Unexpected mixed marriages in Syria
Who would have thought that one legacy of the Cold War would have been mixed marriages between young Syrian elites and Russian women?
The fact that Syria is forbidding mixed – inter-religious – marriages is well-known. In effect, no civil law allowing marriage exists. As a result, two options are left for any inter-religious couple in Syria: marrying abroad or religious conversion.
However, little is said today in the midst of the current Syrian conflict about the 20,000-30,000 Eastern European (mostly Russian) wives married to Syrian elites who currently live in Syria, a community of its own described in a recent NYT article. Who are these women? They are wives of Syrian men who often work in a government building or corporate headquarter. Their husbands spent their early adult lives in the Soviet Union where they were trained. Many of them brought back wives and children to Syria upon civil or military training completion in the 1960s and 1970s.
Both Russian wives and Syrian husbands had personal (or cultural?) interest in marrying a foreigner.
… sought to avoid paying a bride-price as is customary in the Middle East. Mahmoud al-Hamza, who met his wife, Nadezhda, in a Moscow park in 1971, said that in order to marry a Syrian, “you need an apartment, you need to pay money, you need to buy gold, and for a Russian woman you just need a wedding ring.”
… had their own reasons to pursue Syrians — nondrinkers who, thanks to the Baath Party’s ties to the Communists, traveled freely in and out of the Soviet Union. A new wave of marriages followed the Soviet collapse, as young women sought a way out of economic chaos. “Let all the world hear this: Russian men, maybe not all of them, but more than half of them are gigolos,” said Roksana Dzhenid, who married Wa’el, a businessman, in 2000, and lives with him in Moscow. He benefited too, she noted, by escaping the intense family ties that come with a Syrian bride. “If there is a quarrel, what will a Russian woman do? She will cry,” she said. “Maximum, she will go to her friend and say, ‘He is such and such.’ And what will an Arab woman do? She will gather a posse of all her relatives. She may run at night to her husband’s mother and sister and start yelling.”
These women and their families are today in a very challenging situation. As foreigners they are concerned for their safety yet, as wives of Syrian elites, they have much to lose if they are evacuated to their home country. And, after all, what home country? The Soviet Union no longer exists. Would Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and especially Russia risk an evacuation plan at this time? In addition, leaving Syria would mean social and material loss for them. In fact, they have already been considered "lost" in the Cold War context…
The goal was to forge a global, pro-Soviet intellectual elite; the immediate result was weddings. Young women emigrated as the wives of doctors, professors and officials; “the Soviet side said farewell to them and essentially gave them up for lost,” said Natalya Krylova, a historian who has published widely on Russian populations in Africa.
The situation of these Russian women in mixed marriages in Syria reveals several trends that have been documented in other countries:
- intercultural / mixed marriages tend to take place among middle or higher class of a given society.
- political history is a stimulus of mixed marriages.
- spouses in mixed marriages may have to redefine what and where "home" is in the course of their relationship.
Are you surprised by the presence of so many foreign women in Syria? Are you surprised that media at large do not speak about them? Feel free to comment or share any experience.