Seven years ago Aijan was walking home from her waitressing job in central Bishkek with two girlfriends. They did not notice the three men following them. As two men tackled the other women, one dragged Aijan, 21 at the time, into a waiting car.
“I was screaming, cursing, and hitting them. […] I was crying for them to let me go, but they wouldn’t listen,” Aijan recalls. She did not know where they were headed. When the car finally stopped, a stranger opened the door. “You should be happy that I’m kidnapping you,” was the first thing Aziz, Aijan’s future husband, said.
Many know of bride kidnapping as a phenomenon in rural Kyrgyzstan. But few realize it happens in the relatively liberal capital, Bishkek, too. According to human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun, as rural migrants flood into the city, young men too poor to afford the pageantry of a traditional wedding opt instead to kidnap a bride – a method that anecdotal evidence suggests has increased throughout the country in the penurious post-Soviet period.
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Asel Kalybekova is a freelance reporter based in Kyrgyzstan.