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Skype Marriages: Young Tajiks Use Video Chats To Tie The Knot


Shahnoza Idrisova (left) and her new mother-in-law perform a wedding ritual during her Internet nuptials last month.

Shahnoza Idrisova (left) and her new mother-in-law perform a wedding ritual during her Internet nuptials last month.

Shahnoza Idrisova, a 27-year-old economist from the Tajik capital, proudly displays her wedding photo. In it, she is dressed in white and accepting a white bowl of water from her new mother-in-law, a ritual normally performed by both bride and groom.

Her groom, however, is nowhere to be seen.

That's because the photo was taken minutes after the couple exchanged marriage vows via video chat service.

Theirs might not be the most high-tech country in the world, but when it comes to family matters, Idrisova and other young Tajiks seem to be taking full advantage of new technology.

It is that adaptability -- in a country where a wave of SMS divorces prompted Islamic leaders to issue a fatwa against such annulments -- that has religious authorities and social conservatives bracing for a new trend: marriage via Skype.

In Idrisova's case, surrounded by both sets of parents and witnesses in her Dushanbe home, she looked on as a local mullah performed nikah, the Islamic marriage ceremony. The groom, Parviz, was "present" on a laptop screen.

"It was a normal wedding with a wedding dress, guests, and an elaborate meal," Idrisova says of her June nuptials. "The only difference was that Parviz was in Tunisia at that moment."

The couple exchanged rings a month later, when Idrisova moved to Tunisia, where her new husband works as a translator on a five-year contract.

"We'd been dating for 10 years when Parviz got a job contract and abruptly left abroad earlier this year," Idrisova says. "My father didn't allow me to join him without being married to him. We didn't want to wait another five years until he returns, so Skype marriage was the solution."

Idrisova says that "like all other Tajiks," they performed nikah out of their own religious beliefs.

Tajikistan is a predominantly Muslim, socially conservative country, where cohabitation outside of wedlock is frowned upon.

But the Central Asian country is also a major source of cheap migrant labor in nearby states like Russia and Kazakhstan, and farther abroad. Official Russian figures indicate that at least 1.2 million Tajik migrants are working in Russia, out of Tajikistan's population of 8.5 million.

Disputed Validity

Skype marriages are even taking place in rural Tajikistan, where people are more religiously conservative.

Alambi Murodova, a housewife from Tursunzoda, west of Dushanbe, has a 29-year-old son living in Canada who recently got married via Skype.

She says the Russian-language social network Odnoklassniki brought together her son, Saidehson, and his 24-year-old bride, Sayora, who is from his native village.

The couple courted online for two years before getting married in a ceremony that included a modest banquet in Tursunzoda and a nikah ceremony that spanned the 10,000 kilometers between Tajikistan and Canada.

"Like any parent, I dreamed of my son's wedding, but he couldn't come home for financial and visa reasons," Murodova says.

The couple began married life apart, with Sayora living with her in-laws in Tursunzoda and her husband staying in North America. But they plan eventually to unite as husband and wife in Canada.

Murodova says Saidehson has been trying to obtain a visa for his new wife.

It won't be a family-reunification visa, however, as Skype marriages are not officially recognized in Tajikistan.

The staunchly secular Tajik government also refuses to recognize Islamic religious marriages -- even when both bride and groom are physically present at the nikah ceremony -- unless the couple first marries at the Civil Registry Office.

Tajiks generally perform nikah after official ceremonies.

Some Tajik mullahs also dispute the validity of Skype marriages on religious grounds.

But many Tajiks believe Skype marriages are here to stay.

"If bride and groom are compatible, marriage will work out well, it doesn't matter how they met and how they got married -- on the Internet or in the city," says Marhabo Zununova, head of the Family and Marriage Center in Dushanbe.

"There are many happily married Tajik couples who met online and got married. Skype marriages will be a norm, too, eventually," Zununova said.

Zununova, however, warns that dating and marrying strangers via the Internet raises the risk of human trafficking, "especially when it involves undereducated young girls."

There are no official statistics on how many Tajiks have married via Skype, but RFE/RL's Tajik Service spoke to five couples who said they performed nikah through the video chat service.

All of them are in their 20s or early 30s.

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