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Kurd murder sparks ethnic debate

Fadime's tragic story has topped the news agenda in Sweden
Fadime's tragic story has topped the news agenda in Sweden  

By CNN's Mayanna Dietz

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- The murder of a Swedish-Kurd woman by her father has fired up a debate over ethnic integration in Sweden.

Fadime Sahindal's killing has also raised questions about the death of her boyfriend, which was initally treated as a car accident.

Sahindal, 26, was shot by her father. News reports said she had refused to accept Kurdish traditions of arranged marriages and instead chose a relationship with a Swedish man, Patrick Lindesjos.

A memorial service for Sahindal, who was brought up in Sweden after her family moved there about 20 years ago, was held on Monday.

Up to 4,000 people gathered at Uppsala Cathedral, north of Stockholm. Loudspeakers carried the service to crowds outside. Europe
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The priest, Tuulikki Koivunen Bylund, told mourners: "Why does death break the bond love ties? Why does death tear down what love builds? We don't know the answer, we just know how much it hurts to part from a person we have dear."

He pointed out that in the past, before entering a church, everyone would leave their weapons in a "weapon-house" at the entrance to the church

"Let us today leave our feelings of bitterness and hatred in the "weapon-house" and concentrate our thoughts on Fadime Sahindal."

Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" was performed in Swedish accompanied by a guitarist. Fadime's favourite song, U2's "One", was also played. A Kurdish "sorrow-song" was performed by clarinet.

The coffin was carried out of the cathedral by female relatives and was followed by close relatives and friends to the nearby graveyard where Fadime was buried opposite her boyfriend Patrick's grave.

The case became known in Sweden in 1998 when Fadime and Patrick filed a lawsuit against her father and brother because they had threatened to kill the couple because of their relationship.

They won the case. But a month later, on June 3, 1998, the day they were to move in with each other, Lindesjos died in a car accident.

Now the death of Sahindal has led to police in Uppsala to reopen their investigation into the accident.

Chief of police Goran Pettersson told Ritzaus Bureau, the Danish news agency, that they are "looking at the case in a different light."

Sahindal was visiting her sister in Uppsala on January 21 when her father turned up and shot her in the head in front of her mother and two sisters, local newspapers reported.

The 56-year-old Kurdish man was arrested by the police the following day and he confessed to the murder.

In defence he claimed that he was ill, the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet reported.

Sahindal had challenged her Kurdish family's traditions and spoken out against the mistreatment and subordination of women.

Her story has generated controversy in Sweden over the integration of the large number of immigrants living in the country.

In an opinion column, Aftonbladet said the immigration and integration debate had previously been dominated by expert opinion-makers -- noticeably middle-aged Swedish men -- but had now opened up to opinions from a mixture of people.

Social pressures

Young immigrant women are speaking of their experiences in the newspapers, while spokespeople for immigrant organisations are prominent in media coverage of the case.

Kurds who knew Sahindal have spoken of the social pressures she faced.

The debate reveals that the divide in Sweden is not between "Swedes" and "immigrants" -- "us" and "them" -- but between those who challenge and those who preserve the patriarchal structures which killed Fadime, Aftonbladet said.

Farhad Sarhangi, 43, who founded the Kurdish culture organisation, Azed, which aims to build bridges between Swedish and Kurdish cultures, said that Fadime's death is like losing another sister in a different war.

Sarhangi, a Kurd who fled Iran's Khomeini-regime, a period which saw the death of his 16-year-old sister, now lives in Sweden.

"To me and many other Kurds in Sweden Fadime is a hero, a pioneer in the fight to live according to ones own democratic values," Sarhangi told Uppsala Nya Tidning.

"It is about time that we Kurds loud and clear react against primitive behaviour like that of Fadime's father.

"It is about time we declare war against stone-age-values and middle-ages behaviour, which is about to become associated with an entire culture - the Kurdish."

Before her death, Sahindal also saw integration as a crucial step away from the undemocratic nature of Kurdish traditions.

"If society had taken responsibility and helped my parents to become a part of Swedish society, perhaps this situation could have been avoided," she said in a speech at an integration seminar on November 20, 2001.

In the speech she also told the detailed story of her father's disapproval of her relationship with her Swedish boyfriend, Patrick, the trial, and her wish to help other ethnic women in similar situations.

Law change

The case has made a number of Swedish politicians, including the integration minister Mona Sahlin, to admit that the future age-limit of marriage for non-Swedish citizens should be raised to 18.

Currently the limit is 15 years and politicians hope that raising the minimum age for marriage will prevent at least some immigrant families from sending their daughters abroad to marry relatives, Dagens Nyheter (DN) reports.

At the same time, the immigration organisations are being criticised.

"Many immigration organisations can do a hundred times more to help the women," Niklas Keleman from the Red Barnet (Save the Child) Dialog project told DN.

The project was started five years ago to prevent violence against women and children in immigration communities by focusing on changing the attitudes of the men and establishing correspondence with the immigrant organisations.

"Officially almost all [organisations] say 'yes, of course we want to do something about this,' but they also have to address the problems associated with the way women and children are looked upon," Keleman said.

Parvin Kaboly, the Kurdish spokeswoman of the Committee of Iranian Women's Rights, describes many of the organisations as "patriarchal breeding-grounds."

"I hope that the government will examine them. The message the organisations are generating to their members must be considered. Of course many of them are doing very good jobs, but many of them do not have the courage to challenge the oppression in the immigration communities," she told DN.


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