ISTANBUL // Ever since a young woman in one of Istanbul's wealthiest neighbourhoods became a murder victim, eyes have been on the inability of Turkey's police to find the killer, despite many clues. But now, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the religiously conservative prime minister, has enraged critics by suggesting that part of the responsibility lies with the girl's parents, who let her go out that day, failing to prevent a "moral erosion".
The decapitated body of Munevver Karabulut, a student, was found in early March, shortly before her 18th birthday, by a man going through a rubbish container in Etiler, a wealthy district on the European side of the Turkish metropolis. The head of the young woman was in a guitar case placed on top of the body. Police say the main suspect is Cem Garipoglu, Munevver's boyfriend and the son of a rich family, who disappeared the day of the murder. Munevver went to Mr Garipoglu's house that day.
Mr Garipoglu, also 17, is probably abroad, said Istanbul's recently appointed new police chief, Huseyin Capkin, according to yesterday's Sabah newspaper. "If he was in the country, police would certainly have found him one way or another." He said police would "catch the killer soon". The case has attracted national attention because of the brutality of the crime, the involvement of people that belong to Turkey's elite and because of the failure of the police to catch the murder suspect. Some reports suggested that the Garipoglu family pulled strings to make it possible for their son to flee. There is even talk about the Karabulut case being made into a film.
Mr Erdogan's comments have added a new dimension to the affair and sharpened the controversy. Without referring to the case by name but speaking of "unwanted murders in recent times", Mr Erdogan last week slammed a general trend of "moral erosion" that threatens families. "As parents, we cannot say our children can go wherever they want. Those left to their own devices go over the top. You know what I am trying to say."
Mr Erdogan's comments raised much criticism because they were seen as the prime minister's way of saying that Munevver's parents were partly to blame for her death because they let her go to Mr Garipoglu's house by herself. Critics of Mr Erdogan's religiously conservative government say a rejection of a modern lifestyle that districts such as Etiler stand for and ideas about women having to stay at home are behind the prime minister's comments.
"According to this mentality, Munevver would not have been killed if she put on an [Islamic] headscarf and stayed home," Canan Arin of Mor Cati, or Purple Roof, a women's rights group, told the Birgun newspaper. She said that according to Mr Erdogan, "it is wrong for girls to be out and about anyway". "I stand by my child," Munevver's father, Sureyya, told Turkish media in response to Mr Erdogan's statement. "It is your duty to find the killer. Why don't you find him?" Mr Karabulut said, addressing the prime minister.
Celalettin Cerrah, Mr Capkin's predecessor as Istanbul's police chief, caused a public outcry in April when he suggested, much like Mr Erdogan, that the parents bore part of the responsibility for her death. "If you had a daughter, at what time would you want her to come home? Do you allow her to stay at her boyfriend's house until late at night?" With their statements, Mr Erdogan and Mr Cerrah were trying to distract attention from the fact that the suspected killer has not been caught yet, critics say. "Munevver Karabulut stayed a year in Canada for language studies, and nothing happened to her," columnist Ruhat Mengi wrote in the Vatan newspaper.
Media reports have said Mr Garipoglu was filmed by a security camera of a hardware store where he bought a saw on the day of the crime. According to unconfirmed reports, Mr Garipoglu may have fled to Russia after the murder. Yesterday, several newspapers reported that police had found a forged identity card for Mr Garipoglu. The existence of the forgery suggested the murder had been planned, the reports said.
Blood of the victim and a bloody saw were found in Mr Garipoglu's home, and the father of Mr Garipoglu has been arrested. A lawyer for the victim's family said Munevver's blood was found on the clothes of Mehmet Garipoglu, the suspect's father. Media criticised police for what many observers say is a botched investigation. Apart from being unable to locate the main suspect for almost five months, authorities are also under fire for mistakes made during the investigations. Munevver Karabulut's body was contaminated with evidence from another case during autopsy procedures by forensic experts.
President Abdullah Gul has ordered a general review of the state institute for forensic medicine. email@example.com