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North Caucasus authorities do their utmost to uproot kidnappings of brides - to little avail so far

June 28, 2013, 14:01 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 28 (Itar-Tass) - According to an ancient Greek legend Zeus approached Europe, the daughter of a Phoenician Czar, in the guise of a white ox and kidnapped her. Then he turned into a handsome youth, whose merits the young lady found irresistible. Their union did not last, though. But anyway they gave birth to three children. The tradition of abducting young women has proved amazingly popular. It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century in some regions of Russia - mostly in the North Caucasus - the abductions of brides are still a major problem. In most cases this is a purely symbolic act, a tribute of respect to archaic customs and traditions, quite often with very materialistic reasons in the background. Despite condemnation by the authorities and clergy the tradition lives on.

Historically, the custom of abducting brides in Russia was most widely spread in the Caucasus. Back before the 1917 revolution it began to be prosecuted as a crime. In the Soviet era the abduction of brides was punishable under a Criminal Code article entitled Crimes Constituting the Legacy of Local Customs. Punishment was established not only for bridegrooms, but also for the closest relatives of the bride involved in the affair. For instance, the parents of the bride who agreed to accept cash, livestock or other property in exchange faced the risk of being sent to jail for up to twelve months.

The article Crimes Constituting the Legacy of Local Customs was removed from the 1996 version of the Criminal Code.

In the Caucasus brides continue to be kidnapped these days. In particular, such incidents are frequent in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Islamic clergymen are emphatically against this old-time tradition, which looks very sage by European standards, too. “Canonically the abduction of brides is prohibited,” said the Imam-Khatib of the Moscow memorial mosque, Shamil Alyautdinov. “From the standpoint of Muslim laws this can be regarded as robbery. That young men continue to kidnap young women is a result of insufficient education and enlightenment.”

These days many young men think that abducting one’s bride is merely a way of winning acclaim as a brave hero and of earning greater respect among the age-mates. Some even film the abductions on their mobiles. Putting the video of a girl’s kidnapping on Youtube is considered as a special sign of bravery and valor. On the Internet one finds hundreds of such video clips accompanied by merry folk tunes.

The authorities have been doing their utmost to fight this phenomenon. On June 29, in the capital of Ingushetia, Magas, the local authorities and the board of muftis will hold a special conference against encroachments on the honor and rights of the person to consider what can be done against the tradition of stealing brides, the chief of the ethnic and religious relations department at the office of the head of the republic, Alikhan Nalgiyev, said.

“The conference will issue a special message to the residents of the republic. The elders will criticize the actions of young people abusing the honor and dignity of the person. The one responsible will even face the risk of being expelled from one’s clan, called teip,” he said.

Another measure may prove far more effective - the participants in the conference may address the republic’s Popular Assembly (legislature) with a request for setting a one-million-ruble fine for abducting brides.

“Even if the end goal is quite decent - marrying the young lady - the fine will have to be paid anyway. Otherwise, the culprit will be expelled from the hometown or native village,” Nalgiyev said, adding that the specific sum of the fine is still to be discussed.”

No confirmed statistics showing the real number of abductions in Ingushetia are available, but most probably such incidents number hundreds. In the village of Nasyr-Kort alone eight brides have been stolen over the past year. “One case was extremely outrageous. A young woman and her mother went to a local bazaar to buy wedding items. The girl was stolen on the way,” Nalgiyev said.

The Ingush parliament is prepared to discuss proposals the forthcoming conference may make. “Society’s attitude to this phenomenon is very negative. Any encroachment on the inviolability of the person, even if the excuse looks good enough, is a crime against the person. Such acts of wrongdoing must be liable to the operation of legal machinery and prevented,” says the leader of the United Russia party’s faction in the parliament of Ingushetia, Maryam Amriyeva.

Over two years ago, Ingushetia’s neighbor, Chechnya, took some drastic measures against the kidnappings of brides. The abductions of teen-age girls aged 13-15 were quite common. In the autumn of 2010 the head of the republic, Ramzan Kadryov, vowed he would uproot the abductions of young women forever.

The bridegroom is now an accomplice to the theft. He is obliged to pay one million rubles to the parents of the stolen bride. The priest involved in the secret wedding is to be brought to justice, too.

Abductions of brides are also frequent in Dagestan. Over the past eight years about 700 young women were kidnapped for marriage, but criminal cases were opened only in 17. All others ended with a wedding feast.

Dagestan’s state secretary, Takibat Makhmudova, says that “in our republic the stealing of brides evokes smiles, but in Russia the attitude is quite different.”

Experts say up to 25% of abductions happen with the bride’s consent. In most cases the mean reason for stealing the bride is simple - financial constraints. A wedding in the North Caucasus is an expensive affair and families with many children may just go broke. Brides’ expectations are impressive, too - the bridegroom is to have a good car, an apartment or home of one’s own and a good job. Lastly, for the stolen bride the bridegroom is not expected to pay the kalym (ransom for the bride).

Or possibly this is not so bad? After all, the ancient tradition helps those in love find their good fortune and happiness. At least some of the so-called “victims” are pretty certain about that.

Padam has been married for 30 years. The memories of the day when she was abducted by her future husband put a smile on her face. “I felt really scared. Stealing a girl in the Soviet era was a great feat. One ran the risk of ending up in jail,” the woman told the daily Novyie Izvestia. “But I have never felt sorry for a single day Agdam and I have been together. We have five grandsons and a daughter and 12 grandchildren. This is exactly what one calls happiness, isn’t it?”

Whatever the case, there is far more criminality in such abductions than romanticism.

“I dated my girl for about two years. We lived in the same village. Our marriage was due soon,” says Idris Absalamov, a resident of the Nogai district of Dagestan. “However, one day a guy from another village saw her, and he and his friends stole her. After that nothing could help. My love had to marry that other guy.”