I AM JAMILIA
Artist: Irina Unruh
Video duration: 05:51
'A good marriage starts with tears,' states a famous Kyrgyz proverb. Although I am originally from Kyrgyzstan, I began to understand the deeper meaning behind this famous Kyrgyz proverb when I met Jamilia in a small village in Kyrgyzstan. She is named after the main character from the renown novel, “Jamilia", by Chingiz Aitmatov. It is a story of two young lovers who leave their village and break a strong tradition to live together - a tender and melancholic story on the power of love. I grew up with the awareness of "Ala Kachuu," which means "grab and run." Bride-napping is a common custom. Some of my mother’s best friends were kidnapped for marriage even during Soviet times. She remembers clearly how her friends suffered from this fate.
When I was 9, my family immigrated to Germany in 1988. I visited Kyrgyzstan in 2008 for the first time and was sure that the custom of Ala Kachuu no longer existed, believing it a part of the past like the Soviet Union. And then I met Jamilia and realized Ala Kachuu was still claiming many victims. According to the latest available data in Kyrgyzstan, around 12,000 to 15,000 women are kidnapped for marriage each year.
I traveled throughout Kyrgyzstan to meet women and learn of their personal stories of Ala Kachuu. To better understand the custom, I also met five Kyrgyz women who have emigrated to see if one can be free of its implications by living abroad. Each of these women use technology to help encourage and empower young women in Kyrgyzstan. They all feel responsible for their native country and are a role models for other Kyrgyz women back home.
© Irina Unruh