Bishkek, London – Kidnapping women for marriage is a common tradition in Kyrgyzstan. Known as “Ala-Kachuu” (grab and run), it also exists in other central Asian countries and the Caucasus.
“He was quite short. Apart from that I cannot remember much about him,” Gulzhan Turdubayeva, who lives in Kyrgyzstan, said of kidnapping attempt she was a victim of three years ago.
“I had never even met him before.”
She eventually fled her abductor and never saw him again, however many others are not that lucky.
According to the UN, more than 12,000 women and girls are abducted each year in Kyrgyzstan, often with the complicity of their family, reported AFP.
Some experts have linked the practice to the economy, and specifically rural families’ inability to pay high bridal prices, which are often reduced in cases where the bride is kidnapped.
Turdubayeva’s story and those of four other women have been turned into short animations as part of a project aimed at lifting the veil on bride kidnapping.
“People see the drama of bride kidnapping in a girl getting bundled into a car by several men, but often it doesn’t happen like that,” said Tatyana Zelenskaya, one of the artists behind the “One Day They Stole Me” series.
“The real drama (comes) later when the would-be in-laws were persuading her to stay,” Zelenskaya said.
“How did they impose their will on her in that moment and why did she accept the marriage? This is what I wanted to understand.”
One of Turdubayeva’s cartoons dubbed “Nargiza” tells of how her aunt colluded in her adbuctor’s preparations.
“My mother has kept in touch with my aunt, but I will never forgive her.”
Another character called “Begaim” tells the story of another girl who was raped by the man who was supposed to marry her.
In view of the taboos that come with the abduction tradition, Turdubayeva was the only one among the five women partaking in the project, who accepted to publicly reveal her identity.
While Turdubayeva has been widely applauded for taking such a step, she has also received hate mail and threats on social networks, where the clips have been widely shared.
The abusive messages came mostly from men.
“Some of them told me, ‘You’re a fool, you should have stayed with him. You are both Kyrgyz, which is the main thing’,” she told AFP.
The problem of bride kidnapping has deep roots in Kyrgyzstan. It existed even before the country becomes a Soviet republic in the 1920s, and persisted despite the Soviet authorities’ attempts to eradicate it.
At the age of 80, the sister of the country’s best known poet and writer, Chinguiz Aitmatov, remembers how her boyfriend kidnapped her and forced her to marry him in 1959. She has been his wife for almost 50 years.
These abductions boomed in the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Zulfiya Kochorbayeva, an expert at an NGO, recalled how at her school, one of her schoolmates was abducted from the graduation ball, and that around half of her schoolmates got married that way.
Kyrgyz authorities say that these marriages have remarkably declined thanks to a law endorsed in 2012 that punishes the kidnappers with up to 10 years in prison. However, according to a 2016 UN report, a third of the Kyrgyz community still ignores that this practice has been considered a crime.
It is necessary that the abductions be denounced, warned Koshorbayeva.
“It’s difficult for girls to report it, they fear their families will not support them,” she said.
In this male-dominated community, older people unfortunately decide the youth’s fate, she lamented.