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My Small, Slim Uzbek Wedding: Couples Rush To Marry As Coronavirus Lockdown Cuts Costs

Some Uzbeks who want big wedding receptions are finding ways around COVID-19 restrictions by throwing multiple parties. (file photo)
Some Uzbeks who want big wedding receptions are finding ways around COVID-19 restrictions by throwing multiple parties. (file photo)

When the Uzbek government recently eased its coronavirus restrictions and allowed wedding parties to be held -- though for just 30 people -- thousands of couples rushed to the registry offices for marriage licenses.

Videos obtained by RFE/RL show large crowds lining up at registry offices in Samarkand's Qushrabot and Kattaqurghon districts, defying the risk of coronavirus that has infected nearly 40,000 and killed hundreds in Central Asia's most-populous nation.

"I was 112th in line yesterday, and my turn hasn't come yet," a groom-to-be from Qushrabot told RFE/RL on August 19.

VIDEO: Uzbeks Rush To Get Marriage Licenses In Samarkand (RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, natural sound)

Uzbeks Rush To Get Marriage Licenses
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Civil registry officers around the country say they've received an unprecedented high volume of applications since the government gave the green light for small wedding parties on August 15.

"Only by midday today we got more than 50 applications for a marriage license -- it's a very high number," said a representative of the Uchtepa district civil registry office in the capital, Tashkent.

"We usually receive a maximum of 10 applications per day," the official added.

Officials are urging people to apply online, but according to groom-to-be Humoyun, many people prefer to come in person and do it the "old fashioned way."

"It takes much longer to get the license online," Humoyun, a resident of Tashkent's Mirobod district, told RFE/RL.

One Wedding, Nearly 80 Infections

Under the new restrictions, the number of people attending a wedding banquet cannot exceed 30 people, including the bride and groom.

All the attendees must be residents of the same district, meaning that even close relatives and friends aren't allowed to the party if they live in a different city.

The ceremonies must also meet social-distancing requirements and officials say that offenders can face various administrative penalties.

Other requirements are that the wedding party must be held in the host family's home, as opposed to restaurants, banquet halls, or the ubiquitous "tuyhona," special venues that cater to weddings and other private functions.

The rules are a massive downsizing for family-oriented Uzbek society, which has a long-standing tradition of lavish wedding parties with hundreds of guests, a convoy of cars, and a bountiful offering of food and drinks.

From June, Uzbekistan had tentatively allowed 30-person private gatherings in some so-called "green areas" where the number of coronavirus infections was considerably lower than other regions.

But the government said people were ignoring those restrictions and continued to throw big parties that led to the spread of COVID-19 among their guests.

In early July, 79 infections were traced to a single wedding in Tashkent's Yunusobod district.

Separately, 110 cases were linked to four other wedding parties, Health Minister Alisher Shodmonov said.

President Shavkat Mirziyoev called on Uzbeks not to repeat those mistakes and to strictly obey the new rules.

Ways Around Restrictions

But many wedding-loving Uzbeks are trying to find ways around the restrictions.

Shodmonov said some families have hosted as many as three separate wedding receptions, each with different groups of guests.

Central Asians have traditionally large families and often the number of close relatives easily exceeds the 30-person limit.

"I have four brothers and a sister and all of them have their own spouses and children. My husband too, has several siblings. It's already more than 30 people," said Marufa, the mother of the groom in one Tashkent wedding.

"Obviously, the bride's side has its own relatives. Apart from that, the bride and groom have close friends who you must invite," Marufa told RFE/RL.

Last year, the government had -- to some extent -- downsized Uzbeks' extravagant weddings, adopting a regulation that curbs the number of guests, vehicles used in wedding convoys, and music bands performing at the party, among other limits.

That regulation came after Mirziyoev in 2018 criticized what he called "shameless" and wasteful weddings that drove poorer families deep into debt or put them in poverty.

Welcome Relief

The latest restrictions dictated by COVID-19 became a welcome relief to many households that struggle financially.

"It spares us from hosting a wedding that we wouldn't be able afford otherwise," said Mavludakhon, from the eastern city of Kokand. Her son is getting married soon and the downsized wedding means the family doesn't have to borrow money for the reception.

"We already told the bride's side they can invite 20 people if they want. From our side, it'll be just the family and perhaps two or three neighbors," she said.

Facebook user "Gulnora Guli" wrote that "the 30-person wedding is the coronavirus's silver lining" in Uzbekistan.

"You trimmed down our weddings, coronavirus," Guli wrote.

One way or another, Uzbekistan is likely to see many more weddings in the coming days.

Mavludakhon's family wants to use the opportunity "before the big weddings make a comeback."

In Mirobod, the groom-to-be Humoyun fears that, if he doesn't rush ahead with his wedding, "another lockdown might come and force people to postpone their ceremonies once again" if the government bans nuptial ceremonies as it did previously.

As of August 26, Uzbekistan had reported nearly 40,000 coronavirus infection cases among its population of more than 33 million people.