,,I threw her out’’, the cleaning woman proudly declares. She refers to her daughter, who refused to marry the man she had chosen for her. A guy from a rich family in Kirkuk whom she wanted her daughter to wed, so she would not have to earn her money by cleaning other people’s houses any more. But the daughter flatly refused. She did not like her mother’s choice, and on top of that she wanted to make her own. To her mother’s wrath, who feels her daughter owes it to her to marry someone rich enough to give her the easy life she feels she deserves.
The woman thinks this is her right after bringing up the child, and also like many parents in Kurdistan, she feels her daughter just has to consent to a marriage that she chooses for her. Parents know what is best for their children, especially in marriage, is the main idea in Iraqi Kurdistan. That marriage is not only to produce children, but also to provide men and women with a partner that they can love enough to share everything in life, that is considered Western nonsense.
,, Children are the heaven on earth for a father’’, as an 85 year old great grandfather said, to defend the idea that all young men should get married. He had just praised a cousin of his grandson as beautiful and thus a good partner for him. His message is one of many people in Kurdistan: men and women should get married because they should get children.
This notion derives from the way the Kurdish (and Iraqi) society is organized. Young people hardly get the chance to meet and date. Men and women live separated from each other by strict Kurdish morals. Boys and girls almost only meet the other sex inside the family. Elsewhere, they can just look at each other, and after a certain age signal their interest. By showing the other an empty ring finger, for instance.
Even in university, where they can meet openly, real contact between the sexes is not possible. A boy and a girl that are not engaged or married should not be alone. If they do people will start to gossip about what might have happened – perhaps she is not a virgin anymore! So how can young people get to know each other well enough to decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together? Only in secret – and thus in secret all those things happen that were supposed to be prevented by the separation of the sexes. Morals are not what they seem, or are only meant for some, it seems. In Kurdistan a hidden society is prospering next to the one that everyone is allowed to see.
Kurdish men may boast to their friends about their girl friends, and they may even have more than one at the same time. But a woman cannot even whisper about it, because if anyone finds out, the gossip will kill all her chances to get married (and in some parts of the society may even cost her her life because of her lost honor), or ruin her marriage if she is already married. And this way well be the case, as men prefer married women for their affairs, as those will not force them to get into the wedding boat as single girls might try.
The simplest form of secret contact between young people is ‘sms sex’: messages between two phones that excite both users. Some young men and women make it into an art: they receive phone numbers and try their luck. Sometimes they are answered, and the game is on. Sometimes phone numbers are smuggled by friends to an interested party. The problem is that when for one of the sms-partners a marriage is arranged, old sms-lovers do not want to cease their activities. To prevent problems, many newlyweds start their marriage with a new phone number. The telephone providers are doing good business because of it.
When a relationship is bad, the sms-sex is a simple and seemingly harmless way for married men and women to find some excitement. But when discovered, women are the ones who suffer. Their husbands consider the sms-contact as cheating, as if their property has been violated. Although there was no real sexual contact, it may lead to the man divorcing the woman and taking the children.
These sms-contacts often lead to more. To a meeting in one of the few cafés that allow this, a drive in the car to Azmar or another secluded place, a visit to the house of a friend who is out. The problem with these relations is that they tend to exist only for the sex. A real relationship hardly gets built this way because everything has to happen in secret.
This is part 1 of an article that was translated into Kurdish and published in nr 5 of the magazine Wata, which is published in Erbil.
Find part 2 here: http://www.iraqundermyskin.com/2011/01/sexuel-moral-in-kurdistan-2.html