Aylin (not her real name) had just turned 15 when her parents decided she should get married. She had finished her secondary school education and was studying nursing at a vocational school. Of course, she was still living with her parents, in a small town in the German state of Hesse.
A potential husband was soon found, M. from Frankfurt. He had studied business administration and was 13 years older than Aylin. “My parents met him at a relative’s wedding,” she recalls.
Aylin’s parents, who were both born in Turkey in 1954 but grew up in Germany, never bothered to ask if their daughter agreed with their choice. “I was engaged,” she says. “Or rather, I was sold.”
The fiancé’s parents paid Aylin’s parents €17,000 ($26,750) in cash and additionally gave them jewelry worth around €20,000. “Then we all went shopping in Turkey — his mother, my mother, him and me.” She needed a wedding dress, he a dark suit.
Four hundred guests came to the engagement celebration at Aylin’s parents’ house. Shortly beforehand, Aylin and her fiancé had come into closer contact for the first time. “He hit me in the face when I told him I didn’t like him,” she says. Nevertheless, the engagement proceeded as planned. “Then life in hell began.”
M. came to visit every other day. “He had paid for me, he could do whatever he wanted,” Aylin recalls. “He could have killed me and my parents wouldn’t have done anything.” It even went as far as “forced intimacy” in the house. Aylin’s parents pretended not to notice.
Meanwhile, Aylin had finished her vocational school program and was working as an assistant in a nursing home. It was the only place she was allowed to go unaccompanied. When she came home after work, her parents and often her fiancé were waiting for her. “It was horrible,” she says.
She stopped eating and had to be admitted to a clinic because of “mental disorders.” “That was nice, my parents weren’t allowed to visit me.” The clinic released Aylin after three months and she moved back in with her parents. A week before the wedding date, Aylin asked her fiancé to give her some money so she could go shopping. Then she went to the train station and caught a train to Berlin.
She knew no one in the city, but had heard of an organization called Papatya (the name translates as “chamomile”) that helped runaway Turkish girls. She lived for two months in a safe house with other young women, who had all “gone through the same story.” But one day she needed to visit a doctor. There, she had to show her family health insurance card — and it didn’t take long before her parents found out where their daughter was staying. “I had to go back.”
The only advantage to the situation was that Aylin’s fiancé called off the engagement and claimed back the “purchase price” he had paid.
But because Aylin had brought “dishonor” to the family, her parents had to find some way — or someone — to minimize the resulting moral and material damages. The new fiancé was 42 years old and still married, but he was wealthy and lived far away in Anatolia.
So that nothing could go wrong, Aylin’s mother accompanied her daughter to Turkey. “This time there was just a small ceremony,” Aylin recalls. “He’d been married. I’d been engaged — and was therefore second best.” The deal paid off for Aylin’s parents: they got a house and two cows from their daughter’s fiancé.
“I was supposed to stay in Turkey, while my parents received child benefits for me in Germany.” In order not to lose her residency permit, Aylin needed to return to Germany within half a year at the latest, even if only for a few days. “Many people do it that way, so they don’t lose their social benefits.”
When Aylin arrived home, she was confined in the house by her parents, but they let her keep her cell phone. “I called the police from the bathroom. They got me out and took me to the airport.”
In November 2007, she arrived in Berlin again and lived for a while in a women’s shelter run by the aid organization Caritas. Later she found a small apartment for herself with help from an organization called Hatun und Can.
Since early 2008, she has been working at an event-planning and advertising agency. She works out regularly at a gym, has applied for her own health insurance and German citizenship — and she wants to get a German name along with it. “I’m an example of successful integration,” she says.
There’s just one thing she doesn’t have: contact with her parents. “I don’t see them as my parents,” she says. “They just created me, nothing else. If it had been up to them, I’d be completely anti-social now.”
As well as speaking perfect Turkish, Aylin also speaks fluent and accent-free German, which has made getting out of her previous life considerably easier. Of course, the social milieu she comes from can also be found in Berlin. When Aylin goes to a disco, men hit on her straight away, saying: “Hey, what are you doing here alone as a woman?” She replies in kind: “What are you doing here alone as a man?” End of conversation.
“Muslim men don’t respect women,” she says. “They can’t handle it when a woman stands on her own two feet.”
‘You’re Going to Marry Him, Whether You Want to or not’
Muslim men’s attitudes to women is the reason why Yasmina (name changed) has a Polish boyfriend. He, too, is occasionally “a little macho man,” she says. Nonetheless, he is still “different from a Turk.”
Born in the Turkish city of Izmir in 1986, Yasmina came to Bremen with her parents at the age of two. Her mother was a housewife and her father a small businessman who soon opened a fruit and vegetable shop.
Yasmina finished her secondary school education and would have liked to continue and study for the university entrance exam, but her parents didn’t approve; they had long before promised their daughter to a cousin in the south-western German city of Freiburg.
When the “engaged” couple met for the first time, she was 19 and he 27. “I found this man disgusting, he was big and fat,” she recalls. “My father said: ‘You’re going to marry him, whether you want to or not.’”
The official engagement took place in Bremen in 2006. “I couldn’t even talk to him without someone else being there.” Yasmina continued to live with her parents in Bremen. She wasn’t allowed out of the house alone and she had no money of her own, not even a cell phone.
One day in September 2007 she had finally had enough. She snuck out of the house at daybreak and hitchhiked to the northern city of Kiel. When she realized she had relatives in the city who might see her on the street and recognize her, she headed further north to Flensburg, where she stayed in a women’s shelter. Through a coincidence, one of her brothers found her and took her back to Bremen.
She tried again early in 2008. This time she made it to Berlin, where she lives in a small apartment together with her boyfriend Pawel, whom she met in Flensburg. Yasmina too is receiving help from the organization Hatun and Can, and she is training to be a beautician.
She no longer wants to have anything to do with her parents. “They kept hitting me ever since I was six years old. To this day I don’t know why.” She has three brothers and seven sisters, who all do what their parents expect of them. “You are brought up in a way to make sure you stay dependent,” she says. “I’m the black sheep of the family.”
Yasmina has no contact to other Turks. Asked if she could imagine marrying a Turkish man, she throws her arms in the air. “Anything but that!”