It wasn’t an official wedding, but it looked like one. Women and girls gathered around the 17-year-old bride the night before for a traditional henna party; men accompanied the groom as he went to his fiancée’s house to take her to their new home. There was music, tables covered with food and everyone wore their best clothes. The role of religion in these early marriages is complex. While no imam is present, the use of the Qoran as a religious prop suffices to give the ceremony symbolic value, earn the acceptance of the local community, and “seal” the marriage, even before it is officially registered with the authorities. Indeed these practices persist due to a complex combination of motivations - including traditional social norms, such as the importance attached to marriage and motherhood for women, and socio-economic factors, such as poverty.
Getting married at 17
At a wedding in Nardaran, a small town on Azerbaijan's Absheron peninsula known for its religious conservatism, all of the usual ingredients are present - the confetti, the kebabs, the traditional dancing and a ribboned marquee. Yet, no bride. Female guests are nowhere to be seen.
A Wedding Without a Bride
The majority of marriages in Azerbaijan are also Islamic marriages. Early marriages are conducted by local Mullahs and in spite of agreements between the Islamic Council and the state, these are often not officially recorded as is legally required.