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Turkmenistan: Bride Tax Forces Women Into Exile

Turkmen women flee to Uzbekistan to get around decree that places too high a price on their happiness.
By IWPR staff

Many young women are sneaking over the border with Uzbekistan to live illegally with their lovers because few can afford the 50,000 US dollar "bride tax" demanded of any foreigner wishing to marry a Turkmen citizen.

The Uzbek town of Talimarjan - which lies in the Kashkadarya region, bordering the Lyabab area of Turkmenistan - has given refuge to many young Turkmen women who have decided to run away with their Uzbek boyfriends, in defiance of both their families’ wishes and those of President Saparmurat Niazov.

They claim that they had no other choice if they were to be happy, as their partners could not possibly afford the tax demanded by the Turkmen authorities.

A presidential decree, which made the payment obligatory for all foreign citizens wishing to marry Turkmen women, has been in force since the summer of 2001. The money is ostensibly an insurance policy designed to provide for the couple’s children, should their marriage end in divorce or separation. Foreigners must also provide proof that they have lived in the republic for not less than a year, and own property there.

While it was initially treated as something of a joke, the decree has become a real problem for some young people and their families.

These include Uzbek man Baimarali Haidarov and his Turkmen girlfriend Ulbuldy Kuldasheva, who met and fell in love in September 2001. There was no way that the young man and his family could afford to pay the bride tax, so Ulbuldy was forced to leave home if the couple were to be together.

Having sneaked over the border to Uzbekistan, Ulbuldy then found herself living as an illegal immigrant, and the couple were unable to register their marriage.

This will lead to real difficulties when they decide to have children, as the latter will not be entitled to a birth certificate – which means they may be denied state education and social benefits.

Ozoda Halilova also left Turkmenistan to be with her Uzbek boyfriend, and has lived happily with him in Talimarjan without a passport or visa for several years now.

“I married Fahriddin Khojaev out of love, but as I had to leave in great secrecy, I came to Uzbekistan illegally and we cannot register our marriage," she explained. "We now have two children, and neither has a birth certificate.”

Her husband told IWPR that in addition to the bride tax, Ozoda’s family had demanded a dowry of 36 sheep, 36 dresses for the bride and 600 dollars. This, he said, was so far beyond his means that the couple were left with little choice but to elope.

“We loved each other,” he said. "We wanted to be together, but to do this I was forced to take Ozoda away without her family’s consent.”

Nursat Rahimova, a specialist on family problems in the Talimarjan city administration, blames the Turkmen women for the tricky situation many find themselves in, arguing that they should have come to Uzbekistan on an official visa, which would have allowed them to register their marriages.

Turkmen women are reluctant to apply for Uzbek visas because they fear this would alert the authorities and their families to their intentions.

Marriage registry official Nasiba Ishankulova said that as the Turkmen women have no visa, they run the risk of being forcibly returned, “Essentially, they are living on the territory of Uzbekistan illegally, and the local police have every right to deport them.”

Nodir Ahadov from the Kashkadarya department of the Uzbekistan Human Rights Society describes the situation that many young people find themselves in as crazy, "Why should young people have to renounce their feelings for each other because of the insane decisions of presidents?”