Geopolitics

The Untold Drama Of Male Victims of Forced Marriage

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 trapped

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ