Chapter 57 – Kidnapping in the Name of Love
After dealing with all the bureaucratic bullshit while crossing the border from Uzbekistan over to the Kyrgyz Republic in the Dragoman tour bus, we met our Kyrgyzstani guide Erkin who’d been awaiting our arrival. He boarded the bus as we began heading to a town called Arslanbob where we planned on spending the night.
“So Erkin,” one of the Australian women in the group began asking our guide who’d been about thirty years of age, “are you married?”
In a choppy English, he said that he was.
“How’d you meet your wife?” someone followed up.
“Well,” a big smile swept across Erkin’s face, “I did a kidnap on her.”
Most people on the bus were uncomfortably silent after hearing this response, but one of the group members had been in the know about the local practice.
“Ah yeah, bride kidnapping, right? That’s a pretty popular tradition in Kyrgyzstan, isn’t it?”
Erkin confirmed that it was. But still, a lot of people remained uncomfortable.
“But I knew my wife before I kidnap her,” he added.
“Oh yeah? How long did you know her for before you kidnapped her? A few months? A few weeks?”
“Two days…” he smiled as we all laughed at his response, “…but she was happy,” he added with a shrug.
“What did her family say when you took her?”
“Well, you see, it’s a tradition, and um…” he couldn’t find the words he was looking for.
“They have to accept?”
“Yes,” he said, “they have to accept.”
“So what happened then? Did you have a big party to celebrate?”
“After kidnapping she stays for five days in my house. We will sleeping separately. My aunt and my mother will secure her – in case of me,” he laughed. “So, and after five days, we did wedding party for three-hundred people – guests. After we do signing, you know, it’s a tradition of the state, for signing documents, we then spend midday driving around in cars or limousines with friends or something like this. And evening it’s a party in a restaurant until twelve.
“And after the party – you see, I am half Kazakh, half Uyghur so I have tradition of Kazakh and Uyghur and my wife is Uyghur so we will mostly use tradition of Uyghur – and after twelve, we came to my house where her aunts made fire in my yard and they did some walk around this fire and they say, ‘Don’t cry my baby, don’t cry my girl. Now this is your house and you should keep the warm of this fire into the house.’
“After that, all the aunts of her sit close to the door of our room, at the door – not listening,” he chuckled. “Then in the morning she comes first in my room and she takes the sheets,” he pretended he was holding them up, “and to showing that she was a virgin. Not showing to all – showing to my mother and my aunt.”
“Amazing,” one Australian guy said while most everybody else laughed.
This, as it so happens, was not the first I’d heard of this concept. While in Isfahan, Iran, several months beforehand, I was in a Persian rug shop at the bazaar adjacent to Naqsh-e Jahan Square talking to two guys – one who was a couple years younger than me and one about fifteen years older – about things that I find interesting, particularly alcohol and women. Like a surprising amount of Iranians, both of these guys had been very liberal when it came to religious laws imposed on them by the Islamic Republic.
The older guy answered my questions about the booze.
“I can get you whatever you want to drink,” he told me. “I party all the time. Here, look,” he said and then showed me his forearm. On it, in a direct message to the Iranian government, the tattoo read, “Who are you to tell me how to live my life? I won’t give this up.”
And the younger guy who graduated college as a math major answered my questions about sex before marriage. After he told me about the whole relatives-checking-the-sheets-for-the-busted-hymen thing, I said to him, “But there are so many super-hot chicks walking around in Iran and only an idiot wouldn’t wanna take a car for a test drive before buying it. You gotta be fiendin’ for that. And, like, everybody knows that when hot virgins are so often chased, it’s impossible for them to remain chaste – ya know what I’m sayin’? You’re a pretty studly guy and a lotta girls probably think you’re really hot – no homo intended. Like, how are you not fuckin’ all these chicks?”
“I am,” he grinned, “we just have sex in the ass.”
Upon returning to Chicago in the summer of 2013 and telling this to pretty much everyone I knew, my cousin Jack said, “What? Are you kidding me? These girls are getting rammed in the can before having vaginal sex? That’s like smoking crack before ever even trying weed.”
I agreed. But back to the kidnapping…
“But sometimes the kidnapping is not very nice,” Erkin added, “when it’s a man who sees a girl on the road and captures her – this also happens. Just take her, put in the car,” he concluded the thought by swinging his arms, indicating the vehicle zooming off.
“Can they do something about that?” one of the women asked.
“Um, no,” he replied, “it makes shame on family. But now it’s…” he again grappled with the English language, “last year, because government make a law that it’s can’t do anymore…but it still happens.”
What was meant by Erkin in the “shame” comment is that after a group of men have teamed up to drag a random woman off the streets and bring her to his home where the man’s family sits around waiting to start the aforementioned wedding procedure, not only is the victim pressured by the man’s family to get married but also by her own because tradition says that once she’s entered her kidnapper’s home, she’s no longer pure and it would be a disgrace for her to return to her family. The practice is called “ala kachuu” which, coincidentally, sounds a lot like someone saying “I’ll catch you” in a fuckin’ Borat accent. The phrase translates to English as “grab and run.”
In an article by Newsweek, approximately 40% of ethnic Kyrgyz women are married after being kidnapped by the men who become their husbands. And even though a decent amount try to fight it, around 84% of those kidnapped end up agreeing to the nuptials.
Although Erkin and his wife seemed happy with what they had goin’ on – he showed us pictures of them together and even left halfway through our tour to go be with her in the very late stages of her pregnancy – I’m guessing that most of these kidnapping arrangements don’t work out very well. I’m guessing they involve a lot of abuse, a lot of forced cooking, cleaning and child-rearing and, before you can even get to the child-rearing, a lot of rape.
On that bus was the first I’d ever heard of bridal kidnapping and it made me see the lyrics to the song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” by John Lennon in a whole new light. The fact that the practice is so ingrained in Central Asian culture that the kidnap victim’s own family wouldn’t fight to get her free because of “shame” is truly staggering. May Allah have mercy on the souls of those poor women.