(See? I told you it was going to be a series. This is not such a directly Jewlicious story, but I figured the series started here, it should continue here…)

Today’s reason why I’m not married (and please G-d let there not be one reason each day): Because I don’t live in Kyrgyzstan. In this land of less conventional English vowels, about a third of all Kyrgyzstani brides are now taken against their will. Often the families are complicit in the abductions, which sometimes become violent and harm the bride-to-be.

“I told him I didn’t want to date anyone,” said Ms. Tairova, 28. “So he decided to kidnap me the next day.” Such abductions are common here. More than half of Kyrgyzstan’s married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as “ala kachuu,” which translates roughly as “grab and run.” In its most benign form, it is a kind of elopement, in which a man whisks away a willing girlfriend. But often it is something more violent.

The custom predates the arrival of Islam in the 12th century and appears to have its roots in the region’s once-marauding tribes, which periodically stole horses and women from rivals when supplies ran low. It is practiced in varying degrees across Central Asia but is most prevalent here in Kyrgyzstan, a poor, mountainous land that for decades was a backwater of the Soviet Union and has recently undergone political turmoil in which mass protests forced the president to resign.

Kyrgyz men say they snatch women because it is easier than courtship and cheaper than paying the standard “bride price,” which can be as much as $800 plus a cow. Family or friends often press a reluctant groom, lubricated with vodka and beer, into carrying out an abduction.

Once a woman has been taken to a man’s home, her future in-laws try to calm her down and get a white wedding shawl onto her head. The shawl, called a jooluk, is a symbol of her submission. Many women fight fiercely, but about 80 percent of those kidnapped eventually relent, often at the urging of their own parents.

Brutal as the custom is, it is widely perceived as practical. “Every good marriage begins in tears,” a Kyrgyz saying goes.

It’s also illegal, but according to the article, “the law rarely has been enforced.” In any case, it makes JDate look like a picnic with Zach Braff by a lovely stream on a breezy, but warm summer’s day. Heck, it makes shtetl-style Yenta-ing look like a slice of heaven.

(I saw the article in the NY Times over the weekend, but Phoebe blogged about it before I could. So hat tip goes to her.)

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.


  • I think it costs about what a trip to Israel costs. How about Jewlicious birthright Kyrgyzstan? Anyway, you can’t get there directly. You have to transfer in Atlanta. Then across the Atlantic to Wbsrjykstan. Take a puddle-jumper to Ksfpwyzstan and you’re almost there. When you discover that you’ve lost all your vowels, then you’re there. Easy as shoving a white wedding shawl over the head of your unwilling intended…

  • wouldnt a more appropriate title to this post be “bad marriage related practices “?

  • Esther wrote: Easy as shoving a white wedding shawl over the head of your unwilling intended…

    Hmmm… I can do that…

  • I was also going to post a story about this. I think this method could solve the problems of many…

  • This is a real throwback to the good old neanderthal days. Just club an unsuspecting female over the head, then drag her back to your cave by her hair. Let the games begin!!!

  • Yes, I read this article in the NYTimes over the weekend. My husband and I agreed that the process is indeed “barbaric.” That means that when a guy can’t finesse seducing a woman into marrying him, he just “steals” her.

    No matter how “well” the marriage eventually turns out, the relationship’s foundation is based on a lie — that the wife never really gave her honest consent.


  • The irony is that the Times article was accompanied by pictures of content families and wives. Even the woman who is the focus of the article ends up by forgiving and praising her husband. It almost makes a mockery of the concept of seeking one’s true love.

  • Funny…there’s an old Soviet comedy called Kavkazkaya Plennitsa
    (literally, “Captive in the Caucus Mountains”) that portrays this
    exact scenario in a humorous way. However, the girl is clever
    enough to escape and ends up extracting revenge on her captor
    by pretending to kill him to the tune from the Nutcracker Suite.
    I guess it doesn’t happen like that in real life.

  • That is right, Vkore, in real life, the woman gives in, gets married against her wishes, and then has babies with the man. And divorce is apparently not an option.

  • This is how most of societies used to be. A man saw a woman in the market place and took her. If he decided to marry her, so be it.
    Judaism came and gave the world a moral code. It still took many years for women to have full rights, and even in Orthodox Judaism, they can only go so far, because of what is called “Kavod HaTzibur”, the honor of the community. So a woman cannot be the President of a Shule. She wouldn’t mind if she didn’t sit up front there, she would be willing to speak from the womens section. No, not allowed. Mans power exercised.
    At any rate, women have retaliated to the years of oppression by keeping themselves in ever better shape, and making themselves ever more attractive and then wearing teasing, thin, small garments, that say to men, eat your heart out.

  • What is wrong w/ my theory as to why women dress in such a way to attract attension from every normal male?

  • So what’s the divorce rate in Kyrzygstan… or can you just capture your runaway wife on a horse too?

  • TM, comment 10: Don’t you think if the woman hadn’t smiled her husband would’ve beat her after the photo shoot? That’s what I was thinking when I read it.
    And Esther, don’t worry about that name…according to a friend of mine, that’s what’s so special about them!