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Niyazov Marriage Tax
Only money can buy you love if you're a foreigner intent on taking a Turkmen bride.
The latest ruling issued by President Saparmurat Niyazov, aka Turkmenbashi, father of the Turkmen, decrees that a foreigner must pay 50,000 US dollars to marry a Turkmen woman.
The official line for the marriage tax is that the paternal president wants to protect Turkmen girls from being lured into prostitution. The money is supposed to be paid into the state insurance company where it will be safeguarded in case the marriage fails and the children need to be cared for.
Decree Number 3407 has had a mixed reception inside the country. For some, like Durdy Kylychev who teaches history in the village of Niyazov, it is unnecessary since women rarely marry outside of their own tribe much less to a foreigner.
"Take me for example," said Kylychev. "I am a Turkmen from the Taka tribe and I married a Taka woman. A Turkmen from the Yavmuti will marry an Yavmuti woman."
Nevertheless, he believes the president has got his heart in the right place. "Turkmenistan is like a big family and if the Great Serdar (Great Chief) Turkmenbashi is caring for his daughters, what's wrong with that," he continued, adding that it is all due to the president's diligence that the country has so far managed to officially evade the scourge of AIDS.
Others are a little more sceptical about the motivations behind Decree 3407, believing it was issued to protect the country's female carpet makers. Such women are prized as wives and come to marriage with significant dowries. Plenty of Turkmen would resent them leaving the country, practising their lucrative skills abroad.
"The president's decree is meant to stop our girls becoming servants to foreigners," said Bairam, a carpet trader who says he knows of Iranian men who have married Turkmen women for the purpose of setting them up with a loom back home.
Turkmenbashi may also have been trying to thwart those members of the country's diaspora returning to pick up a bride and return to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan or Iran which has the largest Turkmen community outside Turkmenistan.
Kuranbai Matniazov, a writer living in neighbouring Uzbekistan, deplores the legislation. What about love, he asks. "If a guy from Uzbekistan falls in love with a girl from Turkmenistan, the only chance of consummating their love would be to flee the country and risk getting shot by border guards," he said.
Matniazov recalled the Turkmen folklore tale "Oshik Garib va Shokhsanam" in which the lovers Tohir and Zuhra are kept apart by the villain Karabatyr because they come from different countries. "By his decree, the President is acting the role of Karabatyr," Matniazov said.
Turkmen families in the northern village of Niyazov have traditionally married off their daughter to ethnic Turkmen in the Khoresm region of Uzbekistan. "The new decree is simply a blow to established traditions," said Matiakub Ruzmetov who lives on the Uzbek side of the border.
"I wanted to marry my son to a friend's daughter from Niyazov. We even had a wedding planned for autumn. What will happen now? It would take me more than 50 years to save up 50,000 dollars."
People are well-used to the president's penchant for passing idiosyncratic decrees, such as obliging every house to fly the Turkmen flag.
But, it seems, not so many people are aware of the latest edict. "People have stopped reading newspapers," explained a vendor. "They are published in the Turkmen Latin script. Many can't read this and can't even afford to buy a copy anyway."
As evening fell in Niyazov, a group of us walked towards the Uzbek border and watched as a group of women sat listening to a wedding celebration on the Turkmen side. It was a song of unrequited love.
Abdulla Iskanderov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Uzbekistan
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