Arranged marriages usually conjure up the image of young girls coerced into unwanted unions. From immigrants in Berlin, a rare glimpse of how the practice also damages men.
BERLIN - As Ahmet Celik rolls over in bed this morning, the thought returns to him again. What would it be like to be free? He could get up and just leave, forever. Beside him, lies his wife; he does not love her. He never did. And yet every morning he wakes up next to her. For 24 years, he has lived in a marriage he never wanted.
Ahmet was forced into marriage. Not in Turkey, not in some small Anatolian village, but in the heart of Germany. This Berlin resident belongs to a little-known minority. There are no official statistics on how many men are forced into marriage in Germany for religious or traditional reasons, but nearly 30 men came forward last year in counseling centers throughout Berlin.
Unlike women forced into marriage, men rarely speak about their situation for fear of humiliation (all who spoke for this article asked that their real names not be used). Counseling services aimed at male victims do not exist. The fate of young girls, who are threatened or killed when they resist their families, is well documented. But forced marriages for men are not seen as a legitimate issue. In the popular imagination, the Turkish man is the patriarch and Pasha; in some, rare cases, a violent oppressor. But a victim? That simply does not fit in with current discourses on immigration.
The psychologist Kazim Erdogan founded a support group for Muslim men in the heavily Turkish district of Neukölln in Berlin. He understands the dilemmas these men face: "They suffer from shame and pressure, not only to stay in these marriages but to remain strong for their families."
Twenty years ago, Ahmet never thought to seek help from strangers. Today, he is 42-years-old, and opening up for the first time. It is still very difficult for him to speak about the fact that his father forced him into a marriage when he was a teenager. He was raised in a traditional Turkish household. The legacy of his upbringing is so deeply rooted in Ahmet that he is still torn between anger and respect for his father.
Ahmet, who was born in a small village in Turkey, moved to Germany with his father as a 12-year-old in the early 1980s. It was a classic immigrant's tale. Ahmet's mother was left behind in Turkey while his father made a living with a small restaurant in Berlin.
The 42-year-old speaks fluent German and seems well integrated. As a teenager, he had many girlfriends. Sometimes even several at once. "I was 16, this was normal," he smiles. He knows what it feels like to be a little bit in love, even though it has been a long time since he felt that way.
When he was 16-years-old, a girl suddenly came into the picture. When she asked him for a cigarette in his father's restaurant, he thought she was nice - nothing more.
After they had met a few times, Ahmet's father announced to his 17-year-old son that he was to be married to the girl. In his father's eyes, the pair was already dating. She was the daughter of a friend. "We must not disappoint him," his father explained. It was about honor. And his father's word was the law. Ahmet was not aware of what happened back then, he says today. He did not love the girl. He hardly knew her. According to his understanding, they were not even together. He wanted to finish school, date, celebrate and be free. But his father threatened to disown him if he resisted.
Ahmet's mother never joined them in Germany. His parents divorced and his father did not want to return home. The longer he stayed in Germany, however, the more he wanted to keep old traditions alive. At the time, Ahmet did not recognize the contradiction between his own torn family and the marital traditions his father was pressing upon him.
"It all happened so fast," says Ahmet in a low voice. Suddenly he found himself at his own engagement party at his father's restaurant. To rebel against his father would have been unthinkable. "That was my mistake, I regret it today." Ahmet was never afraid of violence, but the psychological pressure tormented him. "For us, it's normal that we respect the elderly, and that we simply do what they say," he says. Could he have rebelled? Run away? Impossible, he says, "Because I am a Turk."
When he was 18-years-old, Ahmet married the girl. There was no turning back. He felt torn between a youthful desire for freedom and the Turkish sense of tradition drummed into him since childhood. Now, he was not only obligated to his father, but also had to consider the honor of his bride and her family as well. The dissolution of the engagement would have been a disgrace for all. On their wedding night, when the couple was physically intimate for the first time, Ahmet was horrified. He did not feel attracted to his wife. But he let these feeling pass over him.
For more than 20 years, Ahmet has been married to a woman that his father chose for him. They have two children who must never know that their parents do not love each other. The fact that Ahmet did not want to marry his wife is never discussed. He will not cheat on her, for reasons of honor. He works hard, and when he comes home, he enters an illusory world. He tries to ignore it, but there are times he cannot.
Like a few months ago, when the German federal government proposed legislative changes to make forcing involuntary marriages a criminal offense. Ahmet has been following this legislation actively. He has little hope, however, that new laws will help. The pressure exerted by Turkish families is often subliminal. On whom would the responsibility fall?
There are days when Ahmet even thinks that he himself is to blame for how it all happened: "Could I have defended myself?" he asks himself again and again. Indeed, the issue of forced marriage can be a gray area: When is a marriage just arranged, and when is it forced?
Migration researchers say that when mental or physical pressures push a person to marry, it is a forced marriage. Ahmet says that the psychological pressure on him was immense. Today, he knows that his life could have been very different. He could have experienced love, self-determination and freedom. Ahmed recalls becoming visibly angry with his father only once before his wedding. "Why have you done this?" he shouted at him, but has still never received a reply.
And these questions will remain unanswered. Today, he might have the courage to ask them, but his father is dead. Ahmet often considers getting a divorce now. But what would become of his wife and children? Ahmet does not want to "betray" them. He feels that he missed the right moment: "Time goes by so fast. Next year we will have been married for 25 years." At some point, says Ahmet, he will have the courage to leave his wife. But tomorrow morning, he will wake up next to her again.
Read the original article in German