Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan


[MUSIC PLAYING] ANNOUNCER:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: All right. Hi, it’s Thomas. We’re in Bishkek. I’m on a Kok Beru horse. That’s basically polo, but you
play with a dead goat. It is one of Kyrgystan’s
many fine traditions. One of the other traditions, a
little less fun, is kidnapping women and making them
your bride. We’re going to go out of Bishkek
up into the hills and see that happen. Kyrgyzstan is a tiny landlocked
country next to China that spent most of the
last century as part of the Soviet Union. Prior to that it was a wild,
tribally ruled Conan land known for it’s people’s
horsemanship, the mythic hero Manas, and for being
the birthplace of the black plague. The Kyrgyz people celebrated
the end of communism by adopting Islam as the state
religion and getting really into their old national
identity, some parts of which jibed nicely with the modern
times, others of which didn’t. BRIDE TO BE:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Bride kidnapping
is a traditional way of getting married that
supposedly dates back to the horse days. How it works is a guy wants to
marry a girl, he gets a few of his friends together, they grab
the girl off the street, then they drive her back to
his place, and his mom and aunts try to convince her that
marrying their son is the right move– even if he’s a total stranger. We’d heard a young east Kyrgyz
villager named Kubanti was in the market for a bride. So we offered up our services
as wedding photographers. KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [MUSIC PLAYING] UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: So far
this is very similar to a Western wedding. You just have all the family
together, favorite uncle kind of holding court at the
table, a lot of food. It’s hard to reconcile this
hospitality with the kind of potential violence that’s
about to happen. BRIDE TO BE:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Bride
kidnapping is not a fringe custom. In rural areas, nearly half of
all marriages result this way. BRIDE TO BE:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: And while it’s
technically illegal to kidnap your wife, not many Kyrgyz cops
realize this, and even fewer care. BRIDE TO BE:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 1:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] RUSSELL KLEINBACH: There
are two laws that make kidnapping illegal. And even in cases where the
couple love each other. I know a number of
cases where the woman said, I was kidnapped. I loved the man. I wanted to marry him, but I did
not want to be kidnapped because it’s very humiliating to
be physically captured and forced into a car. BRIDE TO BE:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] RUSSELL KLEINBACH: The majority
of the police and officials in the country don’t
even know it’s illegal, or if they do, they believe it’s
an old tradition. TYNCHTYK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] ELMIRA:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] TYNCHTYK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] ELMIRA:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] TYNCHTYK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] ELMIRA:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] TYNCHTYK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] ELMIRA:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] TYNCHTYK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Back at Kubanti’s
place, the groomsmen pop a final squat to coordinate
the snatch. GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: We’re planning
the kidnapping right now. How long have you guys
been planning this? KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Who’s the girl? Is it somebody you’ve
been friends with? Somebody you know or
is it somebody, like, your family knows? KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [SCREAMS AND MOANING] THOMAS MORTON: While bride
kidnapping is largely a rural phenomenon, there’s
been a spike in cities in recent years. Generally attributed to
the success of Ernest Abdyjaparov’s 2007 pro-kidnapping film, Boz Salkyn. ERNEST:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] ERNEST:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] -[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] ERNEST:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [MUSIC PLAYING] MALE SPEAKER 1:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] RUSSELL KLEINBACH: Spousal
abuse is higher in kidnapped marriages. Divorce rate is higher in
kidnapped marriages. There’s a higher percentage of
women who go through that process who wind up rejected
by families and going into prostitution. And suicide rates are higher
among women who are kidnapped. ABDYSHOVA ZYINAGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: With the plan
locked in place and the bridal yurt set up for the reception,
all that was left for Kubanti and his pals was to go
secure the bride. KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Kubanti’s uncle
gave the boys one final good luck blessing, and they all
piled into the get-a-wife van. Good luck, guys. GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: We’re going to
go to the, I guess the local watering hole, like, literally
watering hole. That’s where they’ve arranged
for the friend of the bride to be to capture her. It’s a little animal kingdom
picking off your bride at the watering spot. [MUSIC PLAYING IN FOREIGN
LANGUAGE] KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: I feel OK about
this right now just because this guy evidently knows her. In this case, it’s just kind of
a weirder form of popping the question, it feels like. At the same time, it’s an
extremely troubling institution. KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [MUSIC PLAYING IN FOREIGN
LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: So this is the
girl’s friend who’s going to help them lure out the bride. They’re negotiating with
her right now. They’re just planning
how to do it. GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: They’re just
going to grab her? There’s not like a blanket
or anything? MALE SPEAKER: No. THOMAS MORTON: OK. Pretty basic. KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Oh, my god. That got very real in a hurry. NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [CRYING] FEMALE SPEAKER 2:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: From here on,
it’s up to the women in the family to get the girl to put on
the bridal scarf and agree to the wedding, a process
that can go on for hours or even days. FEMALE SPEAKER 2:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: OK. Thank you. This is a very confusing
scene. FEMALE SPEAKER 2:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: I think
the girl has accepted what happened. And I don’t know if she was
just putting up resistance because that’s what you’re
supposed to do, or if she was genuinely freaked out. She’s eating cookies now though
and accepted a candy. Which I did too, which I don’t
know how I feel about that. FEMALE SPEAKER 2:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] ERNEST:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 2:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Well, everybody’s
all smiles. I hope she likes her groom. [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Is this what
a wedding is normally like around here? UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Well, why
do they do that? If the families already know
each other and are fine with it, why the kidnapping? Where does that come from? UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] RUSSELL KLEINBACH: In
Kyrgyzstan, tradition stands even above religion, I think,
in terms of importance, and religion above law. The old tradition of Kyrgyzstan
is the Manas Epis. Manasa is the authority. It’s a kin to being in the
Midwest according to Bible. If there’s a Kyrgyz tradition,
it should be in Manas. Manas is Kyrgyz, Kyrgyz
is Manas. And there’s no stories
of kidnapping in that oral tradition. It’s a violation of Islam. It’s a violation of the law. And it’s pretty clear that prior
to the Soviet period, it was very uncommon and was not
an acceptable traditional practice, even though it
happened sometimes. [MUSIC PLAYING IN FOREIGN
LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: God. Today just gets rougher
and rougher. So everything worked out? KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: OK. It looked like she was fighting pretty hard in the van. I’m surprised you aren’t,
like, more beat up. KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Did she know who
she was marrying once she got in the car? Did she know it was you? It could have been any
of those guys, right? KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: It was clear. I mean, you’re clearly– Also, you’re wearing
the nicest clothes. And you knew her, and you’d
been dating her. So it makes sense. What happens next? Do you have to go
get her family? KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: So the bride’s
been napped, sheep’s been slaughtered. I guess we’re really getting
into the thick of the wedding right now. It kind of occurs to me that compared to American groomsmen. Kyrgyz groomsmen have
a rough job. All anybody ever complains
about having to stage a bachelor party or, you know,
buy gifts, or wear a suit. You don’t have to kidnap a
girl or cut open a sheep. God knows what else is
going to happen. So you’re the grill
master here? What is that furry part? Is that lungs? GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Stomach. OK. Could you have gotten
in trouble for this? I mean, if like a policeman or
something had seen you, like, could they have like
stopped you? GROOMSMAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: And then they’d
be fine with it. OK. What’s the best part
of the sheep? Those floppy ears– Hey, you. [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Once the girl has
finally said yes, the men from the groom’s family go over
to the bride’s house and tell her parents, sorry, we
kidnapped your daughter. Is that OK? Unsurprisingly, this process
can also take a while. The men bring tons of
gifts and food to smooth things over. So hopefully the bride’s family
will think of it less as losing a daughter and more
as gaining a sheep. This is the bride’s family–
or bride to be. So evidently they aren’t
allowed in yet to see the family. So what’s happening right now? Why do you have to wait? UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: OK. That was short. [MUSIC PLAYING IN FOREIGN
LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: I’m starting to
get a little suspicious that the bride’s family may
have known about this ahead of time. This is a pretty nice spread
to put out on, like, an hour’s notice. MALE SPEAKER 3:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 3:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] JEKSHENBEK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 3:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] JEKSHENBEK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 3:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] JEKSHENBEK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 3:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: How are you
feeling about all this? SOIROGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: The custom, the
taking her up off the street, is that how people got married
when you were little? SABIRA:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Everyone kept
telling us how old and hallowed the practice of
bride kidnapping was. But if it’s not even in Manas,
the country’s national epic, how old actually is it? RUSSELL KLEINBACH: If we go back
to the 19th century, when you had tribal groups, they
would go through villages, and they would steal horses,
and cattle, and women. So there is a tradition
of stealing. But it would produce a real
conflict between tribes and was not an acceptable
traditional practice. And all the evidence shows
that kidnapping was on an increase from the latter period
of the Soviet period. And then it continued to
increase at the end of the Soviet period. The Soviets said, first of
all, we’re going to stop marriages of young girls before
the age of 15 or so. We’re going to now send both
boys and girls to high school and college. We collectivized the wealth so
there’s no money for bride price and a dowry. So now the young people
are getting older before they get married. They go off to the university. And they may come back
and say, I found someone I’d like to marry. And the parents say no, we’re
arranging a marriage for you in the village. So she might go back to the
university, or he, talk to the boyfriend or girlfriend and
says, is there any legitimate way we can get married against
our parents wishes. You say, well, I will kidnap
you, take you to my home, keep you overnight. Then they will consider you an
unclean girl, and so they will have to let you marry me. And I think strangely enough,
kidnapping is a response to the Soviets bringing about more equality for men and women. UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 3:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 4:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] JEKSHENBEK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 4:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] JEKSHENBEK:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 4:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: While we were
busy doing vodka shots with mayonnaise chasers, the local
imam stopped by the wedding yurt to make the marriage
official. Did you know you were about
to get married? NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: How do
you feel right now? NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Did you
want to marry him? NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: You accepted
this scarf very quickly. Like, why didn’t
you fight more? NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: You’re still
in school, right? Are you going to
finish school? NURGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] IMAM:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 5:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: Ah. It’s got kind of a Western
flair to it. Wow. That’s very shiny. The wedding itself
was yesterday. But the celebration is today. I feel we’re going to class
ourselves up a little bit. Yeah. Suits here are very
shiny, though. I think this might
be the winner. Minimally shiny, still shiny
enough to go to a wedding in. I think I found my suit. We were really getting into the
spirit of the festivities, which was kind of unsettling
considering we had just seen a girl get abducted
off the street. Yeah. Yeah. This is definitely it. BUBUSARA RYSKULOVA:
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN] THOMAS MORTON:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: How
are you doing? Hi. We got some cooking ware
for the bride to be. And then for Uncle Sultan,
we got some smokes. UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Yeah. You’re welcome. Very welcome. Everybody’s in t-shirts
and jeans. I just bought this suit. OK. Hey. KUBANTI:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: This is for
you and your wife. KUBANTI: Thank you. THOMAS MORTON: Yeah,
of course. Working on the intestines
there. [FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. THOMAS MORTON: Last night we
stayed up late with the bride’s family. We drank a lot. We ate probably all
of a sheep. And now we’re back to drinking
and eating fried bread. Oh, I’m sorry. [FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. Uncle Sultan brought us into
the yurt, and we kind of suspected this was why. UNCLE SULTAN:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: More vodka. [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: So right over my
left shoulder is the sheet from their wedding
night, basically. If she’s a virgin, she’s going
to bleed on the sheet. And then they take it out. And that’s proof to everybody. And they hang it. It’s kind of weird. You know, everybody put sort
of a premium on virginity. I never really got that shit. But there it is, bride
is a virgin. Double good happiness for
the bride and the groom. [MUSIC PLAYING] SABIRA:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] THOMAS MORTON: Traditionally,
the day after a Kyrgyz wedding, the bride has to prove
yourself to her new family, especially the women. So it’s kind of like a hazing,
sort of, almost of women. Still kind of not sure how to
feel about this whole thing. I kind of get the impression
it might be the case of one family not having lost a
daughter so much as another gaining a scullery maid. She seems happy, says
she’s happy. NAZGUL:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] SABIRA:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] FEMALE SPEAKER 6:
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [MUSIC PLAYING] THOMAS MORTON: We’re not going
to pretend to be experts on Manas or the finer
points of Islam. But for all the justifications
we heard, it seems like the real reason men kidnapped women
in Kyrgyzstan is the same reason they do questionable
stuff anywhere, the same reason a dog
licks its balls– because they can. Which of course, is the
oldest and shittiest reason in the world. Congratulations. [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you. [FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. I appreciate it. [FOREIGN LANGUAGE], thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING IN FOREIGN
LANGUAGE]

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