Marrying a Turkish man to survive


Women represent half of the over 2.5 million Syrians who live in Turkey and, together with children, are the most vulnerable population. Often exploited, many Syrian women have found a way out of their hardship by marrying Turkish men, sometimes as second wives: a desperate decision.

Halima Souran carefully examines the documents from her case against her Turkish husband through the opening in her hijab. She is still surprised that the local courts accepted the marriage.

The 27-year-old from Aleppo fled with her family from the bloody war on the other side of the border in 2012 to become a “guest” of their neighbouring country, as refugee status does not exist in Turkey.

In less than a year her family organised a nikah, or Muslim wedding, with a widowed tradesman from Istanbul 20 years her senior.

Halima, a conservative Muslim who studied Religion in her home country soon discovered that the Turk had not only lied about his age (56) but also that he became aggressive when he drank.

As well as not paying the US$5,000 dowry (about 4,600 euros), a few weeks after the wedding he asked Halima to return the gold he had given her, worth some US$4,000 (about 3,700 euros).


Everything got worse when she got pregnant

“The doctor said I was three months pregnant, but I said it had to be two months and a week,” Halima explained to Equal Times, speaking from Narlica, a small town on the outskirts of Antioquía, 24 kilometres from the Turkish-Syrian border.

“This bothered my husband who thought that I had been married already and that I had got pregnant by somebody else. The situation got steadily worse. After two and a half months I just wanted to go back to my family and have an abortion so that I could get some rest,” she added.

Halima took refuge in her family of six, who are supported by her 19-year-old brother on a salary of barely 500 Turkish lira (about US$170, or 160 euros). When her son was born, the father stayed away, and so Halima decided to take the case to court.

“I could not register my marriage officially. I went back to Syria to get my documents (particularly the birth certificate, in case it could help her register her marriage). But when I went to the town hall (of the Turkish town she lived in) they asked for my residence permit in Turkey (which almost no Syrian obtains) to register the marriage. And so it was not possible to register it,” she recalls.

“If my marriage had been officially registered, I would not have had any problems,” concluded the young woman.

If Halima won her case, she could get child support for her son.

This young refugee woman is a typical example of the Syrian women trying to survive in Turkey. Although on paper they have rights and access to services, this does not happen in reality.

In the border town of Sanliurfa, a group of Syrian women meet daily at the premises of an NGO to share their problems and learn a new trade.

AmongST them is 19-year-old Reem who has decided to marry a Turk. She fled with her family when a group of ISIS terrorists invaded the area of Aleppo where she lived.

The continuation of the war, family pressure and lack of opportunities have put an end to her dream of marrying a Syrian, and have meant that now marriage to a Turkish man is her only solution.

“I was not thinking about marrying, because he is Turkish and I am Syrian. We don’t understand each others’ languages. All this time I have been hoping to go back to Syria at some stage. So the decision to get married was a hard one for me,” she said.

One of those who explains that their motives are not economic is Nour, who was a teacher in Aleppo before the war. She believes her decision to marry a Turkish man is a question of destiny.

“I have to accept any kind of work to earn money, because everything here is expensive, the rent, the house, food is very expensive, so I have to work to cover my costs,” says Nour, and denies that it was economic pressure that led her to the decision to get married.


Azez Hamdan thinks the opposite

Azez Hamdan is a 55-year-old architect from Deir Ezzour. She founded the NGO the Syrian Family Care Centre, which amongst other things, compiles data on the half a million Syrians living in Sanliurfa.

According to its statistics, of the 250,000 to 300,000 Syrian women who live in the area, 5 per cent are married to Turkish men and 3 per cent of them are second wives. An unspecified percentage have turned to prostitution.

The main reason for marrying a Turk, explains Hamdan, “is the economic situation, and the other is religious and social pressures.”

Furthermore, the dowry for marrying a Syrian is much lower than a Turkish woman would demand. “When a Turkish man marries a Syrian woman, the dowry is much cheaper, so for this reason many Turkish men choose to marry a Syrian woman,” she adds.

Malak Kasem, a lawyer, is documenting the thousands of Syrian women refugees on the border. For her, the most dramatic cases are those of the second wives, because the rest of society sees them as prostitutes.

For these women, “it is not easy to find a place to live, or money, or security, or work. These are the reasons why Syrian women or wives become the second wives of Turkish men” explains Kasem from Gaziantep.

While polygamy is legal in Syria, in Turkey both members of the couple can face between five and ten years in prison, and if the woman is Syrian she will be deported.

Often, Kasem explains, the second wives are ill-treated by the first. And the most tragic situation soon happens: when a child is born. The baby is registered under the name of the legal wife, with the result that the Syrian woman loses all rights to her child.


This article has been translated from Spanish.