Since the country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, ala kachuu, or bride kidnapping, has become a common occurrence in Kyrgyzstan's provincial towns and villages. Although registered as a crime under Kyrgyzstan's criminal code, the government has consistently lacked the political will power to punish perpetrators, many of whom – mainly rural men – have come to regard the act as a ‘tradition’ and a birth-rite.
In recent months, civil society organizations and creative troupes have been harnessing the power of performance to try and educate the population and clamp down on the practice.
Kyrgyzstan's Ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, says that up to 8,000 young women are kidnapped annually. Of those cases, only a handful ever make it to court, partly due to the disinterest of local police and state prosecutors, partly due to cultural norms that discourage families to take back their daughters once kidnapped.
Kyrgyzstan's parliament, dominated by men from the regions, voted against legislation that would ban Islamic clerics from blessing unregistered marriages (such as those which occurred via abduction) earlier this year.
International interest in the phenomenon ebbs and flows, and global rights organizations rarely have the cultural toolkit to suggest appropriate responses to a problem that polarizes village communities. For this reason, initiatives such as the March video-making workshop [ru] for young people overseen by the Kyrgyz NGO Open Line, and taught by “social advert” guru Georgi Molodtsov, are particularly important as a way of conveying messages about the practice in terms that are accessible to local communities.
The four videos below, uploaded on MsBeknazarova's YouTube profile on April 4, 2012, are some of the results of the workshop:
The above video in Kyrgyz and Russian reminds people that bride-stealing is illegal and punishable by law. The white marriage scarf held by the gold-toothed women on the left-hand side of the video is ceremonially placed on the head of a kidnapped bride to affirm the in-laws ‘claim’ on a kidnapped woman.
This video fights against the stigma attached to taking a daughter back once stolen. Many families face heavy pressure from relatives to accept the outcome of a kidnapping. Last year, two kidnapped brides in Kyrgyzstan's Issyk-Kul region committed suicide, leading local people to launch a campaign against ala kachuu titled “Spring Without Them.” The Russian and Kyrgyz text in the above video reads: “You were always there to support your daughter. Now let her make her own choice.”
The video above homes in on the character of Kurmanjan Datka, the most famous woman in Kyrgyz history. Kurmanjan Datka herself escaped an arranged marriage to become the “Queen of Alai”, a mountainous region in southern Kyrgyzstan. The advert encourages young Kyrgyz women to take their destiny into their own hands and resist forced unions, taking inspiration from “Kurmanjan's choice”.
This video encourages Kyrgyzstani youth to use their mobile phone's “main function” and dial “102” – the hotline for kidnapped brides – when they witness woman-theft. Rather than filming the kidnapping to show their friends later, they should remember that “every girl is someone's daughter or sister”, the advert advises.
The final video in Russian and Kyrgyz, posted by Chalkan TV on its website on May 17, 2012, is not connected with the workshop. The video is of a theatrical performance held by students in the provincial town of Karakol in May – “Women are not Livestock!” Interviewed after the performance, Jypargul Kadyralieva, one of the organizers, explained [kg] the decision to hand out white marriage scarfs with the number “155”, to the audience, as well as the reason for including the word “livestock” in the performance's title.
There is an article in the criminal code – 155 – that should punish the stealing of women for marriage. We want this law to work. For some reason, [in Kyrgyzstan] when someone steals livestock, he is sternly punished, but when he steals a woman, he isn't punished. We want to get across to society that a woman is a person deserving of love…we want to lobby the parliament so that [law 155] works, or to change this law [from “abduction of a woman with the aim of entering marriage”] to simply “abduction of a person.”
According to research by the non-governmental organization Kyz-Korgon Institute, up to 45% of women married in Karakol in 2010 and 2011 had been kidnapped against their will before entering into the marriage.