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WOMEN AND POWER : Case Study: Marriage : Bridal Kidnaping Still a Tradition in Georgia : Old ways change slowly in the new nation. But today, 'we have more freedom of choice now. We don't have to stay with the guy,' a university student explains.


TBILISI, Georgia — Irina Hachapuridze agreed to go to a movie with a casual male acquaintance one summer afternoon 10 years ago, she had no idea she was embarking on an adventure more captivating than anything on screen. Three days later, the 18-year-old college student came back married.

"That day (of the movie date) was his mother's birthday, and as he was leaving the house that morning, he told her that he would bring back a great present for her," Hachapuridze said of her husband, Irakli. "That present was me--a daughter-in-law."

When they arrived in Irakli's isolated Caucasus Mountain village, a lavish nuptial feast had already been prepared and "all his friends were there making a toast to us," Hachapuridze recalled. "I thought, 'I'm about to become a bride.' But I wasn't afraid, because I knew I wouldn't be the first woman in Georgia to get married that way and I knew I wouldn't be the last."

In this romantic, turbulent land nestled between the Black and Caspian seas, between Europe and Asia, the ancient ritual of motatseba-- kidnaping a bride--remains as much a part of life as it was centuries ago.

In medieval Georgia, fierce mountain men often absconded with unwilling brides, wrapping them in a cloak, throwing them onto a horse and galloping off into the hills--with the young woman's father and brothers hot on the trail.

Although modern-day suitors use a car rather than a horse, many other aspects of the ritual remain the same. A kidnaped bride's male relatives still occasionally maim or even kill her abductor in defense of her honor.

Hachapuridze's story had a happy ending. Not only was there no violence, but the woman, now a doctor, remains happily married to her mathematician husband a decade later. Others are not so fortunate.

Because of the cultural importance placed on a bride's virginity, women who are raped by their kidnapers rarely report the crime to the police. And they often feel they have no choice but to marry their abductors.

"If a woman is raped and she goes back to her house, her name is soiled, her reputation is ruined," said a 23-year-old medical student who married her abductor but later divorced him.

The woman, who identified herself only as Tamriko, said: "I knew if I came home, all sorts of ugly rumors would have started about me, and there would have been endless conflict with my parents, so I decided to stay with him. No one ever blames the guy. They always blame the girl."

Other women say they were forced by their parents to marry their kidnapers. Rusudan, a 41-year-old associate professor of physics who asked that only her first name be used, recalled her abduction and rape 24 years ago:

"I didn't resist. I thought if I gave in, he would let me go home. He said that he would keep me there a month if I didn't sleep with him. He said he knew it was his only chance, that I would have to marry him if I slept with him. I knew I would go crazy if I had to stay there with him a month, so I let him do what he wanted. I made up my mind that I would never marry him. But when my father came, and I told him what happened, he said: 'He is your husband now. You have to stay with him.' "

She did, until last year.

Referring to her 17-year-old daughter, who knows nothing about the incident, Rusudan added: "If it happened to her, after what I went through, I would never tell her she had to marry the man. How can you ruin the life of a young girl just so her neighbors won't think badly of her? Is that normal?"

The pressure is particularly intense on women from the most traditional families.

"If I were raped, I would have to hide it from my father and brothers," said Tamuna Gogasidze, 19, who was kidnaped by a classmate recently. "If they found out about it, I would probably have to marry the guy. Maybe I would divorce him later on, but at that moment I would have to stay with him.

"Virginity is a big issue here," she added. "It's terrible. Just imagine, if you love someone, you can't sleep with him, but if some stranger kidnaps you, you may have to spend the rest of your life with him."

Psychologists say one reason men engage in motatseba is that they are afraid of losing the object of their affections to another man.

"If the girl has many suitors, and the guy thinks that his chances are slim, it's one way to win the competition," said Archil Natmeladze, a psychologist at the Institute of Clinical Neurology in Tbilisi. "It's the quickest way to win the prize."

Bidzina Chikonmiya, a 20-year-old student at the University of Tbilisi who is studying international law, said he kidnaped his 19-year-old girlfriend two years ago after hearing rumors that another man was in love with her and was planning to do so. But, once in captivity, his girlfriend became so angry that he began having second thoughts.

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