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Discuss that Ethnographic knowledge is never value-neutral, although it can appear to be
so when it is obtained through scholarly or scientific enquiries (HIRSCH) in reference to
contemporary interventions to prevent bride kidnapping (ala kachuu) in Kyrgyzstan.

Ethnographic fieldwork is a method of gaining new knowledge. Positivists try to be value-
neutral or objective. Interpretivists are subjective, accepting that values are important and
that their own cannot always be avoided. Critical social researchers discover flaws and faults
in societies, and find ways of dealing with these by studying the oppressed by giving them a
voice (OReiley, 2009, p.65). These paradigms are the different ways we understand social
reality and the nature of knowledge. It is my view that ethnographic knowledge in
contemporary interventions to prevent bride kidnapping are not value-neutral because
interventions preventing the practice aim to bring about change. Social critical researchers,
who create the interventions, do not seek to merely understand the practice, but challenge
it. My reasons to appeal in favour of this are displayed through my discussions of the
conflict between cultural and human rights, the differing values of Kyrgyz and non-Kyrgyz
peoples, and the complex social arrangements in Kyrgyz society which are not completely
understood or accepted by all.

The history of bride kidnapping is a controversial issue in Kyrgyzstan. The practice was
originally called kiss the girl (kyzkummay) where a Kyrgyz man would set eyes upon his
potential future bride and ask her fathers permission to challenge her in a horse race. If the
father agreed, the girl would get a fifteen second head start with a whip to resist being
captured. If successfully captured, the man earns the right to ask her hand in marriage (Leo,
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2013, p.4). Currently, the practice bride kidnapping (ala kachuu) comes in many forms. The
typical abduction is portrayed by a man abducting a girl with his friends in a car, bringing her
to his house where his female relatives persuade her to accept the marriage via a marriage
scarf. This can take up to hours as the potential bride resists from placing the marriage scarf
on her head. Once accepted, she moves into the grooms house, leaving her family and any
previous obligations. Other varieties of the practice include the kidnapping being criminal
abduction and rape, or an elopement where the girl is involved with the kidnapping because
the couple are enacting their desires of marriage and to avoid bride price (Borbieva, 2007,
p.124). Some kidnappings do create happy couples but it is thought that marriages
conducted in this way increase rates of domestic abuse, divorce and suicide (Vice, 2012).

Ala kachuu was outlawed during the Soviet era and still remains illegal, but since
Kyrgyzstans independence incidents have increased; about 50% of ethnic Kyrgyz women
are married this way (Kleinbach, Salinjanova, 2007, p.218). Reasons explaining these surges
of incidents are under much debate, demonstrating different valued and non-valued
assessments of the practice. Some hold the practice has increased because it symbolises a
renewed Kyrgyz tradition and national identity which was denied under soviet rule
(Handrahan, 2004, p.208). Some believe that due to an economic collapse from a regime
that provided economic security, ala kachuu is an easier and cheaper process of marriage
that escapes excessive bride price payments allowing the poor to marry (Werner, 2004,
p.60-61). Others argue an increase in male dominance, due to revived conservative gender
ideologies, explains increasing incidents (Handrahan, 2004, p.210), as female life
opportunities and rights were previously protected under the soviet regime.

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Cultural and human rights are two concepts that do not often go hand in hand. Cultural
relativism is in line with positivism. It is the understanding of other cultures and that their
ways are relative within their social context, beliefs, customs and ethics. This understanding
is not judged according to ones own cultural ways. Depending on ones social context, their
marriage process will usually relate to it. Marriage is a central life cycle event and an
important rite of passage. Marriage ceremonial methods are sensitive to change and are
different across the world, due to peoples heritage. Heritage is the preservation of tangible
and intangible culture from historical pasts, but as these traditions can create oppression,
for some, it calls upon universal human right actions (Silverman, Ruggels, 2007, p.3).
Protection and preservation of cultural heritage is linked to cultural rights (Logan, 2007,
p.33), which is an aspect of human rights. This overlapping can create conflict between
those desiring cultural identity and others claiming universal human rights. I will apply this
to ala kachuu to demonstrate that cultural approval does not mean universal agreement.
Cultural relativists would claim that bride kidnapping is right in Kyrgyzstan because the
culture approves of it, but it is not right in the west where we do not approve of kidnapping.
Across cultures, cultural and human rights will conflict, as not all have similar social
contexts, beliefs, customs or ethics. The problem of universal human rights and a global
ethic is that morality is ambiguous (Silverman, Ruggels, 2007, p.4); what is considered moral
in one society may not be considered immoral in another, and this is why human rights
activists and international law specialists avoid discussion of cultural rights (Logan, 2007,
p.34). If there are externally imposed preventions in ala kachuu they will reflect opposing
values, ideologies, concepts, not universal standards. Interveners forget Kyrgyz culture has
different social contexts. If these understandings and explanations are left out,
interventions may appear to be value-neutral as cultural differences have not explained why
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the practice occurs, thus ethnographic knowledge appears to be value neutral. It would be a
mistake to assume people and a culture's moral beliefs are wrong because they a different
to ones own way of life and beliefs; there is no universal standard of morality. It is apparent
to me, that there is no right outlook we should have on life, or way that we should live;
different outlooks are due to peoples values, which are attained by an individuals unique
world view. What constitutes as right or wrong is determined by personal opinion.

Differing viewpoints across cultures it makes it difficult for ethnographies to be value
neutral. The Kyrgyz proverb every good marriage begins with tears (Smith, 2005) denotes
the performance of the girl resisting once she has been kidnapped. She is expected to cry,
fight and attempt escape, before accepting the marriage proposal. The resistance act is a
Kyrgyz tradition where she asserts her honour, as Kyrgyz females should not publicly express
eagerness to marry, even in non-kidnapped marriages (Borbieva, 2007, p.123-125). For
westerners this act is bewildering; our culture anticipates weddings with excitement,
happiness and eagerness; completely opposite to Kyrgyz tradition. In my view, this expected
act of resistance belittles actual resistance, making it difficult to distinguish between girls
who are not resisting for traditional reasons. In Kyrgyzstan no distinction is made between
consensual and non-consensual kidnapping (Borbieva, 2007, p.127), demonstrating differing
values where in the west all marriages are perceived as consensual. Western values teach us
that kidnapping is not something to condone but 92% of Kyrgyz people marry their
kidnappers (Kleinbach et al, 2005); demonstrating that bride kidnapping is widely tolerated
and consensual in Kyrgyz society.

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Many girls marry their kidnappers, against their will, because of psychological and cultural
pressures, and a series of social reasons. In Kyrgyz society it is the view that only real
Kyrgyz women submit (Kyrgyzstan: The Kidnapped Bride, 2004) and if a young girl refuses
to marry her kidnapper she effectively rejects her own Kyrgyz identity (Handrahan, 2004,
p.222). Kyrgyz girls are brought up to be agreeable, respectful and to not challenge their
elders (HRW, 2006, p.88, 104). If they were to run away she would be deemed as stubborn
and argumentative and her family would be disgraced (Werner, 2009, p.323). Disobeying
elders has a high social cost; seniority gives the right to tell others what to do, thus many
young men and women do things they would rather not. The kidnappers family use sweet
and harsh words to persuade the girl to accept the marriage proposal and the womans
parents have the final say on whether the marriage occurs (Borbieva, 2007, p.123-124). The
woman is not the only one who is under a great deal of pressure to marry. Elders desire
their sons to marry when he reaches a certain age, especially if they are poor as it is a cheap
and quick method (Abdurasulov, 2012), which results in significant family gains due to
Kyrgyzstan being a patrilocal society. It is the view that elders decisions ultimately bring
their young happiness, even if they cannot see it (Borbieva, 2007, p.146). From this, it
appears girls and boys have little choice but to consent, accept that it is their tradition and
do as they are told or otherwise face social stigma.

In many countries true love is usually the main consideration when choosing a marriage
partner; in the west we are not tied down by age hierarchies. But in Kyrgyz society, it is
believed that children are the source of happiness and build love in marriages (Borbieva,
2007, p.138). Whilst many kidnappings appear to be unwelcome and unforeseen to most
non-Kyrgyz people, elders believe that long lasting love grows naturally in the course of
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married life (Borbieva, 2007, p.142). This demonstrates that there are many marriage
ideologies explaining differing reasons as to why people marry. An ideology such as true
love may be difficult to envisage in a society of small dating opportunities (Kleinbach et al,
2005), so kidnapping is useful in that sense. Interventions are produced because they
consist of conflicting ideologies to those which it is being imposed upon. Consequently,
interventions are not value-neutral because they may not take into account necessary and
beneficial aspects.

Feminist ethnographies are not value-neutral as they are bound to theoretical feminist
ideologies. The goal of feminist research falls under the critical research category. It
critiques non-feminist ways, aiming to end womens unequal social position and their
deprived rights. Kyrgyz women are oppressed by the social traditions previously described
which often disallow individual choices. The feminist viewpoint of ala kachuu is that it is a
test of manhood where men mark their ethnic coming-of-age - hunting, capturing and
physically forcing Kyrgyz women to marry them (Handrahan, 2004, p.208). If this is a true
view of Kyrgyz men, it can be argued that feminist research is value-neutral, but by using
words such as hunting and physically force it shows that values are incorporated. If this
is an untrue view of Kyrgyz men, then feminist ethnography fails to take account of Kyrgyz
values and the researchers focus too heavily on their own, making simple assumptions,
forgetting differing social contexts. Feminists writings on ala kachuu do not take into
account that women can attain gains through it. When women are performing resistance
they look around the house to figure out if the family has money and how large the family
is, predicting what future life will be like; this strategising overcomes their deprivations as
young brides (Borbieva, 2007, p.154). From this I can conclude that feminist researchers lack
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some self reflexivity as their conception of the moral problem conflicts with traditional
Kyrgyz female responsibilities.

Russell Kleinbachs research on bride kidnapping is highly regarded and his aim is to prevent
non-consensual bride kidnapping. In my view, his ethnographic knowledge incorporates
both value and non-valued aspects. Kleinbach does not want to prevent the practice
altogether which embraces local opinions of ala kachuu. However his distinction of
consensual and non-consensual kidnapping reflects his own evolved western ideologies. His
interventions to prevent the practice include pledges of resistance of being kidnapped for
females, which make clear whether they consent (Kleinbach, 200-a). A pledge from males
makes them agree that they will practice ala kachuu if and only if the woman consents
(Kleinbach, 200-b). This contemporary intervention recognises individual values and does
not forcefully impose western values, as it still allows the practice to occur. The Human
Rights Watch (HRW) report demonstrates critical research, their concluding chapter explains
and urges the Kyrgyz state to strengthen their law enforcement response on bride
kidnapping (HRW, 2006, p.126). Kleinbachs statistics show that of 73 alleged cases, 57 were
not pursued (Kleinbach, 2006). A further example of the need for law enforcement
strengthening is the penalty system; one is incarcerated for 11 years if they steal a cow and
only 3-5 years for bride kidnapping (Abdurasulov, 2012). The current situation reflects young
womens low power and status in Kyrgyz society and that abuse of brides is tolerated.
Interventions are based upon differing ideas of marriage and human rights. A criticism of
Kleinbachs research is that the statistics presented are a small number of cases which may
not be truly representational of the Kyrgyz society and thus readers can assume the bad
experiences of ala kachuu occur to most Kyrgyz women (Borbieva, 2007, p.153). But as
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victims do not generally want to draw attention to themselves, they do not often file suits
(Abdurasulov, 2012), thus the number of cases may be larger.

Ethnographies should aim to take a positivists stance, otherwise if moral preconceptions are
not set aside then judgemental attitudes will impede understanding of differing beliefs and
desires that explain unfamiliar practices. Complete objectivity may never be fully obtained
because it refers to morals and will affect what is seen and concluded. Writing field notes is
an active process; interpreting significant events which are dependant on the observer. If
ethnographic fieldwork does not include all positive and negative cases of ala kachuu
ethnographies will be bias and not value-neutral. The knowledge attained from non value-
neutral ethnographies will in turn create non value-neutral interventions. If this is the case,
contemporary interventions will not seek to understand the relevance of bride kidnapping in
Kyrgyz cultures own social context. The practice occurs for many reasons and has multiple

If interventions are based upon simplistic understandings, policies enforced will not suit all
Kyrgyz individuals, especially if the practice is seen as a beneficial ceremonial method, in line
with their cultural traditions, and is necessary and practical for the continuation of Kyrgyz
society and their values. If interventions were value-neutral they would have to completely
understand the beliefs, customs and ethics of the Kyrgyz people which derives from their
heritage. If complete understanding was achieved, I question that external interventions
would even transpire and that perhaps Kyrgyz state interventions would occur as their law
states that ala kachuu is illegal, but is practiced and tolerated. Externally imposed
interventions reflect opposing values, ideologies and concepts, and should not conclude
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that a country with conflicting views is wrong. There is no correct way of living and
international organisations should not assert their power to enforce non value-neutral
cultural changes that suit their own external values. Thus, any externally imposed
intervention would limit the possibility of a value-neutral intervention. Westerners are
troubled that Kyrgyz individuals cannot make their own desired choices (Borbieva, 2007,
p.174). Psychological and cultural pressures and other differing social reasons explain why
ala kachuu occurs in Kyrgyzstan demonstrating a different marriage ideology.

Word count

Abdurasulov, A., 2012. Bride-kidnapping debate divides Kyrgyzstan. BBC, [online] (Last
updated at 03.16 on 12th December 2012). Available at:
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20675101> [Accessed on 15 April 2014]

Borbieva, N. S. I., 2007. Development in the Kyrgyz Republic: Exchange, Communal
Networks, and the Foreign Presence. Ph.D. Harvard University.

Handrahan, L. M., 2004. Hunting for Women: Bride-Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. International
Feminist Journal of Politics, 6(2) pp.207-333.

Human Rights Watch. 2006. Reconciled to violence: State failure to stop domestic abuse and
abduction of women in Kyrgyzstan, [online] Available at:
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<http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/kyrgyzstan0906webwcover.pdf> [Accessed
on 23 April 2014].

Kleinbach, R., Ablezova, M., Aitieva. M., 2005. Kidnapping for marriage (ala kachuu) in a
Kyrgyz village. Central Asian Survey, [online] Available at:
<http://faculty.philau.edu/kleinbachr/2004_study.htm> [Accessed 12 May 2014]

Kleinbach, R., 2006. Statistical data, [online] Available at:
<http://faculty.philau.edu/kleinbachr/new_page_10.htm> [Accessed 12 May 2014]

Kleinbach, R., 200-a. Kidnapping Pledge of Resistance for Women, [online] Available at: <
http://faculty.philau.edu/kleinbachr/pledge_of_resistance.htm> [Accessed 12 May 2014]

Kleinbach, R., 200-b. Mens Pledge of Resistance for Men, [online] Available at:
<http://faculty.philau.edu/kleinbachr/men's_pledge.htm> [Accessed 12 May 2014]

Kleinbach, R., Salinjanova, L., 2007. Kyz ala kachuu and adat: non-consensual bride
kidnapping and tradition in Kyrgyzstan. Central Asian Survey. 26(2), pp.217-233.

Kyrgyzstan: The Kidnapped Bride. 2004. [Video] Kyrgyzstan: Peter Lom.

Leo, C. C., 2013. Marriage in form, Trafficking in content: Non-consensual Bride Kidnapping
in Contemporary Kyrgyzstan. BAIS. University of Chicago.

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Logan, W. S., 2007. Closing Pandoras Box: Human Rights Conundrums in Cultural Heritage
Protection. In: H. Silverman & D. F. Ruggles eds. 2008. Cultural Heritage and Human Rights.
New York: Springer. Ch.2.

OReilly, K., 2004. Key Concepts in Ethnography. London: Sage.

Silverman, H., Ruggles, D. F., 2007. Cultural Heritage and Human Rights. New York: Springer.

Smith, C. S., 2005. Abduction, Often Violent, a Kyrgyz Wedding Rite. New York Times,
[online] (Last updated on 30th April 2005). Available at:
t&position=&_r=0> [Accessed on 12 May 2014]

Vice, 2012. Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. [Video online] Available at:
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKAusMNTNnk> [Accessed on 23 April 2014].

Werner, C., 2004. Women, Marriage, and the Nation-State: The rise of non-consensual Bride
Kidnapping in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan. In: P. Jones ed. 2004. The Transformation of Central
Asia: States and Societies from Soviet Rule to Independence. London: Cornell University
Press. Ch.2.

Werner, C., 2009. Bride Abduction in Post-Soviet Central Asia: marking a shift towards
patriarchy through local discourses of shame and tradition. Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute, 15, pp.314-331.