A 17-year-old girl was forced to marry a man who was already married and at least 30 years older than her in "the wedding of the millennium."
The incident has raised legal and ethical issues in Russia and its republic Chechnya.
Luiza Goilabiyeva, called Kheda, 17, was married on Saturday to Chechen police officer Nazhud Guchigov, who was originally reported to be 57 (though he says he is 46), is already married, and has children who are older than his new bride.
The Russian investigative paper Novaya Gazeta reported that Goilabiyeva was being forced to marry a local official. He reportedly threatened her parents, demanding that he marry her on the day of her 17th birthday, May 1, and even warned that he would kidnap Goilabiyeva.
"He is married and has children. She's younger than his children. The Chechen woman is powerless; she can expect help from nowhere," one of Goilabiyeva's girlfriends posted, according to The Daily Beast. "Kheda told him that she has a boyfriend, but it was disregarded. They say that her boyfriend was beaten half to death."
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who attended the wedding ceremony, accused the media of "inaccurately depicting the situation and meddling in the couple's private lives," according to The Moscow Times.
"I am sure those who unceremoniously interfered for a long time in the private lives of Nazhud and Luiza will answer in court," Kadyrov, who is rumored to also have a second wife, wrote on his Instagram on Friday. "The appropriate actions are already being prepared."
He then dubbed this "the wedding of the millennium," right up there with Prince William and Kate Middleton's "wedding of the century."
'Kadyrov still has Putin's carte blanche in Chechnya'
Neither polygamous nor underage marriages are permitted under Russian law (though certain clauses allow for marriage at 16 under special circumstances).
This wedding, however, has been registered as an official partnership, as evidenced by the stamps placed in the newlyweds' passports, a formality for married couples.
So the sticky legal issue is that the wedding calls in question how much legal autonomy Chechnya, technically located in Russia but effectively run by Kadyrov, actually has.
"The rule of law does not exist in Chechnya in cases concerning Kadyrov's friends," Sergei Babinets, a member of the Joint Mobile Group, an organization of human-rights defenders in Chechnya, told Anna Nemtsova at The Daily Beast.
"I am sure that the FSB [the Russian secret police] have many files on crimes committed by Kadyrov," Babinets continued. "One day their patience will come to the critical point, but for now Kadyrov still has Putin's carte blanche in Chechnya."
"By justifying this scandalous wedding, Russia demonstrated moral degradation, we are rolling several centuries back in moral development, it seems," said Timur Olevsky, Russian television correspondent for Rain.
'For us it is a norm'
Nobody in the Russian government publically spoke out against this highly publicized wedding. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov outraged many last week by coming out in favor of older men marrying teens.
"Emancipation and sexual maturity come earlier in the Caucasus, let's not be hypocritical. There are places where women are already shriveled by the age of 27, and look about 50 to us," Astakhov told Russian News Service radio on Thursday.
He later offered a weak and flowery apology in an Instagram post featuring a Madonna and Child, writing that "women of any age are wonderful and delightful."
This situation is simply not considered a problem in Chechnya.
"For us it is a norm," Goilabiyeva said.
"Many generations of Chechens grew up in polygamist families," Chechen journalist Milana Mazayeva told The Daily Beast. "My own grandmother and other relatives had several mothers. They did not know who their real mother was."
Regardless of all the ethical and legal issues, this wedding took place with virtually no reaction — even from the bride, who kept her head lowered throughout most of the video footage of the wedding.
"All ages must submit to love," Kadyrov said, quoting a line from one of the most famous Russian novels, "Eugene Onegin" by Alexander Pushkin.
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