The head of a prominent Women’s NGO said “Bride kidnapping does not exist in Armenia”, a direct contradiction to the reality throughout Armenia. Indeed on the surface, a bystander would agree; in the public sphere bride kidnapping is neither talked about nor studied. However, through the medium of independent surveys and interviews, data was collected which revealed an overwhelming prevalence of this silent but powerful legacy in Armenia.
A pilot research scheme was conducted by Christopher Edling from Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and Goris Women's Development Resource Center Foundation (GWRC) to collect research and data about bride kidnapping practiced in Armenia today. The information presented in this article is due to the hard work of these individuals.
Christopher Edling’s final report revealed the various forms of abductions, ranging from romantic elopement to coercive abduction. The interviews of kidnapped women expose the complex portraits of young people, often acting under duress. The aim of Edling’s insightful report is not only to exhibit how and why bride kidnapping happens in Armenia, but also to give a dialogue to women whose experiences have been absent. A sentiment shared by Restless Beings ‘voicing the voiceless’.
163 female respondents took part in the survey, the most shocking revelation of the research was that more than half (54.6%) of women report having been kidnapped at some point in their lives, with 65% of the victims claiming to know others who have been kidnapped. These figures include women who eventually returned home. However sadly the majority 96.6% of women marry their “kidnappers”. The figures illustrate the power of social pressure and communal stigmatisation.
Research further revealed reasons which motivate men to initiate kidnappings. It was claimed they perform abductions to obtain marriage in the face of some obstacle: family disapproval, financial difficulty or fear of being rejected. Although these insecurities humanise the predator to some extent, it is alarming how far these insecurities drive them. To the extent that the needs of the victims become collateral damage.
Once the kidnapping has been performed, the victims sometimes choose to stay with the kidnapper out of love, believing the man is a good potential husband, wanting marriage or social disapproval, family rejection and feeling she has no other viable option. Christopher Edling accurately states that bride kidnapping is akin to an institution of desperation for both parties – a “lesser evil” alternative to more undesirable paths.
The report revealed two commonly recurring attitudes, “I am happy now; I've accepted my fate”, combined with a hopeless feeling that the method of getting married is irrelevant. The alternative feeling is simply a negative and unhappy feeling towards kidnapping in general. Both attitudes are a cause for distress, no one should have to convince themselves to live half or a lesser life. The right to marry voluntarily and be happy is an elementary right.
This entrenched unspoken institution should not direct the reader to look disapprovingly on these vibrant communities. We must not forget that this practice originated as a romantic consensual process with positive emotions of excitement and love attached. However, somewhere along the line this has been distorted due to financial, political and social pressures.