Filmmaker: Eylem Kaftan
A young Turkish woman, now resident in Canada, travels to Turkey in an attempt to unravel the story behind her aunt Guzide’s murder, some 30 years earlier in a remote Kurdish village.
As she searches for clues and closure, she encounters antiquated customs in a Kurdish culture she has never known. She knows that her aunt was a victim of a senseless vendetta killing and as she ventures from village to village she pieces together the woman’s final days and closes in on the identity of her killer.
More than 30 years ago my aunt, Guzide Karaozan, was murdered in an honour killing. In this film I return to Turkey from Canada to search for the truth about what happened to her. This is a spiritual journey back to a place where some decisions are still based on ancient tribal codes. Vendetta Song begins by investigating one woman’s murder, and goes on to reveal the clash of values between the new and old worlds.
Nestled in the landscape of southeastern Turkey, amid the rocky deserts and rugged mountains, is a land of Kurdish villages. Villagers here continue to live in the same manner they have for hundreds of years. Though only a few hundred kilometres from Turkey’s major cities, they are a world away. The people of these tribes can be hospitable, friendly and loyal. But theirs is a traditional society, where a man’s reputation can take precedence over a woman’s freedom, where ritual murder is sometimes used to ensure that a tribe’s honour is not compromised.
My aunt, Guzide Karaozan, was both the beneficiary and victim of Kurdish values. When she was born, her mother, my grandmother, had to give Guzide to the neighbouring village of Millan in southeastern Turkey. The women of Millan breastfed and raised her as one of their own. Once Guzide reached puberty, she was given away once more to a neighbouring village as a ceasefire offer. After Guzide’s husband was killed in a vendetta, both of her brothers-in-law wanted to marry her. When she refused and tried to escape, she was killed. Though Guzide’s murderer was never found, villagers believe Guzide’s husband’s family was responsible for her murder. After 30 years, Guzide Karaozan is still regarded as a legend by the villagers of Millan. The men of Millan have vowed to avenge her death.
Set against the backdrop of the Kurdish people’s struggle for identity, where boys grow up playing war games and girls learn to be mothers by looking after younger village children, Vendetta Song is a search for my aunt’s identity, her life, and her murderer. The film also reunites me with my roots, my native country and the people who cared for and loved my aunt.
Part murder-mystery, part family reunion, this personal road trip through southeastern Turkey opens a window to the land and its people, shedding light on the tragedy of Guzide Karaozan, who like hundreds of other women from this place, was cast away from her family, then murdered for the sake of honour.
In the name of honour, hundreds of women are killed in Middle Eastern countries every year. A man’s honour is defined by the chastity of ‘his’ women. The excuse for honour killings range from ‘immoral behaviour’, such as flirting with men, to acts like marital infidelity, refusing to submit to an arranged marriage, demanding a divorce, or ‘allowing themselves’ to be raped.
Families must maintain their ‘honour’ within traditional Kurdish communities. If a woman has brought ‘disgrace’ to her family, there is often intense pressure from the neighbours to execute her. Families sometimes execute the women in public to display that they have ‘restored their honour’. Thus, the courts’ leniency usually encourages families to execute their daughters, wives and sisters.