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Inter-ethnic marriages more common in southern Kyrgyzstan
Marriages demonstrate tolerance in the region.
By Bakyt Ibraimov
OSH – The number of inter-ethnic couples is growing in Osh and the adjacent regions, Kyrgyz authorities say, as the marriages are gaining more and more support in society, they added.
"This positive tendency strengthens inter-ethnic relations and has a positive influence on the process of building peace after the June 2010 events [ethnic riots that killed more than 400 people in the south]," Gulmira Erkulova, chief of the Social and Cultural Development Department in the Osh mayor's office, told Central Asia Online.
To encourage inter-ethnic harmony, Osh throughout 2011 gave one-time cash awards of 100,000 KGS (about $2,000) to young couples comprising ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek spouses.
"[We] made payments to couples marrying for the first time and possessing a local residence permit," Erkulova said. The number of inter-ethnic marriages in Osh has been growing every year since the riots, Uriya Kurmanaliyeva, chief specialist of the Osh Office of Vital Statistics, told Central Asia Online.
"Only seven inter-ethnic marriages were registered in Osh in 201; in 2012, 40 such couples tied the knot; and in the first four months of 2013, there have already been 22 of these marriages," she said.
Most such marriages are Kyrgyz-Uzbek, she said, but other pairings have occurred.
Overcoming relatives' objections
Inter-ethnic couples discussed the idea that some social barriers still exist to their marriages, but they also said that they would like to set the example for future generations.
Cholponbai Bakirov, an ethnic Kyrgyz, and Rano, an ethnic Uzbek, decided to marry this year even though some of their relatives disliked the idea.
"The main thing in life is love and respect for one another," Bakirov said. "I hope ... that our marriage will become an example for other young people."
Nurlan, an ethnic Kyrgyz man, married Sevara, an ethnic Uzbek, back in 2007. They consider their marriage a success, even though some wished them ill.
"We have two children, and our family is strong and happy," Nurlan said. "We celebrate the holidays that Kyrgyz and Uzbeks share, and our religious rituals are the same, because we're all Muslims."
The unions are also said to strengthen the social fabric.
"Inter-ethnic marriages have more positive aspects, if you take into account that such unions teach all the members of the family to have tolerance and understanding for members of other ethnic groups; in short, they help to improve relations not only between ethnic groups but between countries too," Avazkan Ormonova, head of the DIA (Demilgeluu ishker ayaldar – Entrepreneurial Striving Women) Foundation, told Central Asia Online.
Inter-ethnic families can speed the resolution of ethnic problems, she said, arguing that such families carry different peoples' cultures and histories, thus stimulating co-operation between ethnicities.
"Inter-ethnic marriages can have their difficulties, but if people love each other, it is quite possible to solve all issues connected to the traditions or culture of one ethnic group or another," Ormonova said. "Their families are strong and healthy. ... The main thing is that they're all tolerant and patient, which is a positive factor in the heterogeneous society in southern Kyrgyzstan."
Differences between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are small, so such marriages can only help improve the sharing of traditions between communities, Lililya Ismanova, a specialist from the women's NGO Meerban, said.
"Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have the same religion, their languages are similar, and some of their customs are identical, so such marriages are not surprising," she said. "This has always been happening, but it was not particularly publicised. Anyway, since the [ethnic riots] of June 2010, we can only rejoice that there has been an increase in such marriages."
All strata of society who happen to share the same geographic region are marrying inter-ethnically because such proximity brings on integration and fusion of cultures, Ismanova said.
Such marriages should be welcomed not only locally but nationally because they are an antidote to ethnic chauvinism and improve inter-ethnic relations, she added.