A botched bride kidnapping and what appears to be police negligence has left a young woman dead in Kyrgyzstan.
According to media reports, 20-year-old Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy was stabbed to death by a 29-year-old man who had abducted her twice. The stabbing occurred inside a police station outside Bishkek, raising sharp criticism of the police and how they handle bride kidnapping cases.
The young woman’s relatives told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service that she had plans to marry a man — referred to as “N” — in August but in April a minibus driver in her Bishkek neighborhood took a liking to her and kidnapped her. Turdaaly Kyzy’s family found her and prevented a forced marriage. Fearful, the young woman moved in with an aunt in another district. She returned to her home village, Sosnovka, about 20 miles outside Bishkek on May 27 to spend some of Ramadan with her family.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Turdaaly Kojonaliev, the young woman’s father, told RFE/RL that the minibus driver abducted her a second time when she was on the way to the store in Sosnovka. The father attempted to trail them and contacted the police:
Several hours later, Kojonaliev spoke to his daughter by phone from the police precinct where she had been detained along with her abductor. She said she was unhurt.
When her father arrived at the police precinct, officials said that Turdaaly Kyzy and her abductor had been allowed by investigators to be alone in a room together, for unknown reasons…
Kojonaliev said the attacker had not only stabbed Turdaaly but carved into her body her initials and that of her fiancé.
“When I examined the body of my daughter, I saw that [the initials] N and B and a cross were cut into it with a knife,” he told RFE/RL.
Unsurprisingly, many are placing blame on the police for Turdaaly Kyzy’s death. Mambetaly Turdumamatov, the district prosecutor told RFE/RL, “The police officers showed negligence and did not fulfill their assigned duties… How did the suspect bring the knife to the police station? Where did the knife come from?”
The issue of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan is extremely sensitive, with undercurrents of culture, tradition, modernity, and women’s rights complicating how it is discussed. Some Western media (for example, a cringe-worthy Vice documentary from 2011) tend to paradoxically both overstate and trivialize bride kidnapping, portraying it in an orientalist tone (akin to saying, “look at this weird Eastern practice”) while also making it sound like every married woman in Kyrgyzstan was kidnapped.
Anecdotally, I’ve witnessed just how uncomfortable talking about bride kidnapping with Kyrgyz can be. While in Kyrgyzstan a few years ago, the topic of bride kidnapping came up among the group I was traveling with. The Kyrgyz women in the group were reluctant to discuss the issue, with one dismissing it outright.
The death of Turdaaly Kyzy, however, underscores the fact that bride kidnapping does occur.
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan posted a statement on behalf of the UN system in the country expressing concern about the reports of the woman’s kidnapping and murder.
“According to the latest available data in Kyrgyzstan, 13.8 percent of women aged under 24 married through some forms of coercion,” the statement reads. “Practices such as bride kidnapping, forced marriage or Ala-Kachuu do not belong to the culture and tradition of Kyrgyzstan but are a violation of the rights of vulnerable people.”
The statement goes on to note that Kyrgyzstan “has taken significant steps to strengthen its laws such as the prohibition to perform child religious marriages” but comments that “more work needs to be done in the prevention and prosecution of perpetrators as well as ensuring the protection of victims.”
Laws on the books mean nothing if police dismiss the concerns of young woman and their families. As the RFE/RL report notes, “Women and human rights defenders have long complained that police, prosecutors ignore such complaints [about bride kidnapping], or often try to force the two sides to resolve the matter peacefully between themselves.”