Monday, February 4, 2013

Turkey: Analysis--Why Was US Tourist Sarai Sierra Murdered?

Now that it has been determined that US tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, was murdered in Istanbul at some point AFTER January 21, when she was scheduled to return from her two-week solo trip to Istanbul (with side trips to Munich and Amsterdam), questions are emerging as to what the motive may have been for her murder, considering that rape and robbery have generally been ruled out.

That being said, Istanbul police have ordered an autopsy which hopefully will provide definitive conclusions as to her cause of death, although blunt-force trauma to the head is believed to have been her cause of death.

COMMENT: Having worked in Turkey on and off over a period of 25 years, one factor which may have contributed to her death is ethnic discrimination and/or racism. 

Unfortunately, Turkey does have a cultural history of of discrimination against non-Muslims and non-Sunni minorities, which stems from a historical negative attitude by a minority of Turks toward people who are not considered ethnically Turkish. 

Traditionally, this includes discrimination towards non-Muslim minorities such as Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, and others, as well as hostility towards various deviations of Islam such as Alevis, Sufis, and other Muslim non-Turks such as Kurds.

According to Yavuz Baydar, a senior columnist of ZAMAN, a Turkish daily, racism and hate speech have been on the rise in Turkey, particularly against Armenians and Jews, or nationalities that may be perceived as being from discriminated ethnic groupings.


During 2008 there has also been an increase in "hate crimes" in Turkey originating from racism, nationalism, and intolerance. In fact, according to Ayhan Sefer Üstün, then head of the parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission, "Hate speech is on the rise in Turkey, so new deterrents should be introduced to stem the increase in such crimes." 

Despite provisions in the Constitution and other laws there have been no convictions for hate crimes thus far, for either racism or discrimination.

One would hope that the Istanbul police, as part of their investigation into Ms. Sierra's death, will also examine discrimination as a possible motive for the young American's death, information that may be useful to American travelers in the future.