By: Lane Johansen
On April 5th, Aizada Kanatbekova was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Kyrgyzstan’s capital city, Bishkek, sparking new protests over bride kidnapping and violence against women in Central Asia. Kanatbekova, 27, was taken in broad daylight off a central street in Bishkek. Her body was found in a car two days later with police later confirming she was strangled to death.
Kanatbekova’s family reported that they had repeatedly pleaded with the police for help. Her abductor, Zamirbek Tenizbayev – who committed suicide after strangling Kanatbekova – had apparently stalked her for months. When Kanatbekova’s mother begged the police for help the day after her daughter was taken, the police laughed and told her she’d “soon be dancing at her daughter’s wedding,” an allusion to the practice of kidnapping with the intent of marriage.
Bride kidnapping, locally known as ala kachuu (from the Kyrgyz phrase kyz ala kachuu, which means “to take a young woman and run away”), generally involves a man and several friends picking up a “bride-to-be”. It can refer to a range of actions from consensual, staged elopement to non-consensual abduction of a woman who has never met her kidnappers.
Though bride kidnapping was outlawed in Kyrgyzstan in 2013, ala kachuuu is still widely practiced and generally involves coercion. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe estimates that at least 12,000 young women, often younger than 18, are forcefully abducted and married each year in Kyrgyzstan, with as many as one out of five raped in the process.
Kyrgyz society is traditional and patriarchal, particularly in rural areas, and the cultural stigma surrounding an unmarried woman spending a night outside of her family home perpetuates the practice of bride kidnapping; with the honor of the woman’s family at stake, she is often pressured by her own family members into consenting to the marriage. Additionally, incidents of ala kachuu are both underreported to and ignored by the police.
Women’s rights activists in Kyrgyzstan are fighting to bring the taboo subject of bride kidnapping to the forefront of national discussion, emphasizing the domestic violence and psychological trauma that often results from forced marriages. Three days after Aizada Kanatbekova was murdered, hundreds of people gathered in front of Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry to protest police inaction, the practice of ala kachuu, and the heartbreaking frequency of violence against women.