ISTANBUL (AA) – In a week which saw the issue of Syrian refugees hit the headlines again in Turkey, a developing trend is coming to fore in the country – the increasing number of Syrian women marrying Turkish men.
Speaking on Sunday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the thousands of Syrian children born under Turkish protection as “part of our family”.
This family is set to expand – official data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TUIK) reveal that almost 3,600 Syrian women married Turkish men in 2015.
One of these women is Rabia Ali who tells Anadolu Agency that she never thought of marrying a Turkish man but she “started to fall in love”.
Ali came to Turkey after the outbreak of the Syrian war, giving Arabic lectures in Istanbul before moving to Batman province with her new husband and their twin children.
Her story is one of thousands and now researchers are beginning to consider the long-term effects these changes may have on Turkish society.
Ibrahim Soysuren, a sociologist from Neuchatel University in Switzerland, tells Anadolu Agency that these marriages could help socialization between the two cultures but could also lead to continuing migration.
Turkey already shelters nearly three million refugees, most of them from Syria. Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to the UN.
Soysuren says much depends on how Turkey and the Turkish public adapt to these changed circumstances:
“We can consider this situation as [cultural] richness for now but later on, the sociological results of the issue will depend on how the government and the public handle this situation.”
Soysuren thinks that sharing the same space is an important reason behind the increasing marriages between Turks and Syrians and expects to see a further increase in the number of Syrian-Turkish families and their children in the future.
“Even if the war ends and everything goes back to normal in Syria, migration from Syria to Turkey will continue with the aim of starting new families,” he says.
He adds that a common perception is that some Syrian women escaping war with financial problems were keen to marry Turkish men, with some of these men trying to benefit from Syrian women’s tough conditions.
According to some Turkish media reports, Syrian people marry Turkish citizens out of desperation.
However, if two people from different cultures have love, the marriage could have advantages, such as bi-lingual children who can break the language barrier between Turkish and Arabic, Soysuren says.
This mixed view is shared by Prof. Ozkan Yildiz from Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir who thinks that “multicultural marriages” could provide adaptation “but in the long term, we could face negative consequences which affect the institution of marriage”.
Yildiz says that this situation could damage Turkish family structure and could change Turkish men’s point of view on civil marriage.
The TUIK figures show that the Syrian/Turkish marriage rate was highest in the southern province of Kilis, which now hosts refugees in such numbers that they are more than the local population.
“In the region [especially in Kilis province], marriage with more than one women is already common but this process was triggered with that issue and started to become popular in other areas of Turkey,” says Prof. Yildiz.
Yildiz adds that Turkey has faced the most intensive and rapid immigration wave in its history, meaning public institutions are unable to foresee the consequences of these social changes.
The stark choices facing Syrian women fleeing the war make marriage in Turkey a “sensible” choice, says one psychiatrist.
“It is sensible that Syrian women marry Turkish men, because it provides her and her family protective ties,” says Istanbul-based Medaim Yanik.
Yanik thinks people from different cultures can use their different dynamics to bring positive things to their marriages.
This is a point shared by Rabia Ali who admits to “some difficulties” in her marriage but says these were overcome in time.
“Language was the main issue between us,” she says. “First, we were communicating in English but now we started to communicate in Arabic and Turkish.”
Beyond language, some universal problems remain. Cleaning, cooking and relations with in-laws can be a problem between two different cultures, she adds.
Yanik says these marriages will be a natural part of Turkish society in the future and that reflecting on the changes brought to marriage by migration was unavoidable.
“We will have more Syrian brides and grooms,” Yanik says simply.