Arranged Marriage Ends in Tragedy Brutal Murder Case Reveals Immigrant Culture Clash
A Kurdish man killed his German-born wife, who was also his cousin, because she was too independent. He stabbed her in the eyes, beat her with a billiard cue and then ran over her in his car. His mother-in-law had told him to be "strict" with her strong-willed daughter.
"Damn it, we're not on some television court show here! You keep your mouth shut!"
The presiding judge is shouting like a trucker. A foreign spectator had called out something in the direction of the bench, something harmless and not insulting.
One of the Kurdish witnesses was in the courtroom at the beginning of the trial, which is not permitted under German law. He is related to the defendant and the victim. "This is a case that involves my family. I have to be here," he said, explaining his presence.
"You don't have to do anything!" the presiding judge said, interrupting the man. "You need to stay home until you're summoned."
This isn't a TV courtroom, but the courtroom of the judge presiding over the 10th Higher Criminal Chamber of the Bielefeld District Court, Jutta Albert, a woman with peroxide blonde hair and a voice capable of grinding stone. The way she treats people from different cultures is a little strange, to say the least.
'Or Else You Can Go Back to Turkey!'
As she walks out of the courtroom just before a half-hour recess, the mother of the victim turns around, faces the defendant, and screams: "You disgraceful murderer! You pimp!"
After the break, the judge serves up her next reprimand. "One more remark from you and you'll be removed!" she says. "Do you think you can behave here as if you were in a Turkish bazaar? We won't let you treat us with such a lack of respect! Our proceedings are conducted in accordance with German laws, and if you are in this courtroom, you will abide by those laws. Or else you can go back to Turkey!"
This isn't the way to reassure agitated people who have lost a daughter, a niece, a sister, and who have no other outlet for their feelings of hatred, sadness and perhaps even shame. This trial is dragging things out into the open that the family has always kept quiet, shining a bright light on its failings and on the fact that it has brought dishonor and shame upon itself.
At the beginning of the trial, young men with grim expressions on their faces and weeping girls are sitting in the visitors' gallery. The mother of the murdered victim reacts to the court with disdain, turning her back on the judge. She seems consumed by hatred, and perhaps by self-loathing and desperation over the notion that she was partly responsible for provoking the incident. The police keep a close watch on the potentially explosive scene.
Stabbed in the Eyeballs
The defendant is a 27-year-old Kurd identified only as Önder B., who was never officially a resident of Germany. According to the indictment, on New Year's Eve 2008 he stabbed his 18-year-old wife Müjde 46 times and beat her with a billiard cue. And, as he later told a psychiatrist, because she was already so disfigured from the stabbing and beating that she would hate him for the rest of her life, he got into his car and ran over her body several times.
It was an excessive act, an unparalleled outbreak of violence. Was it a crime so inconceivable that it must have been committed in a state of temporary insanity? Twice, the presiding judge pointed out that she was considering a conviction both for murder arising from base motives and cruelty, because the defendant stabbed his wife in both eyeballs while she was still alive, causing them to leak out of their sockets.
One of the details of the conflict-laden background to the crime is that Önder's father is the older brother of Müjde's father. The two men arranged the marriage after Önder saw the 15-year-old girl on a wedding video. When asked for his daughter's hand in marriage, Müjde's father said: "Yes, but my daughter has to agree."
But the girl, born and raised in Germany, wasn't interested in marriage. At the same time, she didn't want to oppose her parents. She was uncertain and undecided. But for the father, her apprehension was no cause for concern. Things will turn out for the best once the two are married, he thought to himself. After all, he reasoned, we are all part of the same family.
Considering Himself Perfect
Although Önder finished school, he doesn't have any vocational qualifications and never learned a trade. What kind of a person is he? "He's my nephew," says one witness. "I don't know anything bad about him." "He believes his thoughts are correct," says another uncle. Önder tells the psychiatrist that he considers himself "perfect."
The defendant came to Germany for the first time, as an asylum seeker, in 2001. He was 19 and Müjde was 11 at the time. He married a Turkish woman 10 years his senior, but the couple soon separated. He returned home to Turkey in 2003, where he performed his mandatory military service. He lived in a hostel for unmarried Kurdish men in Istanbul for a while.
Önder returned to Germany to visit an uncle on his father's side, followed by a visit to France to stay with a maternal uncle. Then he went back to Germany, then to Turkey to see his parents and, finally, returned to Germany. He visited Müjde's family for three days in 2006. The two got along "fantastically," he says, even though he was too "embarrassed" to talk to her. He sent her a text message asking whether she would like to get to know him. She responded that this wasn't possible, but then she asked when he was going to come to visit her.
This went on for an entire year. On the one hand, says Önder, she wanted him to visit her. On the other hand, she didn't want him. This offended him, he says.
Reports of Rape
Müjde's parents were also sending mixed signals. The mother was not very enthusiastic about Önder at first. Nevertheless, the girl was sent alone to Turkey in May 2007 to visit relatives. The couple was married in a civil ceremony in Turkey two weeks later. By the time Müjde's parents arrived, "the whole thing was over," one witness said.
A paternal uncle told the court that Müjde wanted to marry Önder. But others say that Müjde had talked about rape.
When the victim's 17-year-old sister is called to testify, her father orders her to leave the courtroom. This prompts another loud outburst from the judge, who says: "You have nothing to say here! Your daughter ought to be allowed to make her own decisions!" The judge's disconcertingly sharp tone doesn't exactly help to alleviate the tense mood in the courtroom.
On July 24, 2007, the young woman returned, disappointed, to Germany. Being married was not what she had expected. Önder apparently behaved the way men usually behave in places where a marriage is a contract between two families, and where the woman becomes the man's property.
Önder remained in Turkey while Müjde stayed in Germany. From then on, they only communicated with each other via the Internet. Önder berated Müjde and her parents. Were his words threats or merely macho ranting? Müjde reported him to the police.
Her mother informed relatives that the wedding celebration they had planned to hold in Germany for friends and family had been cancelled. When Önder heard the news, he attempted to commit suicide. When he returned to Germany, Müjde went with him to an attorney so that he could apply for a residency permit. She also had hymen reconstruction surgery, perhaps to prepare herself for a future relationship -- but with whom?
A Tragic New Year's Eve
It was an emotional roller coaster ride for the estranged couple and their families. In October 2008, Önder wanted to take Müjde to Turkey with him so that they could have a "proper" wedding. He threw himself at his mother-in-law's feet and humbly and respectfully begged her forgiveness for his mistakes. His appeal was successful. Müjde's mother urged him not to give up and told him to be strict with her daughter.
Önder didn't understand -- or simply refused to believe -- that the game had been over for a long time. Müjde spoke on the telephone with people he didn't know, and she refused to bow to his authority, which convention required him to exert. It drove him crazy. Where he comes from, decent woman don't behave the way she was behaving. He became obsessed with the notion that she was seeing someone else.
Despite their differences, they became engaged a second time. At the ceremony, Müjde was wearing a gold-colored gown as she put on their engagement rings. An uncle urged the couple to try to get along.
It was the end of 2008. Müjde, who had stopped wearing her engagement ring, went to a New Year's Eve party without Önder. When he turned up at the party, she told him to go away, but then she followed him to another party at an uncle's house. Önder said: "Next year the party will be at our house."
He killed her as they were driving home that night.
He claims it was because she had turned up the car stereo when he tried to speak to her, that she had given him an incorrect PIN three times when he tried to check the calls on her mobile phone, and that she had refused to answer him when he asked whether she had been unfaithful. Perhaps she said nothing because she was scared to death.
He had taken along a knife from the uncle's party, a fruit knife with a short blade. He stabbed her with such fury that the blade broke off in her skull.
He turned himself in after the murder. "The striking thing was that he desperately wanted to know whether it was possible to determine when and with whom she had last had sexual intercourse," says a police witness.
His lawyer, Detlev Otto Binder, confronted the psychiatric expert witness with the diverse views of renowned forensic psychiatrists on the subject of "profound consciousness disorder" -- an official defense under German law -- and accused him of not knowing enough about the subject.
Müjde's parents, for their part, refused to testify in court. Who will explain to them and their extended family that they must modify their moral values and give up their traditions if they want to live in Germany? Certainly not a court that shouts people down.
On Aug. 17, the court in Bielefeld sentenced Önder B. to life in prison for murder.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan