I am Jamilia - PhMuseum

I am Jamilia

Irina Unruh

2017 - Ongoing


'A good marriage starts with tears,' says a famous Kyrgyz proverb. Although I am originally from Kyrgyzstan, I only began to understand the violence behind this famous Kyrgyz proverb and the depth of the wounded souls they often leave when I met Jamilia. She is named after the main character from the worldwide known novel "Jamilia" of Chingiz Aitmatov. It is a story of two young lovers who leave their village and break a strong tradition to live together—a story which tells with melancholy and full of tenderness the power of love that overrides everything. But countless stories of Kyrgyz women are stories of violence and tears. There is, for example, Samira. She is only one of around 12.000 to 15.000 annually for marriage kidnapped women according to the latest available data in Kyrgyzstan. She summed up in her handwriting: "He liked me, the man who kidnapped me, but I DID NOT like him. I could not imagine myself with him, couldn't imagine it at all. And here is the result. After the kidnapping, I took some pills, felt in a coma, and became an invalid (chronically emotional distress). I want to ask him - How is your life going? My life is broken. I am lonely… Sick... "Samira survived her suicide attempt after becoming a victim of the custom Ala Kachuu which means roughly translated "grab and run." "I am Jamilia" focuses on women of different ages and from various parts of Kyrgyzstan. Each woman has her own story. But all of them have one thing in common: they all have been kidnapped to get married.

Some women described the brutality of this practice. Often a group of young men grabs a young woman or even a high school student in broad daylight, taking her violently into a car and driving away no matter if she is in panic, struggling, screaming, and weeping. Once abducted, the young woman is taken immediately to the would-be groom's family and subjected to psychological pressure by his female relatives. In too many cases, the groom will rape his kidnapped bride to prevent her from returning to her family due to shame. Bride kidnapping is a custom with deep roots. It raised and got a massive problem after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there is an increasing reflection also on the psychological implications of those affected. Especially women who suffered lifelong under their traumatic experience being kidnapped want a different start into a marriage for their own children, both for their daughters and for their sons.

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  • I had this view out of the car on the way from the capital Bishkek to Kochkor, where I interviewed and portrayed several kidnapped women.
    It's not rare that a young woman is brought several hundred kilometers from their home to a completely unknown place.

  • “Ala Kachuu is not appropriate for modern life. Because we have experienced it, we instantly know that a young couple should know, respect, and appreciate each other. This is real happiness!“

  • "I was also kidnapped. He worked with my father at home. I didn't know him well. After being kidnapped, my father forced me to stay with him. Because according to our tradition, a girl can't return to her home after an abduction. He started to drink. I found out that his whole family drinks alcohol. Now I have four children. I suffered for ten years. I expected the children would help him get rid of his bad habit, but it didn't happen. Finally, we divorced, and now I take care of my children by myself. I wished every girl would marry at her own choice and desire. It would be better if women's rights were protected not only by the government but also by society."

  • Although the practice of Ala Kachuu has been declared illegal for years, bride kidnapping remains a widespread, socially accepted practice. 1 in 4 marriages in Kyrgyzstan happens still through bride kidnapping. However, it is a long way until this practice will belong one day to the past of Kyrgyzstan.

  • “I am dissatisfied with my life.and disappointed with my classmates. They supported the man to kidnap me. My father agreed to my forced marriage, so I had to stay there. But I didn't want to stay. It was so tense to live together. Ultimately, we divorced. Momentarily I live with my four children separately. I don't wish any other woman a life like mine. I wish young girls a happy life together with their beloved and children.”

  • “I think my life with my husband was happy. But in the beginning, it was tough. A new family, a new life, when he kidnapped me, but it was our tradition. If a man liked a woman, he kidnapped her. After one hard year of living together, I started to get used to him and love my husband. We lived happily 30 years together and have three beautiful girls. I am grateful to my husband for our girls. Five years ago, we lost him, and it was challenging for me. I cried almost for one year and could not get used to life without him. Afterward, I retook courage and continued to live without him. Two of my daughters are married at their own choice. I have five grandchildren. My youngest daughter is a pupil of 10th grade at school. I live with my youngest daughter. It is such a pity that my husband left us so early. We remember him very often and love him.”

  • "More then 35 years ago, I was kidnapped to get married. At that time, I thought it was our tradition that he could simply kidnap her if a man likes a woman. But I didn't expect how difficult it would be to get used to the new situation. My life changed from one day to another day entirely. It took me about one year to get used to him and his family. During this year, I suffered and cried a lot. But slowly, I recognized that he was a good human being. And he always treated me very well. We got three daughters, whom he also lovingly cared for. And slowly, I fell in love with my husband, and we spent more than 30 years together until his death. But I also know that many women in my country have a different story. Many never became happy with their husbands after their bride kidnapping."

  • It often happens that young, abducted women commit suicide shortly after their forced marriage. The official figures are unknown.

  • "My life was also ruined throughout Ala Kachuu, like the life of many other girls and women in our country. In my childhood, I was brought up by my elder sister. As she brought me up, my sister decided everything for me. She lied to me and agreed to kidnap me by the younger brother of her friend. In the beginning, this young man visited us to see me. I did not like him at all. But he kidnapped me and brought me to his home. I thought I could run away from him. Through lies, I reached that we haven't had our wedding night in the first three days. According to our traditions, the aunt of my husband should check our bedsheet after our wedding night. But after the third day, we had the wedding night. But the bedsheet remained clean. My husband accepted it. After a while, I learned about his bad habits. I found out not only that he was drug-addicted. I also found out about a family secret. He shot and killed his father. I returned to my sister crying and saying that I would no longer live with him. She scolded me, saying that I shouldn't be picky with a husband and have to live with him. After nine months, we got divorced. Fortunately, I didn't get a child from him. After four years, I was kidnapped once again by my neighbor. He was drunk and threatened me with a knife. I found out that he beats both his parents, his mother and his father. After three months, I abandoned him. Afterward, I had no wish to get married anymore. One year later, I met another man, and we got married. But we also got divorced because he was against my religion. We have one child. I have lost interest in life. For almost 22 years, I have been living alone. I am against bride kidnapping. I wish no one such an experience as I had. I regret that my life has been ruined because of Ala Kachuu."

  • "My family life started with Ala Kachuu. Bride kidnapping leaves an imprint on every woman's heart. It left an eternal hurt on my soul, and my heart is broken. That's why I'm against Ala Kachuu. I wished no girl had such wounds in her soul and a broken heart because of that."

  • It is wrongly interpreted as a Kyrgyz tradition, a sign of national identity, even though it is not compatible with Islam or the nomadic culture. In former times when two young were in love, and the groom could not pay the dowry to the family of the bride, the two lovers used to agree to organize a kidnapping for love. This is uncommon in modern times, and bride kidnapping is a terrible way of violence against women.

  • “Also, my family life started with Ala Kachuu. After an abduction, women do not feel true love. There could not be true love between men and women throughout Ala Kachuu. My husband passed away. Today I have five children – four sons and one daughter. Thank God, my children developed as good personalities. Two of my sons are already married. They married through true love after dating and have been known each other for a long time.
    I am strictly against Ala Kachuu. I wished there would be a harsh punishment for Ala Kachuu by the law.“

  • “I am against Ala Kachuu. The first time I was also kidnapped and had to stay there because I was afraid of our old generation. But the second time when I was abducted, I was brought to a very remote area. However, I denied to stay there and returned. I did not know him at all, and even I did not see him before. How could I stay there? So I returned home. Ala Kachuu destroys the lives of many young girls. Many suffer from it as I suffered from my abductions. After the second kidnapping, I became disillusioned. I hope this Kyrgyz tradition of bride kidnapping would soon fade.”

  • Two clothes hang neatly on the wall in a small room of a 37-year-old woman who also became a victim of the practice “Ala Kachuu” more than a decade ago. She lives alone in a small apartment. “My neighbors say it is not visible that I am not doing well, and I became an invalid. I am not able to work. I stay mainly in my little apartment watching the whole day TV. If I sometimes go out, then I always try to dress me up beautifully. But I want to write about my story,” and so she writes a letter:
    “He liked me, the man who kidnapped me, but I DID NOT like him. I could not imagine myself with him, couldn’t imagine at all. And I blame my cousin, and she wanted me to get married. I could not believe my life there and with him.
    And here is the result. After (the kidnapping), I took some pills, felt in a coma, and became an invalid (chronically emotional distress).
    I want to ask him - How is your life going? My life is broken…
    I am lonely… Sick... “

  • “I was kidnapped on December 17, 1991. I was so sorrowful those days. Gradually, I started to get used to the new family. I felt ashamed to return home after my abduction. Besides, I sympathized with my mother-in-law. She brought up her children by herself and lost her husband early. All those days have passed, now we are a family and have our children. Presently, I am grateful for my life and grateful to god. Let us get rid of Ala Kachuu. Now everything is changing, and society is developing. I am thankful that you are paying attention to this issue and for interviewing us. With regards, the participant.”

  • “My brother’s friend kidnapped me. In the beginning, I could not get used to him and his family, but I found his family very beautiful. They were attentive to me and supported me. They helped me to get used to him as well. At first, my family and relatives were upset with me that I decided to stay. And now, they see my life and are happy for me because I became part of this family.
    Thank God, my husband takes good care of me financially. He agreed that I could continue my university education and paid money for it.
    Also, he respects my family. In short, I am momentarily grateful for my life. We are the parents of two children. We are happy.“

  • This is a contemporary bedroom in Kyrgyzstan in a family's house in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan.

  • “I was abducted twice. Both times it was without my consent, without my wish. This is wildness. I was against the marriages and refused to stay there on both occasions. It was challenging, but I persisted and finally got my freedom. They are guilty of who kidnapped me by force. Their actions should be criticized. I am convinced that I was right to leave the abductors.
    On the contrary, many express their pity for me that I have not stayed. Their worldview should develop. Our society should change on this point and be more courageous about Ala Kachuu.“

  • I think Ala Kachuu is the worst thing in the world. Because it is painful to live with the person whom you did not see and know before. Eventually, you will have children and start to get used. I did not feel what love is. I got seven children with my husband. Our children grew up, and life passed imperceptibly. Later, when the children grew up, everything became beautiful, our children got a high education, it's all good now. Bubunai "

  • 'A good marriage starts with tears,' says a famous Kyrgyz proverb. I see a glimmer of hope for a new interpretation of it for the new generation: tears of love.