In Kyrgyzstan, it is known as "Ala Kachuu" or kidnapping for marriage.
Since Kyrgyzstan became an independent nation in 1991, there has been a boom in bridal kidnappings with woman and girls being abducted from their family homes, sometimes with the consent of the brides' parents but often not. With an estimated 8,000 kidnappings occurring each year, the practice shows no sign of abating despite tougher laws aimed at protecting women from abduction. Now, a new series of animations have aimed at publicising bridal kidnappings and allowing victims to tell their own story has reignited debate, not to mention heated protests from conservative elements in Kyrgyrz society.
Tatyana Zelenskaya is an artist and, along with her animator spouse Egor Tankov, has created five "One Day They Stole Me" animations which are already being made available on the Internet. With Russian language text and Kyrgyz-language voiceover, each animation presents a different story though the names have been changed to protect vulnerable women against potential retaliation. One of these animations documents the story of "Nazik" and was released last month in time for International Women's Day.
According to Nazik, her mother had disliked who she was dating and arranged for a marriage with "Abay" without her knowledge. Aided by her brother, the mother made Nazikgo with Abay to the local cinema. Instead, she was forced into a car being driven by one of Abay's friends and taken to his house for her wedding, which had already been arranged. Though Nazik protested, her brother arrived and told her, "Nazik, our father has decided that you will stay here. Abay is a good man and will make a good husband. Getting married means happiness for any girl!"
In reality, her brother was lying and her father had no idea that she had been abducted. When he learned what had happened, he was furious but a mullah had already blessed the marriage by that time. While her mother relented and offered Nazik the chance to come home, she decided to remain due to the stigma that she would face over breaking off the marriage. The video concludes with Nazik describing how her husband's family had kicked out her and her child just four years later.
A second video describes the ordeal faced by "Elzada" who was forced into marriage while her father was seriously ill. Though her husband's family tried gentle encouragement at first to make her accept the marriage, they eventually threatened to spread vicious gossip about her not being a virgin if she attempted to leave. Forced to remain with her captor, Elzada finds herself in the strange position of needing to support him financially since he refuses to work. "Only our children keep us together,” Elzada says. “I am the one who earns the money and I make all the decisions. Not only do I not love him, I don't respect him.”
The animations provide many more examples of bridal abductions but a final story, that of Nargiza, is definitely the most hopeful. When Nargiza was brought to her husband's home with the assistance of a matchmaking aunt, she threatened to call the police and cited a recently introduced law. The new law is aimed at bridal kidnappers with sentences ranging from five to ten years. Not only did the abductors back down but Nargiza is now a presenter on Kyrgyz state television. She was also the only one in the animation series to give her real name.
In a recent article, Tatyana Zelenskaya explained that she released the animations with Nargiza's story at the end to provide abductees with a concrete example of how to fight back. She is also hoping that one of the country's national television channels will show the animations so that the message can reach to the outlying provinces and rural regions where Ala Kachuu is most common.