07 December 2005

Chatting Again

I was able to meet with the English professors again today for the first time in a long time (since they overhauled the schedule). We had an interesting discussion about religion, especially religion in America. It is refreshing to talk to many Kyrgyz because they are so open to freedom of religion. One teacher said that two of the main reasons people started becoming religious after independence was because of fear of God and because of hope that their chosen religion (Muslim or Christian) would help them financially. They asked many questions about different Protestant beliefs (they had originally said there were only Catholic and Orthdox Christians).

I also talked to the law students. We started off by talking about ala kachuu. I was glad they brought it up since I had tried to before and they thought I was talking about arranged marriages. They had interesting things to say.

The girl who first brought up kidnapping said that her father had kidnapped her mother and that it was relatively common in her family. One of her cousins, however, wished he hadn’t kidnapped his wife because she isn’t quite pretty enough now.

Another girl said that she knew of a person who was engaged to a man that her parents didn’t approve of, so they arranged for her to be kidnapped by a another man. She was forced to marry him.

The girls knew many couples who had taken part in consensual kidnappings; again, while elopements can bring their own set of problems, they are not the concern here. Most of the non-consensual kidnappings that they told me about were ones they had heard of, not ones that had happened to a close friend or relative.

I asked the girls what they would do if they were kidnapped. All said that they would refuse to marry the man. I asked how easy that would be, and if their parents would support them in refusing him. They seemed a little more vague on that point. I encouraged them to talk to their parents about it and make it clear that they wouldn’t want to be forced to marry anyone.

Forced marriages are forbidden in Islam and some imans have start to condemn non-consensual ala kachuu. Ala kachuu is also against the law in Kyrgyzstan, but like so many laws here, it is not enforced. Young women do worry that they will be kidnapped. It is not as big a risk in Bishkek, but it could happen to any young, unmarried Kyrgyz woman.

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