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KYRGYZSTAN:People, Mental Health,traditions and Bride Stealing
KYRGYZSTAN on the Silk Route
Kyrgyzstan is a small country nestled in the Tian Shan mountains between Kazakhstan to the north, China via the Silk Road to the East, Uzbekistan to the West and Tajikistan to the South.It was a key part of the silk route with a population of traders, farmers and a lot of horsemen.
Horses Running Down the Streets
In some of the small towns we visited out in the countryside few streets were paved and many homes lacked electricity or running water. There were very few cars in these towns. However they had lots and lots of ponies and horses. In one town a small herd of horses ran around the streets like dogs used to run around my neighbourhood when I was a kid.
Now the country is trying to rebuild their economy and develop a functioning democracy following the end of their previous Russian control and economic support. There has been political unrest and a lot of corruption so far. Also there us some anti government violence in the south of the country.
In the past few years a brief "revolt" brought in a new president. The small tourism industry is developing with sightseeing, trekking and good mountaineering. Canada has invested in expanding mineral and gold mines above the holy lake.
There is also very active trade with China over the old silk route. In parts of Bishkek and in many cities and towns, Saudi Arabia is financing the building of silver domed modern designed Mosques and Islamic schools. Competing Christian groups from the West try to spread Christianity. There were two big military bases when we visited, one American and one Russian.
Our small contribution to Mental Health Rights in Kyrgyzstan
I was lucky to go to Bishkek with Marie-Belle who was on assignment for a Canadian International Development Project. The goal was to help some Bishkek mental health professionals, mental health consumers and their parents gain civil rights and basic human rights for mental patients. My partner Marie-Belle worked with these local groups to successfully expand human rights and civil liberties for mental health consumers who had been in a slave like position previously.
I was free to talk with people, teach some art therapy, and give some presentations to professionals and politicians on the legal and support services for mental health consumers in Vancouver B.C.
BISKEK-Modern multi cultural city.
The modern capital Bishkek is in the northern part of the country It has a strong Russian influence in its tall cement somewhat dull buildings which contrast with the colorful central square, lively markets and mixed ethnic population.Kyrgyzstan is mainly Muslim with a variety of ethnic groups but there are considerable numbers of Russians since China gave Kyrgyzstan to Russia in 1876. In the twentieth century under the USSR, Russian language was taught. Schools, universities and medical services were developed. The people of Kyrgyzstan built urban centers in Bishkek and Osh and achieved a high level of literacy and professional skills.
The main city of the south Osh is more traditional and somewhat unsettled due to a bit of terrorism mainly attributed to Radical Islamists. We were advised not to go there. Since our visit conflict has continued between Usbecks and the Kurgyz populations.
Even one of our Colleagues has suffered from BRIDE KIDNAPPING
We were very surprised the learn of the traditional practice of Bride Kidnapping. Though deemed illegal in 1994 apparently this practice continues in Kyrgyzstan. One of the psychiatrists we worked with who was very well educated and respected told us she had been bride kidnapped against her will to a man she could never get along with.Other bright professional women-doctors,therapists, nurses told us the same story. In some cases the marriage was arranged with the girls father behind her back..
BRIDE KIDNAPPING BY HORSE
In the days of horse culture a young man would decide which girl he wished to marry. he would track her until he found her alone or away from home with few friends. Then he would ride up on his horse, pull her up onto the horse with him, and take her home to his mother. The girl would be forced to marry the young man. Even if she escaped her honor would be lost and no other man would want to marry her. Sometimes this bride kidnapping would be done with the approval of the father of the young girl.
BRIDE KIDNAPPING BY TAXI
In modern times a taxi is used instead of a horse.We were told of one young woman who's aunt heard of the bride kidnapping plans. This aunt warned the young girl and helped her escape from Bishkek to Osh. After a while the kidnapper got tired of looking for the girl who was hiding out. He decided to bride kidnap another girl. So the first girl could come out of hiding and go home.
Not all Marriages are Bride Kidnapping Events
Not all weddings happen through bride kidnapping. Sometimes the young man and woman wish to marry but are not sure of parental approval so they plan an elopement which is called a kidnapping.This is confusing .
We also met a young PhD. psychologist. She had met her husband at university. They fell in love, got their parents permission and had a wedding by mutual consent. She told us this type of mutually consensual marriage started in the time of the Russians and was becoming more prevalent.