The United Nations office in Kyrgyzstan has issued a rare criticism of the country over its chronic bride-kidnapping problem after one kidnapper murdered his victim inside a police station.
Burulai Turdaliyeva, 20, was allegedly stabbed in the police station by her kidnapper Mars Bodoshev on May 27 as she was preparing to provide witness evidence against him. The case has shocked and appalled many Kyrgyz.
According to Turdaliyeva’s sister Aiperi, Bodoshev, who is reportedly around 30 years old, not only fatally wounded Burulai, but he also carved the Cyrillic letters for “N” and “B” onto her chest.
Police have denied that there were any letters on the corpse.
The main question being posed by the public is how Bodoshev was able to carryout the murder and reportedly harm himself with the same weapon before police could intervene.
The prosecutor's office in the Jayil district of Chui province, where the police station is located, has launched a criminal case accusing officers on duty of neglect.
Bodoshev, who was hospitalized after the incident, now faces a murder charge in addition to a charge for the abduction of the young medical student.
The UN said in its May 31 statement that it was concerned by the incident and called on authorities to do more to stop the practice, while hailing “significant steps” in terms of improving anti-bride-kidnapping legislation.
“Such practices as kidnapping brides, forced marriage or ala-kachuu is not related to the culture and traditions of Kyrgyzstan, but is a violation of the rights of vulnerable people,” the statement noted.
This last point is a sore one. The crime known in Kyrgyz as ala-kachuu enjoyed a boom during the economic collapse of Kyrgyzstan’s independence as a demoralized and corruption-prone state apparatus looked the other way.
Although bride-kidnapping is a custom with deep roots, the practice was never an accepted norm in nomadic society.
In pre-Soviet times, clans engaged in blood feuds over kidnappings for marriage. But nowadays, parents of ala-kachuu victims overwhelmingly accept the act as a fait accompli and sometimes even push their daughters into the marriages to save face.
Burulai’s case was unusual insofar as her parents decided to inform police of her kidnap immediately, a step which led to the pair being apprehended and brought to the station.
In other ways, however, the kidnap was typical. The UN says that 13.8 percent of women in Kyrgyzstan younger than 24 are forced into marriage via kidnappings. Like many of the other girls that suffer this fate, Turdaliyeva, who was studying medicine in Bishkek, hailed from the Kyrgyz-speaking provinces. She had already been making plans to marry.
The progress the UN credits Kyrgyzstan with in combating the scourge has mostly been limited to the parliament. In 2016, the legislature passed a law criminalizing the practice of blessing marriages involving girls younger than 18, an important move in communities that view an imam’s consecration of a marriage as irreversible.
That law, however, did nothing to protect girls older than this age, and a more all-encompassing version of the same law was shot down by MPs four years earlier.
Male politicians have tended to be more cynical about attempts to fight the practice. In 2012, as parliament debated a law punishing kidnapping for marriage with terms up to 10 years, one lawmaker suggested that stealing livestock was a more serious offense because “people can eat livestock and they can’t eat women.” The law was eventually passed.
The problem in Kyrgyzstan is putting laws on the books into practice. The negligence cases against the police who should have ensured Turdaliyeva’s safety now emerges as a key indicator of how seriously the system views the problem.
Turdaliyeva, for her part, had wanted to become a pediatrician and was planning to get married to her boyfriend in August. Classmates told media that she had stopped attending university in the days prior to her murder out of fear she was being lined up for kidnap.
Chris Rickleton is a journalist based in Almaty.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.