Matricide: the ultimate taboo
Deputy Dean of Ankara University's School of Medicine Professor Olcay Ayd ntu (R), 53, was found dead in her home with her throat slit. Ba ak Ayd ntu (top), 21, the victim's daughter, confessed to the murder.
In Turkey, as all over the world, women are expected to behave better than men. Men who commit crimes are often regarded as simple victims of their own appetites, Neanderthal in their inability to exercise restraint when it comes to sex or violence, while women are their regulating influence. Women step in to stop fights and make peace, they keep men under monogamous pressure and loyal to home and children, and they bear the burden of imparting civility onto their potentially brutal male offspring. They are the moral cornerstones of society.
There was a little girl who had a little curl, Right in the middle of her forehead, When she was good she was very very good, But when she was bad she was horrid
When a man commits a crime, this is an extension of his masculinity, but women offenders attract disproportionate approbation; not just for the act they have committed but also because they breach sacred notions of what it is to be female. Ba ak Ayd ntu is an attractive 21-year-old law student who has, in the last week, unbelievably managed to garner nearly as many column inches and TV minutes as the possible closure of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Like Madonna she is referred to by her first name only. What she did to merit this extreme attention was kill her mother.
Ba ak raised the alarm around 4 a.m. that her mother, Olcay Ayd ntu , had been killed. She claimed that she had disturbed burglars as one of them was astride her mother with a knife. Examination of the crime scene by the police found no signs of forced entry, and Ba ak was taken into custody. Within four hours she broke down and confessed to slitting her mother's throat and then trying to kill herself. (Newspaper pictures showed her with wounds to her own neck.)
The media have investigated and presented every aspect of her life and the fatal final argument that she had with her mother. The Sabah newspaper even reproduced and had analyzed doodles that she drew on the day. She has been portrayed as the attention-starved and deadly product of negligent working parents. Raised with the help of her grandparents from the age of 4, she suffered from disturbed sleep patterns and black rages, but her doctor mother, who had worked as a psychiatric assistant for three years, preferred to manage the problems herself rather than seek outside help as she feared Ba ak would be labeled and stereotyped. The problems seemed manageable until her teens, when mother and father (also a doctor) divorced and Ba ak's home life fragmented. Although her mother was granted custody, the long hours she worked meant that Ba ak spent more time at her indulgent grandparents, and perhaps this fostered the beginnings of serious resentment.
A letter written by her father to the national press gives more clues as to the dynamic between mother and daughter: "Olcay was an excellent scientist and clinician but she had one fault, she had very rigid rules … it wasn't possible to stop Olcay's hot temper … university is the chance to enjoy 'excessive freedom' and become detached from one's studies and Ba ak fell into this group. Her lessons came second but her lack of academic success wore her down." Olcay seems to have been a hard taskmaster with high expectations that her daughter was failing to fulfill. Ba ak's fortuneteller (interviewed in Sabah) mentioned that she also had a traumatic love life, dumped by the boy she loved and having recently taken up with a new boyfriend. The differences between mother and daughter's attitudes must have been exacerbated by the fact that Olcay also came from a broken home with an alcoholic father, but had risen above all this to marry a respectable and hardworking man and to have become a nationally renowned doctor at the top of her medical field.
However Ba ak's father says the two women remained drawn to each other: "Olcay was always calling Ba ak to come and stay with her. Generally Ba ak could only stand one night there and would then return to her grandmother's house but even though they argued, each time they were together Olcay would continue to ask her over and Ba ak would go." Ba ak's fortuneteller explained how she was often sad for her mother and how hard she had to work to earn a living. Despite their problems Olcay obviously occupied an exalted position in Ba ak's psyche, but perhaps as strong as the love she had for her mother was a similar level of hostility and fear.
Ba ak explained to the police that on the evening of the fatal assault her mother had phoned her after 8 p.m. to find out where she was. When she told her mother she had lost her way after getting off the bus her mother had called her a liar, a dog and a common prostitute and warned her not to come home that evening or it would be the worse for her. Nonetheless, like a moth to the flame Ba ak went to her mother's to get her university books and a charm she had had made for good luck. Upon her mother's question, "So exactly what have you been up to?" and though she was afraid of Olcay's reaction, she told her that she had spent the afternoon having another amulet made to ensure success in her studies. According to her statement her mother called her "retarded" and told her, "You won't finish a law degree like this, you'd have trouble even finishing a home study course." Olcay went to bed and shortly after Ba ak went to her room, sat on the bed, and slit her mother's throat.
Psychiatric explanations as to why a woman might murder her mother point to mental illness, mainly depressive or psychotic disorders. Certainly the risk of parricide increases with the presence of unidentified or untreated mental illness. Ba ak's father's letter stated that she had been receiving psychiatric help but that she never lasted long with any one doctor and that she didn't take the medicines prescribed with any regularity. Her fortuneteller said she had seen Ba ak take up to eight or nine Seroxat (an antidepressant linked to increased suicidal thoughts in teens) in one day as opposed to the prescribed one and to wash them down with alcohol. Ba ak's father stressed that despite her problems she had never shown any tendency to violence but that, like her mother, she had a strong temper and when she was angry never knew how to modulate her voice. Neighbors confirmed his statement saying that in the weeks before the murder they had heard Ba ak screaming at her mother: "I'm your only child, you should do everything for me, you earn enough … why won't you buy me a car." Ba ak displayed elements of behavior that may have been caused by mental problems; her impulsive and demanding behavior could be indicative of frontal lobe problems.
In fact Ba ak's matricide shows many of the characteristics of parricide: most perpetrators are under the age of 30, the events almost always take place in the parent's home, the child often lives with the victim and the murderers frequently use painful methods and excessive violence when committing the murder. Academic studies into matricide (from Canada in 2007) suggest that daughters who kill their mothers are almost invariably schizophrenic and that 17 percent of offenders attempt suicide after the offense. Although matricide by daughters is extremely rare, in most cases the mother and daughter live alone together and the mother is domineering. The mother-daughter relationship is characterized by mutual hostility and dependence.
In the lengthy catalog of crimes, matricide is perhaps the rarest and most abhorred. The status of mothers is society is sacrosanct; every imaginable device is employed to defend their inviolability. Ancient and modern religions elevated them to the status of goddess, Mother's Day is set apart for honoring them, and swear words which derogate them are the most violently reacted to of all in our vocabulary. Cynics might say that mothers need all these safeguards because they inspire fear and animosity in equal measure to love.
The fact that Ba ak broke all these taboos and the gory method she used to kill go some way to explain the extraordinary amount of attention she has received, but it's certainly not the whole story. The day after Olcay's murder another lady, Sebahat Gülbeyaz, was stabbed to death by her daughter, Benal Sönmez, who subsequently hid her mother's head and arm in a box. Benal, who was receiving psychiatric care, also lived at home with her mother but here the similarities end. Ba ak is fragrant even in her prison clothes, slim and willowy with long blond tresses that fall delicately round her pretty face; Benal is dumpy, puffy faced with a conservative hairstyle. Olcay was a middle-class professional, an attractive and well-maintained 53-year-old with shiny black hair in a neat bob. Sebahat looked careworn and old and covered her hair with a thick black headscarf. Benal has not engaged much public attention, nor has her mother. Olcay has received elegies to her brilliance both as a person and doctor, and Ba ak will probably have a film made about her. It seems that the Turkish media, as well as being obsessed by cases of women turned bad, also pick and choose the most photogenic murderesses.