But then came the biggest shock of her life. Her mother married off the attractive, 17-year-old girl to a dim-witted Turkish car dealer in Anatolia, forcing her into a marriage that turned into a prison. Rape and beatings sometimes bordering on life-threatening attacks soon became part of a daily madness. Once, when Inci Y. refused to grant her husband Hikmet the "matrimonial privilege," he sprayed her with insect spray, "like an annoying fly."
One day Inci Y. decided to escape from her hellish marriage and obtained a divorce. Soon the entire family clan began hounding her and calling her the "sinner."
In an effort to gain custody of the child they had together, her ex-husband tried to blackmail her into signing a pre-written "confession," which contained passages like the following: "I am a whore and I do not want my daughter to become a whore, as well. That is why I waive my right to custody of my daughter Sila and relinquish sole custody to my husband, Hikmet."
Inci Y. fled to Germany to escape the clan's harassment. After a second failed marriage, she and her now 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son moved to a cramped apartment, where they have been living for the past four years. She has no contact with her family and the father of her children. Her apartment is lovingly decorated. Inci takes a stack of photographs from a cabinet. She has only one photograph of herself with her first ex-husband. "I was truly disgusted by him and his stench," she says.
Forced marriages and the associated violent subjugation of young women, as described in these books, are not as uncommon as one might think, and not just in the Islamic world.
Marriages which are arranged and enforced by relatives are part of a phenomenon that has developed over the centuries in patriarchal family structures and authoritarian societies in the Middle and Far East, as well as in Africa. According to the women's rights organization "Terre des femmes e.V." in Tübingen, near Stuttgart, the practice also affects Greek, Italian and Brazilian women. In Germany, most women forced into arranged marriages are of Turkish descent, because Turks and Kurds are Germany's largest immigrant group.
Why Do Families Force Their Daughters to Marry?
Forced marriage is a strategy. Muslim families are usually part of a minority in the countries into which they immigrate. The only way to strengthen their base in a "strange land" and secure family assets is to encourage family relations within a clan. At the same time, by marrying off their children, they believe they are establishing a home "back home" to which they can return in old age.
The girls, who are often underage, are easily married off at a tender young age if they come from places like Turkey. The parents know that the younger the daughter is at the time of her wedding, the sooner her new husband will be paying her expenses. Besides, the girls haven't lost their virginity at this point.
Under recent changes in German law, forced marriage is now considered severe coercion, a criminal offence. But if women are married in another country, they are subject to the laws of that country.
Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has also written a first-hand account of her experiences in a forced marriage, is under constant police protection.
The things she experienced, says Inci Y., are "hair-raising" and "disgusting." Nevertheless, she adds, she doesn't want her book to generate pity. The authors' accounts, she says, should help Turkish women living in Germany "understand the core of their own tragedy," a tragedy in which they are refused all basic education and strapped to an "intellectual wheel chair." If they lack the necessary education, says Inci Y., "how can they gain independence and get on their own two feet to start a career?"
Written by Turks, Read by Germans
The readers these books are supposed to target are other women in similar situations. But do they even reach these women?
Most are either not permitted or have no desire to read such books. Wolfgang Ferchl, director of Munich-based Piper Publishing, says: "Titles like 'Choke on Your Lies' are bought almost exclusively by German women -- because they are beginning to become interested in the lives of the Muslim women who have been their neighbors for decades. Suddenly they feel a sense of solidarity."
In this way, the message tends to reach its intended audience indirectly. Seyran Ates, a Turkish lawyer in Berlin who represents countless women tormented by forced marriage and domestic violence, says this phenomenon is "terrific." "We urgently need the German women to disseminate the message," she says. Ates, who published the story of her own experience two years ago under the title "Big Journey into the Fire," says the books by young Muslim women are "important because they encourage people," and because they create awareness of the problems among Germans. "It's important that the readers realize what a horrible parallel world exists in their own country," says the attorney. That's because courageous Muslim women who fight for their liberation are still portrayed in their own culture as denigrators of their own kind -- and support from German women can sometimes be helpful in these situations.
Since March of this year, the popular Turkish newspaper Hürriyet which is also the most-read Turkish paper in Germany and has published articles condemning the male stranglehold on power, has been running a series about the authors of these first-hand accounts. The paper publishes excerpts from the women's books, but also prints its own, supposedly well-researched opposing views of their stories, which are intended to expose the women's confessions as vulgar lies. "They portray the women as greedy swindlers just looking to turn a profit with what 'Hürriyet' calls their made-up stories," says Ates, who is committed to the cause and expects to see many other first-hand accounts "in the style of Inci Y." in the future. "The more, the better," she adds, "because at least then German society will slowly but surely begin despising the violent patriarchs."
As disturbing as these stories are, the accounts almost always lack a differentiated tone and dramatic polish. Few of these books contain any passages of cooler argumentation or even a more dispassionate view of these women's plight. "After all, the Muslim man isn't born as a filthy pig," Inci Y. concedes in her interview. He too is cheated of almost everything that "can take place between a man and a woman." The Muslim man, she says, is put on the spot because he is the one who is expected to wield power.
Most of these authors justifiably fear violent retribution by fundamentalist Muslims as soon as their books are published. Ever since the murder of her colleague, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh ("Submission"), Ayaan Hirsi Ali for example has been under constant police protection in the Netherlands.
But Inci Y. remains combative. She puts out her cigarette and says: "Let them to try to kill me. I'm not afraid of anyone."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan