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Marriage and Family


Kyrenia (Girne)
Courtesy Office of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," Washington

Turkish Cypriots were generally concerned with promoting the honor, prestige, and economic prosperity of their families. A major part of the thought, energy, and income of the family went to educating children, marrying them well, and helping them find good jobs. More than in most Western societies, Turkish Cypriots were conscious of their family as a whole and identified strongly with how its individual members fared as part of this whole. However, socio-economic changes in recent decades have led to the existence of two types of families in Turkish Cypriot society: traditional and largely rural, and modern and urban.

The traditional family maintained strong links between the nuclear or core family and the extended family. The extended family included the parents' siblings and their children, grandparents, and in many cases second and third cousins. Within this family network, financial and social support were key links among the members. When one of the extended family suffered economic hardship, that person could expect aid from able relatives. It was also common to help relatives in the field or on the farm.

The nuclear or core traditional family might include not only the husband and wife and their unmarried children, but also a newly married son and his family, and sometimes the mother's parents. The presence of the mother's parents in the core family was an important variation from the traditional Turkish family structure, in which the husband's parents lived with the family.

According to traditional Turkish family structure, the bride married into the groom's family and became virtually a servant to the household. The legitimation of the bride's lower status was found in the custom of baslik parasi (bonnet money) practiced in traditional Turkish society and reintroduced into Cyprus by some Turkish settlers after 1974. According to this custom, money or valuable goods were paid to the bride's father by the bridegroom and his family. If the bridegroom was unable to meet the amount specified by the bride's father, the marriage could not occur. In this practice, the money paid to the father did not go toward helping the newlyweds in any form. Rather, the money stayed with the girl's father. Widely practiced in rural Turkey, the custom frequently results in the marriages of unwilling brides. The long absence of this custom among Turkish Cypriots was a sign of women's more secure and higher status on the island.

Turkish Cypriots employed a different form of financial arrangement in marriages, drahoma, a dowry custom of Greek Cypriot origin. It is probable that over the centuries the Turkish Cypriots recognized the advantages of this custom and adapted it to their own needs. Drahoma, as practiced by Greek Cypriots, required that the bride's family provide substantial assistance to the newlyweds. Turkish Cypriots modified it to include assistance from both families. Traditionally, the bride's family provided a house, some furniture, and money as part of their daughter's dowry. The bridegroom's family met the young couple's remaining housing needs. If the bride's family was unable to provide such assistance, the young couple lived with the bride's family until they saved enough money to set up their own separate household. Lastly, the bride brought to her new home the rest of her dowry, known as cehiz, making the new family financially more secure. The advantages of drahoma were so obvious to the Turkish Cypriot community that modern families also practiced it.

In the traditional Turkish Cypriot family, the father had the last word in his children's choice of spouses. Customarily, the bride and groom did not have a chance for individual visits prior to their engagement. Usually, an elderly member of the suitor's family went to the young woman's parents and asked for her hand in marriage. If her father agreed, gifts were exchanged between the two families and the engagement took place.

Originally, the wedding ceremonies for the bridegroom and bride occurred separately. Turkish Cypriots no longer practiced this custom. Only the Turkish rural migrants to Cyprus continued the tradition of separate ceremonies. In rural Turkish Cypriot society, the bride and bridegroom attended the same ceremony and the festivities lasted for several days.

Women of traditional families generally did not work outside the home. Their responsibility was to tend to the traditional domestic tasks, while husbands and sons dealt with business and other concerns outside the home.

In contrast to the traditional family, the modern family structure revolved around the nuclear family and had a distinctly urban character. While maintaining close social ties with the extended family, members of the nuclear family remained economically isolated from other relatives. There were joint economic relations among nuclear and extended family members, but they were far less common than with the traditional family.

Another important difference between traditional and modern families was that marriage was not under the strict control of the father. Young couples often decided on marriage themselves. Although dating, as practiced in the United States, was not common even at the beginning of the 1990s, couples met together in small groups of friends. Once a couple decided to marry, both sets of parents were consulted. The families then arranged the engagement and marriage. As noted, drahoma was also practiced by modern urban families.

The modern family usually consisted of only the husband, wife, and unmarried children. Large multigenerational extended families were unusual. While the husband continued even in the 1980s to have a strong decision-making role, the wife became increasingly involved in the family's economic and social choices. A major factor in the wife's changing family role was that she also worked outside the home to support the family.

Working wives and mothers were a relatively new phenomenon in Turkish Cypriot society. Until the post-1974 period, few women worked outside the home and even fewer had professional educations. Men's earnings had to be sufficient to satisfy the needs of their families, and women typically remained home and focused their efforts on raising their children.

After the 1974 war, this traditional arrangement lost its predominance. Once Turkish Cypriots established a government of their own, they faced immense difficulties in managing its institutions and creating a functioning economy. Adding to the intrinsic difficulties of these tasks were the lack of international recognition of their state and the Greek Cypriot economic blockade. Under these circumstances, women's participation in the work force became essential to meet both their state's and their families' needs. Building a new state required officials to hire trained personnel of both sexes to fill positions in the bureaucracy. As a result, Turkish Cypriot women came to be employed outside the home to a much greater extent than previously.

Women's absence from home worked a hardship on families with children. For the first time, child care became a serious issue in Turkish Cypriot society. Day-care centers were established in many cases, but when day-care centers were unavailable, grandparents frequently helped care for their children's offspring. The emergence of the child care problem was an unfortunate result of women's employment. It was an indication, however, that the structure of many Turkish Cypriot families in urban areas had become Westernized, in contrast to how Turkish Cypriots had lived a generation earlier.

Divorce was legal in the "TRNC." During the first eight years of the 1980s, there was an increase in the number of divorces, from 149 in 1980 to 177 in 1987. The increase was slightly higher than the increase in marriages, which went from 1,058 in 1981, to 1,162 in 1987. Incompatibility was the cause given for about 90 percent of divorces. The highest frequency of divorce occurred in the first year of marriage.

Data as of January 1991

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