkey will not extradite its own citizens.

"When you honor Allah," he says, "you are a free man, even if you sit in prison."

Praying For Her Sins

What did his sister do to deserve her own death? "The lifestyle change," he says. "Why does a woman need to dress up so prettily? Why does she need to go out on the town? To attract men."

He now claims to disapprove of the crime, though the Berlin court wants to consider evidence that he was also involved. He says vigilantism is forbidden by Islamic law. "But fornication is too," he adds.

Hatun's father, Karem, died of cancer in Istanbul in 2007. The entire family now talks about Hatun as a stranger -- in the interviews they seem affectless, factual, and distanced. When the reporters ask Hatun's youngest sister if she's "angry" at Ayhan for what he did, she says, "I don't know."

Nevertheless, Ayhan now says he committed "the worst mistake" of his life. "But I didn't know anything else" at the time, he says.

As for Mutlu, the brother in Istanbul, he's praying for his sister. "I want Allah to forgive her sins," he says.

With reporting by Barbara Hans

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