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Bekhal Mahmod says my family killed my sister, I could be next
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UK: Bekhal Mahmod says my family killed my
sister, I could be next
Bekhal Mahmod tells of her life in hiding to avoid
the fate of her sister, victim of an ‘honour
killing’ after one kiss in the street
London, UK, -- Bekhal Mahmod, older sister of
the “honour killing” victim Banaz Mahmod, stands
very silently in the middle of the room and takes
off the black veil that covers her face to reveal
jet-black hair and hazel-col-oured almond-shaped
eyes which are lively yet so sad they are startling.
You know they belong to a young woman in fear of her
Suddenly, out pours a torrent of words, fierce,
thoughtful and articulate and all voiced in a south
London accent that belies her Iraqi-Kurdish roots.
Bekhal has come from a strict Islamic upbringing but
she is clearly now a thoroughly modern young London
woman. The transition, however, has been rough and
dangerous. At times she has contemplated suicide.
“Don’t get me wrong, I have come close to ending
it,” she says. “I have been very close. When the
police told me my sister was dead, my heart was
shattered. I was praying that she was paralysed.
Anything but be murdered. The only reason I didn’t
do something stupid was to have her living still in
Bekhal, 22, is speaking out because of the murder of
her 20-year-old sister Banaz in the name of family
honour. Last week, her father Mahmod Mahmod, 52, and
uncle Ari Mahmod, 50, both of Mitcham, south London,
were convicted of her murder at the Old Bailey.
Across Europe and increasingly, it seems, in
Britain, as Muslims become more conservative and
religious funda-mentalism strengthens its grip,
growing numbers of women are being killed or
mutilated in the name of family honour.
In Banaz’s case it happened because in an
extraordinary act of defiance against her Kurdish
family – welcomed into Britain in the 1990s as
victims of Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Kurds
after the first Gulf war – she had walked out of a
miserable arranged marriage with an older cousin and
fallen in love with another man, thereby bringing
“shame” on the family.
Her fate was sealed when she kissed her boyfriend in
a Brixton street. The men who had been tasked by her
father and her uncle, who was the senior head of the
family, with following her photographed this small
sign of affection with a mobile telephone.
“It was a kiss on the lips. No, not a snog,” said
Bekhal. “But they took a picture of her and gave it
to my uncle and that was it. It was all over for
Banaz just because she really loved that man.”
Still angry and grieving, Bekhal is trying to make
sense of the crime and stay alive herself as well.
She knows that she, too, is at risk because she had
angered her family before Banaz’s revolt. In 2002,
aged 17, she fled home after being beaten and
threatened by her father for refusing to accept a
marriage with a cousin twice her age. Since then she
has insisted on leading her own life.
A striking young woman, Bekhal would turn heads in
the street if she could be seen. But she does not
dare. Being in fear of her life from her family, she
never goes out in public without covering her entire
body and face, apart from tiny slits for her eyes,
in a long black cloak and veil.
Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha, Found dead The daughter,
who had left her husband
A combination of undated handout images showing (L)
Ari Mahmod and Mahmod Mahmod, released to Reuters on
June 11, 2007. Mahmod Mahmod was convicted in a
London court on Monday of murdering his 20-year-old
daughter in a so-called "honour killing" because she
had left her husband and fallen in love with another
Flash Video - Sky News
Even now she is not sure
that the veil and hiding – she has lived in more
than 30 places in the past five years – will save
her despite the conviction of her father and uncle,
who will be sentenced on July 28.
“Nothing can ever be the same again. All I can do is
try and keep myself safe. And that is the hardest
part, because I cannot dare have many close friends
because I am afraid I will drag them down with me.
“If, for example, I am staying at my friend’s house
they might come into the house and try and kill me
and harm them as well. It is hard, really hard, to
let myself get close to people.” Her sister was
strangled with a boot-lace and her body stuffed in a
suitcase buried in a garden in Handsworth in
Birmingham. Her father and uncle ordered the deed.
But the two men they had hired from Iraqi Kurdistan
to carry it out returned there afterwards, boasting
they had raped Banaz as well, and are unlikely ever
to be arrested.
“They are the devil’s children. They are nothing
made by God’s creation,” Bekhal says.
“One of them is nicknamed ‘Soorer’, which means red,
because his skin is red, and his speciality is
killing people. Quite recently I found out that my
uncle had wanted someone dead in Kurdistan and had
got ‘Soorer’ to do it.
“I just can’t get it out of my head, especially the
raping of my sister. It has made things worse. I
will never stop thinking about it. It will be on my
“It is not easy for me. I have nightmares. You hear
noise at night and you pick up anything and go to
the door because you think someone is there. It is
“The way the family thinks is that I am dirty, just
because I am not with them. But all I ever wanted,
really, was to be an ordinary person, just a normal
“I wanted to have a life, holidays, travel the
world, have a good job, have kids, have a family,
get married. But families like mine are very strong
and go back generations and generations. The family
is all mixed blood of cousins to cousins and
nephews, and becomes so deep and so intimate and
incestuous that the members of it lose themselves.”
But still, how is it that such things happen in
modern, liberal Britain? Banaz’s murder is a
headline-grab-bing case but it is, in fact, one of
many of these distinct crimes that Aisha Gill, a
senior lecturer in criminology at Roe-hampton
University and a Scotland Yard adviser on violence
against women, honour killings and forced marriages,
says is one ghastly crime in a worrying trend.
A study of the figures indicates that one woman a
month is the victim of an honour killing in Britain.
Police across Europe have noticed a rising trend,
too, and prompted by activist groups have come to
recognise it, as Scotland Yard has, as a distinct
In the past, cases were largely hidden from public
view because they occurred in minority groups, but
in 2004 police announced new research into the
culture surrounding honour killings and a review of
The review was opened after the conviction of
Abdullah Yones, also a Kurdish immigrant from Iraq,
who had held his 16 -year-old daughter Heshu over a
bathtub and slit her throat after discovering that
she was writing and receiving love letters from a
boy in her class at their London school.
In court, Yones said his daughter had brought her
death on herself. On the day he was sentenced to
life imprisonment, dozens of Kurdish men came to
court to show solidarity with him.
Gill said it was “disgusting” that Banaz’s father
and uncle had shown no remorse when they were
convicted. What made it even more sad, she said, was
that there had been a “deafening silence” from the
Kurdish community and religious leaders about the
It could not be denied, she said, that there was a
failure of the Metropolitan police to act adequately
in Banaz’s case – she went to them four times and it
was obvious that she was in a dangerous situation –
but the Kurdish community was not free of blame
either. It needed to respond with conviction to such
crimes. The community needed to address the violence
against women in their midst, help bring the
perpetrators to justice, not to protect them or give
them respect for such heinous crimes as honour
Historically, Gill said, the authorities in Britain
had hesitated about interpreting the cultural norms
in minority communities like the Kurds and had
assumed that conflicts could be resolved within the
The police and the courts had lacked understanding
of the issues, even sometimes blaming the victim in
a violent and abusive relationship. As a result,
women did not have the confidence that the police
would protect them when they reported it.
A lot has changed, despite the tragic failure to
keep Banaz alive, and the police themselves have
been at the forefront, particularly since the Yones
case, of making violence against women a priority.
But despite this improvement there has been no
consistency in approach, and how violence against
women is dealt with by the police is often a
As well as being fearful for herself, Bekhal is also
now concerned for the safety of her mother and her
other two sisters Giabame, 16, who is traditionally
the age to be married off to a cousin, and Payman,
20, who is also unhappily in a forced marriage.
“God knows what will happen to them. But I seriously
believe that because there is no man around now they
are in great danger, not from the immediate family
but from the men in the Kurdish community.
“They will look upon them as if there are no men
around, to do whatever they want to. So they will, I
fear, be targeting them in a sexual way. They will
be harassing them and abusing them, looking upon
them as unworthy and of no value because of what has
happened to Banaz and me.
“As for me, it does not stop me marrying. But it is
hard when you know someone might be following you.”