Füsun A.



Montréal, CANADA
January 12
Freelance Writer - jack of all genres;master of none.
warm and genuine
I divorced my full time career of teaching after 25 years, because meanwhile I fell in love with freelance writing. Ever since, I decided to legitimize my ten-year fling which started in the new millennium. Author of: "WILL OF MY OWN - A Memoir" Available at all major book outlets. For a preview please visit: http://www.dictionmatters.com/


FEBRUARY 12, 2012 3:27PM

Honor Weddings

Rate: 74 Flag

       Geet age 13-1 IMG_3304

I was Geeta's age, 13 (left) when I came to Canada, and Zainab's, 19 (right) when I first fell in love.

The entire Turkish community of Montréal was surprised when they received invitations for two weddings set one week apart. One of the brides to be was aged eighteen, the other nineteen, and both still in school were getting married out of the blue. What was even more incredible was that the grooms' names were neither Turkish nor even recognizably Muslim. Bruck and Heckrotte sounded – definitely Christian!

The younger girl had just entered metallurgical engineering. She was the first to get married to her nineteen year old, philosophy major husband in the Eastern Townships at the farmstead of the latter's parents, who hailed from Austria, with old European values. They had met at an elective course and became friends. The friendship turned into a lot more and in a short time rendered them inseparable.

The older was studying chemical engineering at McGill University – one of the six girls in all of the engineering classes. She was noticed by the tall, dark, handsome American GI from Delaware, who was attending architecture after his army stint in Hawaii. He had selected Canada, because tuition fees were unaffordable in the States. Here he could live in a rooming house on Peel Street, and afford food and education on his GI pension. He had a cutting wit and sharp mind, in addition to his brown puppy eyes.

There was a third sister too, but she wasn't getting married. She too was in school though, and she also had her own sweetheart, but unlike the others, she had managed to keep him a secret from her parents. Perhaps just the fact that one has to remain silent, when a fire is burning inside her heart, bellows the flames out of control, because even though her heart was flowing over with love and she wanted to shout out her feelings, she could not. So she muffled her voice and convinced herself that love was meant to be celebrated quietly through poetry and literature; and got herself involved in her sisters' joy.

But in truth, neither of these weddings was actually planned and both were far from the ideal - as much a shock to the parents, as they were to the their guests. It was the only honourable step they could take, the sisters decided. Because as soon as their parents found out that they had given their hearts to young men outside of their culture and religion, their parents saw that the only way to save their honour was to take their daughters back to their mother land. They cared not that it was the middle of winter, or half way through a semester, or even a loss of a year. . .

"You can continue at a Turkish university from where you left off here," they said. Honour, to them, was more important than any schooling, education, or degree. No matter how much the girls did beg and plea, the decision was made. It was back to the motherland for all, before the family name was sullied.

It was that strong sense of honour, woven into the psyches of the young girls, that made them take the final, desperate step. Marriage was the only way that would not dishonour their family. Marrying infidels would certainly devastate their parents, but it wasn't like death and there would have to be a compromise. Thus, the nineteen year old married her twenty-three year old sweetheart at the Christ Church Cathedral on St Catherine Street, on a sunny May day in a no brand-name religious ceremony, after which her mother held a reception at their home for the guests who drove in from Delaware and New York.

After they “lost” both of their daughters in a backlash just like that, the parents were left adrift in the middle of a tornado-swept life. Their dreams crashed big time with the reality they faced, and in their wake there was left nothing but a sense of loss, emptiness and defeat.

The sisters, although they parted from their country and way of life at very impressionable ages, and were married outside of their own faith under unplanned circumstances, never forgot their roots, their language and the values their parents taught them. Their marriages were only a side track to stay and complete their education, but also not abandoning the loves of their lives. Their actions were honour-motivated on both fronts.

I thought of this story when I watched a program “The House of Shafia” on Fifth Estate, a weekly documentary shown on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) last week. The murders of three sisters and a first wife have been the source of many investigations and questions, looking closer at the existing support, shelter, and protection systems in place.

I cannot help but, in some way, identify with the plight of the young girls aged 13, 17, and 19, who were so strictly controlled by the heavy, iron fists of the males in the family and their ideas of honour.

My parents also believed in honor and that a young girl should not be touched by a male before she was married to him. And they did all they could to keep my sisters and me distracted from the awakening of nature by taking us to ballets, concerts, cultural expositions and various celebrations within our national community. Only one thing was out of the question: Having a boyfriend or dating.

Naturally, when I think of those two young girls, who married at age 18 and 19, to consider their parents' honor - although they loved the people they married - I cannot help but think of them as heroines in their own rights. For standing up for their beliefs and stepping into the unknown with no backup, no rope to reach for should they sink. I admire them for putting up with all the hardships they faced, and yet keeping focused on their goals.

I am deeply saddened that the father and mother of Geeta, Sahar and Zainab had no conscience, feelings, or humanity when they planned the murders of their daughters in cold blood. Québec police who were unto them within three weeks of the unfortunate incident placed listening devices everywhere, including the car Mr Shafia drove. One could hear his words (translated), saying such things as he hoped that dogs would pee on the graves of those girls whom he considered whores, (because they wanted to live more like the people of their age in the new society). This man and his son did a most dishonourable thing by taking the lives of four women in the name of honour. Although they appealed their verdicts, I hope the decisions will not be changed and that they will serve the rest of their lives in regret and learning.

Back to the other three girls I started with. . . I know they would never be subjected to anything remotely close and heinous. Yet they still acted out of their sense of respect and honour to their parents and married before leaving their parental homes. They lived marginally until both their husbands and themselves completed their degrees and moved on to lucrative employments. Their lean years of getting by on GI bills and scholarships made them even stronger and more understanding toward others.

Yet life is unpredictable. Like a house built on sand and fog, each marriage eventually collapsed – after six and twenty years, respectively. But who is to say life could have been better had they packed up and gone back in the middle of an education process? We all come upon many interjections in our lives, and eventually we have to chose one over the others. Each road we follow leads to another cluster of opportunities and choices, which might not have been possible had we chosen another crossroad. The thing to be grateful for is that we are alive and can make a selection without the fear of such repercussions. How horrible it must be to live in fear of one's life every day and not having one's cry for help heard!

My heart goes out to the three Shafia sisters and the woman they called aunt; and I wish their souls peace in their final rest.

As for the story of the other three sisters I started with? Each completed their schooling and graduated with honors. They brought the joy of six grandchildren to their parents. The youngest entered a second, happy and lasting marriage. The middle one is the primary caretaker of their declining mother. And the eldest . . .

She stayed at her parents home after her sisters left. She lived witnessing the sadness of her mother - daily. After three years, when she moved out to be closer to her work, and a year after that when she accepted the hand of a colleague in marriage, her parents, already broken hearted with the previous two and having lost their final hope with her, didn't even show up at her wedding. She and her fiancé got married in a non-denominational ceremony at the McGill Chapel for religious studies among the company of their friends and their siblings.

In some way, she became the historian of her family.


the house of Shafia


Füsun Atalay ~ Copyright © Will of my Own - 2012

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I recommend viewing the entire Fifth Estate taping from the link I provided in my piece. It is so far away from the way I was brought up - and yet . . .
Such a sad and brave story. I feel insignificant next to women such as these; they stood up for themselves and took the life they chose. And I hold them up as role models, knowing that succeed or fail, it is better to have tried. Thank you for sharing their story.
Fusun ~ thanks so much for sharing this most interesting story that relates to your earlier post! It really is an eye opener to contemplate the limitations and complications of growing up in a household which contains the type of power over daughters as has been described in your stories. It is also fascinating to read what the situation is for the daughters years later and how their lives evolved.
Your take on the whole incident is solid gold, Fusun...you are so deeply knowledgeable in areas where we cannot be. I value your opinion so much!!
Such a sad and fascinating story you've told. I shall follow your link.
You give us such wonderful insight into the lives of these and other young women. I look forward to checking out the documentary. Thank you, Fusun!
What price honor? Forgive me, but I just do not like what religion does to people. Sad stories...both, Fusun.

Thank you,Füsun,

for this fine story.
There is much to be reflected.

It's astonishing just how many cultures still place so much importance on their offspring, especially the females, marrying their own kind. That a move back to the home country would be preferable to their daughters not adhering to the rule shows just how entrenched this view is. Nicely told Fusun.
I would note that Lezlie's association of this kind of thing with religion is not quite accurate. It has more to do with culture - and it's a culture that predates Islam. And existed (perhaps in not such a violent way) in European culture too. Women owning themselves is a very new concept in human history. (Religion and culture get intertwined, of course, and sometimes the threads are not easy to separate.)

I note that Canadian and American Muslim religious authorities have recently got together and issued fatwas against domestic violence and declared 'honor killings' to be unIslamic. I think it might be a while before 'honor weddings' are included!

So you were the third sister in the honor-wedding family? I guess in these cultures it's a matter of maintaining something by way of the daughters' marriages and child-bearing that is 'lost' when the daughters go off on their own...
I find the subject or honor weddings and even arranged marriages difficult. The trouble with honor is that it can be taken to mean something far from positive when it goes to the extreme. Even parents can be consumed within it, even to the unbelievable point of killing their own children.
The Fifth Estate.. what a flashback that is for me..:) I am reading the book by Nujood Ali.
I am Nujood, age 10 and divorced.
We are so low on the food chain of bravery compared to these women.

Just to make it clear, my sisters' marriages were never called "honor weddings" per Se. However, they were a shock and an unexpected blow to my parents who planned on returning to our country after all of us completed our undergraduate work. They could not understand that a young girl could give herself to both studies and to socializing without being "corrupted", and consequently were very strict on any kind of social life for us. My sisters' marriages were more "Rebellion Weddings" than honor, because it was the only way they could get out of the family stead without hurting our family's name.

We were never forced at any time to marry anyone. What mattered for my parents was culture not religion, but since 97% of Turks are Muslim, there was a thin chance of marrying a Christian Turk anyway.
I will check out the link asap. These honor killings are impossible to comprehend and therefore fascinating.
Very interesting piece, Fusun. Full of so much. Life is such a crapshoot.
Very interesting and evocative post Fusun. Hoping for the one who writes the history, to find companionship and love in her life too.
Fusun- thanks for sharing the inspiring stories of your sisters and your family. As I had the privilege of walking by McGill University in your company, on a sunny Montreal day, I cherish it more as I remember casting my gaze up the road to that beautiful, fairy tale like school.

Maybe the differences lay also in the education of the parents, not just the young women. Modern immigration is different than the 60s and 70s, when it was primarily educated and elite leaving Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon, probably Turkey, for the west- before the Islamic revolution. I found the movie Persepolis (I didn't get to read the book) very eye opening. I had a neighbor growing up, a doctor from Iran, she was married to an American and her daughters were my age. I remember learning that they couldn't go back to Iran, because of the problems that were happening (as a kid, I understood the names Iran and Carter, but that was about it). Very educated, sophisticated, modern New York family.
Excellent post but ever so sad and difficult to read
Rigid convictions religious or otherwise only breeds sadness and oppression
Where’s the honour in murdering and slurring one’s daughters
Another great trip through the cultural world~
Young people in the religious belts of the South often are (consciously or not) heavily influenced to marry the 'first person' relationship. Even if virginity isn't what it once was, there is still the oft-entered marriage that follows that first encounter. The thought being, at least they've only had intercourse with their spouse = modern day Southern virginity.

If you don't believe it, tune into "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta" and track the ages of the southern belles that show up for their big white dresses every week. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty... - still children.

Of course, I haven't seen any stoning or honor killings in my lifetime, so maybe things will evolve from where we still seem to be in our own country.

As for those who barely have a life, much less survive cultural rebellion, in their cultures... I say a prayer. So many, many women and children are still oppressed, raped, and/or murdered every single day in places all across the planet - in the name of nothing more than 'religion', 'honor', pride, politics, power, and ignorance.

I love the last link Fusun!
It's interesting to read about your culture, and about how the cross-over from one culture to another can cause such pain -- even with the two different outcomes. It must be so difficult, but I know there are families that are able to honor their past while adapting to present and imagining a blended future. I'm just sorry that didn't happen for these girls.
Fascinating story. You're a wonderful historian. I hope there's more.
Bless you for this, friend. r.
I am reading Philippa Gregory's potboiler about the Two Boleyn sisters. Women were chattel, not humans in those days, but the sister, Mary, fought for her own little farm and quiet life. Unlike her sister, she eventually lived a simple and quiet life.

Now I read this incredible story about horror and psycopathy and bravery and self determination in the face of tradition.

I look forward to the day when women determine for themselves what is honor.

Brilliant, Fusun. R and hugs.
I love the resonance you bring to your essays about family and culture, reminding us all that we do not live our lives in isolation.
Beautiful women. Beautiful stories, and a beautiful packaging of so much rich information about Turkey, your family and the tragic lives of those murdered women. Rated with admiration.
Fusun, thank you so much for this most informative post. -R-
I wonder how many lives have been lost throughout human history in the name of "honor" Honorable wars, honorable tortures, honorable murders. Thanks for this personal perspective.
Why is it, in EVERY culture, including ours, that so many "acts of honour" are so very dishonourable?

In that society it is their marriage and enforced gender differences that WE find distasteful. In ours we ignore the dishonour of sending our young men and women off to invade foreign lands for the profit of corporations and politicians.

I have come to dread those conversations where "honour" is mentioned - they invariably lead to suggestions or demands for "actions" thoroughly dishonourable in nature.

Well written Fusun. You present your case very nicely.
You are shedding a whole new light on a such a mysterious phenomenon. Excellent post. R
I don't understand this: "already broken hearted with the previous two and having lost their final hope with her" - what was their "final hope"? That she marry someone within her culture and religion? And they were broken-hearted even though their other daughters ended up being successful, educated women? Well why did they move to North America in the first place? I find this rigid mental mindset archaic and frustrating.
If they wanted to strictly adhere to their culture and religion, then they should have stayed in the motherland. Or raised livestock instead of children.
Thank you for sharing your personal story, Fusun. I love the way you write.
Powerfully told. My heart goes out to anyone who isn't free to live and express love. And in many ways I also feel sad for the parents of the three murdered girls - how they lost all sense of self, sanity, and familial love because they'd been brainwashed into following ideals. Thank you for you insights here and in the other brilliant piece you did on the murders.
Thank you for illustrating the difference between blind faith in cultural mores and tolerance in spite of self sacrifice. Maybe that's what education does. Rated.
Well done. Honor vs Love. A story for the ages.
Thank you for sharing these women's stories, Fusun. I cannot get the image of the slain girls out of my head. So much cruelty against women in the guise of "honor" and religion.
Powerful story. I had been following the sad, miserable case of the Shafia family.

I've always wondered why people, from any country, would expect things to stay the same in their new country of choice. Never.
Such a sad and powerful story. What these people have gone through is beyond my imagination.
i hope for every shafiah story there are more like the other one where compromise and love triumphs. for that there must be understanding and education .
It is so strange that a feeling of honor, can be so indoctrinated into ones way of thinking; as to block out a stronger feeling for ones own flesh and blood!
Out on a limb and other readers, thank you for all your comments and visits. In a general response, I think that people who kill in the name of "honor" are simply justifying their actions. I cannot understand how they can have honor restored through committing murder, taking the life(s) of another living creature. It is a lame excuse. It perhaps restores an imaginary sense of "control", but that's all. These people need to learn a lot about justice and humanity and about the rights of women.

The two cases I compared are not similar at all. In the latter, there was pride involved. The parental pride of not having been consulted, being ignored, and being over-ridden. I do feel for parents who nourish hopes for their children, but again in such cases, not having thought ahead and considered cultural differences they are likely to face makes them vulnerable. My generation could be considered pioneers in these type of experiences and set an example for other Turks in Montréal. Nowadays, inter-cultural and cross -religious marriages are nothing out of the ordinary.
Thanks for this thoughtful essay. This is a complex concept that westernized people have difficulty understanding and no will to tolerate. The tribal nature of this is from a bygone era when women were considered chattel. The problem is, as always, those who would turn back progress to a more conservative time, and in that women are always the victims.
This is so interesting, but I'm wondering, Fusie, what's your own personal story if you would care to share it with us at some point in time.
I feel sad that even today girls and women are seen as things that need to be circumcised, controlled and owned, instead of human beings with minds and souls deserving of nurturing, valuing, and developing as gifts to the world.
Fusun--this is so well written and I read it 3 times just to be sure your own family wasn't part of this awful honorless killings. R
This is a very moving story. As I read this I had some sense that the elder sister might be the author, simply because of the insight the author showed into the inner feelings of this sister. Yet the surprise answer to the open question was nicely withheld until the end.

I read about the Shafia family for the first time recently when the verdicts were announced. It truly is heartbreaking, like all horrid violence; so pointless and unnecessary.

What is this honor really based on? Does it not come down to shame, and the avoidance of shame, which is a socially applied shunning originating in the culture and society valued by the targets of that shame? Preserving honor is about preserving reputation in the larger context within which the family exists, the society and culture, and it is the inability to imagine living with such shame and diminished reputation that drives such powerful and ugly emotions.

This sense of honor and reputation is totally contingent upon what culture a person decides to value and respect. Tradition and respect for authority can really close off a person's ability to see other possibilities and options, and can entrap them in situations of such unbearable pain and suffering.

I was moved by the secret love of the elder sister. It reminded me of the way nature slowly and quietly triumphs, such as a flower that blooms out from under a heavy stone, or the way grass manages to reach the sunlight by gradually pushing it's way up from under pavement and concrete.

Thanks for sharing this.
Always insightful reads, Fusun. I ache in my soul for the difficulty transitioning cultures and generations can wreak on those on both sides of the transition. It is always hoped, that at some point, those who were devastated can rise from the ashes of their grief and come to terms with those they have cut off from themselves.

By the same token, it can be extremely difficult to explain and mend the rift from those who made the change to those 'left behind.' There are no easy answers.

The strength it takes to live in such times and under such circumstances is something I cannot personally say I know.

Different cultures are interesting and horrifying to read about sometimes, especially stories like this.

Great piece and I rate it.
The saddest words that could be said are :What could have been.
Two parallels two different responses. One strips its victimes off what they killed for; the other endows the characters for their fortitudr. Much to think about in this piece.
I am thinking of a clichè, 'ya never know what goes on behind closed doors,' and I vision these women, going about their lives, and what it looks like from outside, so different from the strictures they must carry inside. To stand up, to stand alone, to follow one's own path, and still swath yourself in Honor - is an honorable thing. A beautiful post Fusun, and yes, very thought-provoking. For me - I thank my lucky stars I did not grow up with such a dichotomy! R.
Stunning. Didn't know about this.
This way of thinking is totally alien to me. Thank you for the gentle enlightenment.
When I read your book, I remember thinking about how strict your parents were in their views about relationships for you and your sisters. But, like you said, they wouldn't have taken "honor" to such a terrible extreme. A good comparison of how "honor" can be interpreted in two different instances.
What a tragic story. I hear about it but couldn't believe that a father could kill his own flesh and blood. You showed another aspect of honot here too, the more honorable kind.
This is a bittersweet story as, I think, every life story must be. We do take one fork or the other in the road and look forward to the next. R
Only you could relate such a sad and moving story with such excellence. Thanks for sharing it. rated
You expand your readers' worlds, which is a gift. And make us think, which is a challenge...
PHew. That was intense and brought back a lot of rushing memories I wasn't expecting, sign of a good piece of writing that is. My parents have not spoken to me in nineteen years. The simple answer to the obvious question of why is that I finally took a stand on issues between us. For that, I have paid with loss of two of the most important people in my life, though they are living. It's terribly sad. No matter how intensely I believe in my position (and I do), it is a dreadful loss. I can feel for those women. Rated with RRR
My friends grandparents (indian) were married through an arranged marriage. They didn'tt even see each other until they were married.