It is Valentines Day and most of the teenage girls and students of the language school where Gulnisa* works, at the center of Bishkek, the capital of the country, are overexcited and cheerful. The hallways are decorated with hearts and other stuff quite tacky with the excuse of the day of lovers. From the window, it is possible to seen some young Kyrgyz boys crossing the pavement, covered by tremendous ice shells, with bouquet of flowers.
"In Spain is also celebrated Valentines?", Gulnisa asked me. She is a clever girl of 24 who works here teaching English, Russian, Kyrgyz... and also has some knowledge of French. "The truth is that is more a business than a tradition", I try to answer. "Here in this country, love is complicated," replies the young teacher.
In this ambience of trust and sincerity, I decided to ask her about an issue which is terribly present in the lives of many young women in this small Central Asian republic: about one of three young gets married by force, abducted by a stranger. Gulnisa does not hesitate when asked about the matter. She points their finger, the wedding ring, and sentence: "My husband kidnapped me".
Gulnisa studied translation and interpretation of modern languages at the University, but left half finished her studies because her impending wedding. While She was at university, she used to invest her summer holidays in a job as a tour guide. Strolling German, American, French and Dutch tourists into the mountains of the country. She used to travel in a van together with a young driver from her age. Together with the tourists they used to overnight in yurts and lost towns. "We laughed a lot, it was a very enjoyable job," he says.
One day her nice co-worker confessed her that he was in love with her and asked for marriage. "He was a friendly guy, we were good friends, but nothing more," says Gulnisa. "It is better to be just friends". Gulnisa pronounced this universal formula extended across the planet to refuse politely unrequited feelings.The boy, though hurt, apparently accepted it. And few weeks later, as usual, he offered Gulnisa to bring her from home to university by car.
However, Gulnisa soon realized that it wasn't the path to the faculty. Although not physically violent, but yes with lies the man took her to his home, where were waiting the future mother in law, his aunt and grandmother. They had just kidnap Gulnisa.
Locked at her captor's (and suitor) home, stripped of her mobile phone, She did not have much chance to escape. The women of the house tried to convince her that he would be a good husband. Gulnisa's father was an old retired police officer but even this background was not good for her. "My father also kidnapped my mother, what could I do?", says Gulnisa.
"I cried a lot". And once She pass the night at the house of the young man and not gets married, her honour would always be questioned. So, finally, She married him.
Today She, two years later, is mother of a toddler. "Do you love your husband?", I ask her. "He's a good man, I just like him", manages to answer Gulnisa with resignation. And recognizes how she feel envy and admiration of a friend from University who has just returned from Germany and finished her studies. "I wanted to be a translator and work abroad", she explains.
The Gulnisa case is just one among many and perhaps one of the lightest. Bermet, 19 years old, for example, was abducted by a stranger one afternoon when she was leaving the college. She struggled during more than three hours inside a car, surrounded by strangers. She was taken to the home of her abductor, far from Bishkek on the countryside, where she lives now.
"I stopped struggling because I thought I was going to die by stress and weakness", narrates now at her mother-in-law's house, with the white shawl of the newlyweds. She is now in her fourth month of pregnancy.
"The hardest thing was to explain that I had been kidnapped to my boyfriend, the man I really loved. He just could not do anything", says Bermet.
Close from this village, Jyldyz was not so lucky and she was strangled by accident while she was on the car after been abducted. The guy who kidnapped her committed suicide a few weeks later.
Suicides among young people are common in this country, in which the practice of the marriage by abduction is punishable by law, but no one has ever been convicted. For a many people it is wrongly interpreted as a Kyrgyz tradition, a sign of national identity, although it has not compatibility with the Islam or the nomadic tradition. Only in times of grazing 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.
In modern times, this is uncommon and bride kidnaping is a terrible way of violence against women. But it is not the case of Mariam and Solo's wedding. Solo refused to marry Mariam by kidnapping, he is a very religious youth and is convinced that marriage by abduction is not a signal of good Muslim. But he is from a humble family from the countryside and her family is much more wealthy, his father in law is involved into construction business. And after years of dating, he still has not enough money to pay for the wedding. One day, Mariam said to him: "I'm sick of waiting, kidnap me this week and we were married".
Kuban is 32 and met his wife in a nightclub while studying in college, though he's a shepherd he studied Agricultural Engineering in Soviet times. He fell in love, seduced his wife and they got married loving one each other. Despite they are living in a very remote area of the country. He is a very cool and smart goatherd. He has a daughter just three years: "I will never allow my daughter being kidnapped, marriage by abduction it is not a tradition, it is a crime. It is made by bad people", he sentences.
* Some names and details have been changed to preserve the identities of some of the women.