A Wedding Without a Bride
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.
The question of gender and public space is still a sensitive one in Azerbaijan. Unwritten rules have men dominating tea houses, certain restaurants, often streets and parks - and weddings. Usually a lavish affair, weddings are loaded with symbols and rituals and for centuries they have been a male-only event. The practise of separating men from women on such occasions has its root in the Islamic prohibition of ikhtilat, the free mixing between men and women, in order to avoid temptation. However such religious principles are not observed as strongly in Azerbaijan as in many of its Islamic neighbors.
The longstanding tradition is slowly fading in the South Caucasus republic and today many weddings are mixed gender. Indeed modern weddings are often seen as an important showcase for families to 'show off' their daughters, in the hope of finding a suitable husband.
In specific areas however all-male weddings - the kisi toyu - survive as an example of a space that is still explicitly reserved for men. Like in Nardaran, renowned as a rare outpost of religious conservatism in an otherwise secular country, where the tradition of kisi toyu still holds strong.
Text: Lucy Wallwork
Photo: Ilkin Huseynov