Moscow, 18.09.2016 - Alliances between Russian women and Turkish men are a tendency on the rise. There is vast cultural difference between these nations – and yet, their representatives are strangely drawn to each other. Now that relations between Moscow and Ankara are improving the topic has got into spotlight again. But as women often have little knowledge of Turkish society, many marriages break up and leave Russians disillusioned in family as such. Which, in its turn, may have a detrimental effect on both Russian society and relationship with Turkish people.
Trending: Russian-Turkish wedlock
If one starts typing in the Russian search engine: “marriages between Russians and...” one will see “Turks” coming in second. Higher up are only Tatars. But since Tatarstan is a part of Russian territory, it doesn’t really count as foreign marriage. Turkey does. So, this phenomenon called Russian-Turkish marriage is real.
According to Turkish official data mentioned by Islam Review magazine one in six marriages in Turkey is registered between a Russian woman and a Turkish man.
On one of his official visits in Moscow, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “The more brides from Russia, the better for Turkey.”
Unofficial sources in the Internet claim that in the last ten years 200,000 Russian women have married Turks. However, it is hard to get statistics from Russian authorities. Moscow’s civil registry office didn’t reply on multiple requests.
The roller coaster
Russian-Turkish relations have been much of a roller coaster of late. The downing of the Russian jet in November 2015 caused an eight-month standoff which included a ban on Turkey vacations for Russians and fruit import. The aftermath of this low point in the relations of the two countries was dramatic: both economies suffered from dropping revenues in tourism, Turkey lost a lot of profit due to Russian foodstuffs embargo and much effort was put in by Russian media to tarnish the image of Turkish politicians.
In June the Turkish leader apologized for the jet. Shortly after that our countries officially became friends again and hurdles in outbound tourism for Russians were lifted. But peace is fragile. These eight months all eyes were on the leaders of both states. Yet, in the shadow of the conflict common people were making plans, falling in love and living up their stories intertwined with the history of their countries.
The trend of Russian women marrying Turkish men remained and now that external obstacles are in the past the number of mixed marriages between them is expected to rise further. The question is whether it will do both states a lot of good and whether these marriages will hold up like they are expected to.
Turkish leap of faith
This was the case with Dasha Filatova, 24, from Moscow. It all started with a short trip to Istanbul in April 2016. Dasha had made an announcement on Couchsurfing and Hakan Sechkin, 26, was one of the first guys to write back. On the whole, Dasha got around 300 messages from Turks but she replied to Hakan. “I don’t know why I chose to answer this one, it was quite common. Something told me to,” she said. They hung out together for ten days and after she left the couple communicated daily via WhatsApp.
“It is still very really recent, but I think we’re going to have a serious relationship,”- said Dasha.
About a week after their first encounter they decided that she would move to Istanbul and they’d live together. Then Dasha went to China and back to Moscow for business. Hakan missed her and tried to visit her there.
But the first hurdle came when Hakan applied for a Russian tourist visa. He failed twice. That was during the “iron curtain” period between Russia and Turkey. It was extremely difficult to get a visa back then. Hakan’s best friend, who has a Russian wife, couldn’t go to Russia to visit his pregnant wife either.
But this September Dasha is finally planning to move to Istanbul. She expects to work as a tattoo-artist there, as this craft is in high demand in the city. But that’s just her vision as of now. No one has secured a job for her. Hakan already has a respectable job - he is a cameraman working for Turkish TV.
It wasn’t easy for Dasha to make the decision to move to Turkey.
“I’d had stereotypes about Turks, I hadn’t thought they could be trusted. You know, when I got those 300 messages on Couchsurfing they were all quite standard: guys asking about my age and occupation and offering to go out. I think, demand for good-looking foreigners is high there,” - she said.
Her mother also used to have prejudice against Turks. “She thought they were not very decent people, inclined to misuse others. I think, this judgment is bred by ‘all inclusive’ tourism: a lot of Russians see Turks as trying to get them round their little finger and making them pay more,” - she said.
But Dasha kept talking to her mother about Hakan and gradually she started to change her mind. After all, there are numerous Russian-Turkish couples. Dasha said, this was due to the fact that Turkish boys and girls are not fond of each other. At the same time, according to her, quite often divorced Russian ex-wives can’t find a man to remarry in Turkey.
Hopes are high for the 24-year-old. Dasha believes her boyfriend will treat her well and is not going to convert her to Islam. However, not all relationships of this kind can be called a success as there are other factors that play besides feelings.
Three keys to her love
Rusalanya.ru, a website for Russians in Alanya (Turkey), has asked a Turk what he finds so attractive in marrying a foreign woman. It seems so much easier to marry someone from their own nation. The answer was it’s not easier at all.
“A girl from Turkey has her family, traditions, local customs behind her. A worthy, pretty, educated girl, figuratively speaking, costs a lot. Before the marriage her family would ask the bride for three keys – from a house, an office and a car. Love is not in the first place here. Husband’s ability to support a family and father’s desire to marry his daughter off to a good husband are more important,” - said Ali, whose name was changed by the publication because he was afraid of his friends’ disapproval. “Not every young man can boast of financial stability and those who can’t don’t have a chance of marrying a Turkish woman. A common guy without the three keys can reckon with a country girl or an ugly one or a spinster. And everyone wants a beauty – both a businessman and a waiter.”
Ali added that besides the casting at the bride’s house it is more difficult to live with a Turkish woman. Beautiful ones are pampered by attention, money and have high self-esteem. A Russian, on the contrary, may “look like a top model but remain a modest, simple and friendly person which will understand her significant other in any situation even if he’s got no money.”
“Nowadays the bride’s family usually asks for a good house and a good job for their girls,” - confirmed Mehmet Ali Olgar, a resident of Trabzon. “It’s groom’s responsibility to find a place of work for her. But in modern families it’s not an unbreakable rule and it’s the girl’s desire which comes in the first place”.
Not only do these details shine a light on the institution of marriage in Turkey and the habit of finding out the financial state of the spouse and discussing it openly. They also show that Turkish society remains more traditional than a Russian one. Which comes as a surprise for many wedding-minded young women .
“Of all foreigners Russian girls are the closest to Turks in mentality. But there are peculiarities which can provoke a row in a family. Like too revealing clothes, for example. In our parents’ families we’ve got used to women doing all the cleaning around the house but foreigners have equality in their countries in this sense. So, problems are most often connected to traditions, lifestyle of the husband and his family,” - summed up Ali.
There and back again
A month ago a story of a Russian woman married to a Turkish Kurd caused public outcry in Russian media. The original article appeared in Gazeta.ru, a major national outlet. Victoria Ozel met her husband Jemal in Sochi, a resort town in Southern Russia, and after a brief romance decided to move to his house in Batman, Turkey.
So, Ozel was immediately put under constant control of her husband’s in-laws. After the birth of her child the control became unbearable – she couldn’t go out without neighbors informing her new relatives. They decided to move to Istanbul but without support from the family and due to her being a non-Muslim foreigner they couldn’t rent a room. They were strangers in the capital of Turkey.
The couple went back to Batman and then recent repressions on Kurds began. Ozel was afraid for her child after her husband’s sister was put in jail. She was 18 and said something critical about the regime in public. Finally, Ozel talked Jemal into moving to Russia. Now she has three more kids and is satisfied with her life here. But she believes, after the failed coup “Erdogan will only tighten his grip of power and make the country completely totalitarian.”
Indeed, the cultural gap bites hardest when it comes to children born in families in question. Nailya Ziganshina, a matchmaker from Kazan and the chairwoman of Russian Union of Muslim Women said:
“A major problem for Christians marrying Muslims is deciding to which religion their children will adhere. This question may become a serious obstacle in building a successful relationship.”
Another problem with kids may come as a result of a divorce. Alexander Sinelnikov, PhD, associate professor of sociology at Moscow State University said that Russian divorce legislation is among the most liberal ones in the world. In the majority of other countries, even in Europe, it’s harder to get divorced. Besides, Russian women (and men) as a rule don’t know the laws of the countries their spouse comes from.
“In Russia fathers and mothers have equal rights to keep children after a divorce but according to the regular practice children most often stay with mothers. In many other countries, both in Europe and the Muslim world, fathers have far more rights to keep children in case of a divorce,” - said Sinelnikov.
It means that mothers can only visit their kids from time to time and it’s the hardest consequence of a divorce for Russians who had married a foreigner.
While not all families in Turkey are strictly religious (neither they are in Russia), all these differences contribute to the cultural difference between the two parties in a wedlock.
Room for hope
It is general belief spread by many that children born in mixed marriages are brighter and prettier than the rest. But on the other hand, much work is required from each spouse to overcome (or at least reconcile with) cultural and religious difference, not to mention the language barrier between them. Besides leaving a scar on the hearts of both partners, a divorce can make it harder for a woman to take a chance on another marriage.
“In some countries of the Middle East marriage with a divorced woman, especially, if she has children, is looked down upon by parents, relatives, friends, neighbors and colleagues of a man willing to marry her,” - said Sinelnikov.
According to him, it makes it harder to marry again even for those integrated in the society – women who learned the language and converted to Islam. It doesn’t mean that such marriage is impossible, though. But international matrimony is surrounded by a cloud of prejudice in the region. And wedlock is one of the fundamental pillars of Russian society.
“If a woman over thirty is still unmarried and doesn’t even live in an open marriage, she suffers psychologically because all her peers already have kids and she doesn’t. Russian society is more traditionalistic than the Western European one. It puts an emphasis on family life.” - explained Sinelnikov.
Of course, there are divorces in purely Russian families too – roughly one in two marriages got broken last year according to Rosstat statistics think tank. However, within Russia people know what to expect from this institution, they don’t experience culture shock when marriage means starting over again in brand new environment. And it’s easier for them to find a new partner if a marriage is failed since there is no social stigma.
And even though Russians’ love for Turkey as a holiday destination can’t be measured in any figures, divorces and disillusion in particular representatives of the nation can lead to sentiment against the people of the whole country.