Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Azerbaijanis Seek Foreign Partners

Social taboos are slowly being lifted on women marrying men from other countries.
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Kenul Hasanova has met the man she intends to marry only three times, but that does not concern her. Kenul got to know Muhammed through an Internet chat-room. He is an Iranian Azerbaijani fifteen years older than her, living in Switzerland.



Part of an increasing trend of Azerbaijani women seeking foreign partners, Kenul defends her choice of husband-to-be.



“I don’t regard Muhammed as a foreigner,” she said. “After all we share the same faith and nationality and he observes all our customs. In the last two years, he’s visited Baku three times with his parents.



“The first time they met my family, the second time he proposed, on his third visit we were engaged. And now the wedding is very close. Soon we will marry and go and live in Switzerland.”



Experts note that the main reasons for such unions is a big gender imbalance in the country; an ambition to live in a more developed country; and greater tolerance within Azerbaijani society.



“The number of women in Azerbaijan has exceeded the number of men for many years,” said Aihan Mehtiev, director of the Centre for Sociological Research in Baku. “The data from the State Statistics Committee for 2005 shows that the correlation is 56 to 44 per cent. Moreover, according to a survey we conducted, 70 per cent of those who have left to work abroad are men.



“Among them are many unmarried men who later marry foreigners. And there are many who have abandoned their family in Azerbaijan and got married again.



“For these reasons many of our girls simply have no one to start a family with.”



Azerbaijani men have traditionally chosen wives of other nationalities, typically Russians, Georgians and Armenians. But there have been greater social restrictions on women marrying foreigners.



Mehpara Yagubova recounts the troubles she had when she told her family she was intending to marry a non-Azerbaijani she met at Moscow University.



“Eighteen years ago when I came home for the holidays and said that I was planning to marry my classmate and that he was an Afghan, my parents were in shock,” she said. “My father said that he would not allow it. I obeyed, but I said that in that case they should forget about me getting married at all.”



In the end, Mehpara married her boyfriend, but none of her family came to the wedding. They now live in Moscow.



The current generation of Azerbaijani young women say they experience less prejudice than their predecessors. And they have the advantage of being able to use the Internet or marriage agencies to find distant partners.



Tamila Putnikova, who runs the Nigakh marriage agency in Baku, said that the majority of her clients are looking for well-off Muslim husbands living in Europe or America.



For example, Gulya Talybova-Badrani married Farruh, an Arab, whom she met in London. “Farruh attracted me by his piety,” she said. “With his help I saw Islam anew and began to practice all its precepts. We’ve been together for eight years and we are bringing up two children. I am very happy with him.”



The number of Azerbaijani women marrying foreigners in Baku’s Palace of Happiness - the only location where a foreigner is allowed to have a wedding in Azerbaijan - is still relatively low. There were 27 such ceremonies in the palace in 2005, in 24 of which the Azerbaijani partner was female.



Most of the Azerbaijani wives are heading straight abroad. Metin Mirza, a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry, said that the ministry gets many applications from Azerbaijanis wanting to leave the country to marry and that most of the weddings happen in the husband’s country of origin.



Lamia Bagirova married her husband Osman Kadyr, a Turkish citizen, three years ago. They also met via the Internet. Now she regrets her decision and said she faces an agonising problem over divorcing him.



“We corresponded online for more than a year and Osman told me to come to Igdir where he lives and get married there,” she said. “My parents were against the idea but I took the risk. We got married and soon a son was born. But I quickly realised I had made a big mistake.”



Lamia has now returned home but has not received a divorce. She says she is being told that if she gives up her child, she will get a divorce.



Shafag Abdulova is still looking for her elusive foreign suitor. “I chat online with several foreigners,” she said. “But I have not accepted any offers yet. I wouldn’t think long over marriage with a foreigner. Even if I don’t like him you can always get divorced. The main thing is to leave here.”



Samira Ahmedbeili is a freelance journalist in Baku.

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