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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
The hidden wives of Turkey
By Nick Read
Producer/Director, World Weddings: The Second Wife

Resat Yagdi
Resat Yagdi will pay a high price for a second wife

The villages of south-east Anatolia, in the corner of Turkey that borders Iraq and Syria, are bleak, hauntingly beautiful places that do not give up their secrets lightly.

It is part of what Kurds claim as their homeland, where years of violent struggle between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish government have left more than 30,000 killed.

The government outlawed the practice of polygamy nearly a century ago. But Islamic custom can allow men to take up to four wives.

In this devoutly Muslim region, it is estimated that nearly a quarter of all marriages are polygamous.

Men like 32-year-old Resat Yagdi regard it as their birthright. He is a part-time electrician and onion farmer, with a beautiful wife and three children, one just a week old.

But despite these blessings, he is determined to take a second wife to enhance his prosperity and prestige in the village.

Price of a bride

He has chosen a girl who lives virtually next door - Ayse Aymaz - who is eight years his junior.

But while preparing to marry Ayse, he soon learned that love comes at a price.

To win Ayse's hand, first Resat must build her a new home, and pay her parents a substantial bride price. By the time he marries, he will be 18,000 out of pocket.

Ayse is due to become Resat's second wife
Polygamy is common in this exclusively Muslim region

But after what Resat considered to be an unhappy first marriage, it is a price worth paying. He says: "Ayse is so feminine. She is everything I've ever dreamt of. She's my perfect type."

For Resat's 22-year-old sister, Melihat, the clock is ticking.

Her marriage will soon be arranged by her father, who has three wives himself, and her price negotiated with the groom's family.

Melihat knows she is regarded purely as an economic asset: "They sell girls like animals; we're not treated as human beings."

Some are sold into marriage as young as 12 years old. Girls who run away are simply killed, in what are euphemistically called "honour" killings.

Unsurprisingly there are few prepared to speak out against these practices.

One of the few campaigners, Ayla Sumbul, teaches women to read and write in the slums of one of Anatolia's largest cities, Sanliurfa.

She spells out the consequences for wives who do not comply: "If the first wife complains then she gets beaten, or the husband punishes her and the children by not providing them with food. She becomes a prisoner."

Ayla has recently uncovered a disturbing side effect of polygamy and inbreeding.

'A quiet affair'

Repeated intermarrying within families, typically between first and second cousins, has produced abnormally high rates of children with Downs Syndrome and Mediterranean anaemia.

Ayse is Resat's cousin, but nobody in his village sees anything wrong with it.

But because polygamy is illegal, Resat has to keep his wedding a quiet affair.

So quiet that the bride's family is not invited. Nor in fact is the bride present at the ceremony.

She is kept veiled in the bedroom, while a local Imam arrives to recite all the necessary Koranic verses in the presence of the groom and two male witnesses.

Within two days of the wedding and marriage being consummated, Ayse is put to work in Resat's onion fields.

From a Western perspective, polygamy appears to be little better than slavery.

In the brutal, feudal world of south-east Anatolia, women are bought and sold for sex, for free labour and men's pride.

And for Ayse, there will be no honeymoon. Yet she has no regrets: "I don't care whether he's penniless or not. It's not important to me what he's worth. It's all because I love him."

Polygamy is illegal in Turkey, but in practice it is allowed to continue. In remote areas like this, Turkey risks antagonising Kurdish separatists by intervening in tradition and customs.

But as Turkey seeks to negotiate entry into the European Union, polygamy and other human rights issues are likely to attract greater international attention.

World Weddings: The Second Wife was broadcast in the UK on BBC Two at 2200 BST on Tuesday, 30 August, 2005.

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16 Aug 05 |  This World


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