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In dusty Turkish village, surfing the Web for brides

Turkey's rising status in the Arab world – along with the arrival of the Internet in this rural town – has helped men attract women from Morocco. Most are second wives.

By Yigal SchleiferCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 10, 2009

Hasip Yildirim opened his Internet cafe two years ago. He has since become a kind of cross-border matchmaker.

Yigal Schleifer

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Gokce Village, Turkey

Since Hasip Yildirim opened his Internet cafe two years ago, the former truck driver has become something of a local matchmaker. Now that they have access to the Web, the men in this dusty rural village have started looking for wives online, where – thanks to Turkey's growing clout and visibility in the Middle East – they are suddenly seen as quite a catch by women in the region.

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"Everyone's coming to the Internet cafe now to find a wife," says Mr. Yildirim, speaking inside his fluorescent-lit one-room outfit, which has some 20 computer terminals. "Sometimes, there's no space to sit down."

An intriguing example of modern technology put to use in the service of ancient tradition, Yildirim's virtual matchmaking business also has a somewhat unsavory twist: It's re-inforcing polygamy. Though officially outlawed in 1926, polygamy continues today in Turkey's impoverished and predominantly rural southeast.

In the past, the village's Arabic-speaking men used to hop across the border to find a second wife in Syria. But the arrival of the Internet in the village has changed that.

Locals have zeroed in on Morocco in particular, since its residents can come to Turkey without a visa. In the past year, some 10 Moroccan brides – all second wives, including one 45-year-old who married a man 30 years her senior – have come to Gokce. More than a dozen more are expected to arrive in the coming year.

"Everybody wants a Moroccan bride now," says Yildirim, who scouts out potential Moroccan wives on an Arabic chat website called habibti.com. ("Habibti" is the feminine version of "my dear" in Arabic.)

'I'm a pioneer'

The romance might wear off quickly in Gokce (pronounced "Gohk-che"), 2,700 miles from Morocco. Although Turkey's per capita income of $12,000 is three times that of Morocco, much of southeast Turkey is mired in deep poverty. In Gokce, surrounded by parched fields of stunted wheat, many homes are built from mud brick. Few roads are paved.

In the front courtyard at the home of Halit Oncel, the first villager to find a Moroccan bride online, sewage runs through a narrow open channel and chickens run freely. Because of modesty customs, none of the women in the house could be seen during the visit of a male guest. But Mr. Oncel says his second wife, Mona, from northern Morocco, is "happy" here. "A bride from Istanbul couldn't live here. But a bride from outside Meknes [a northern Moroccan city] can," says Oncel, a truck driver with a shy grin.

Oncel and Mona married a year ago, after a three-month online courtship. With 11 children in the house from his first wife, Oncel says he felt it was time to find another wife to help out with the housework.

After a failed trip to Syria to find a bride, Oncel came across Gokce's new Internet cafe.

"I saw some people were making friends online, and I thought I could do this to find a wife," he says, sitting on a rug in his spartan living room. Through habibti.com, Oncel says he met four potential candidates. When Mona agreed to marry him, he sent her money for a plane ticket to Turkey.

"I'm a pioneer, which makes me feel good. Others are following me," he says.

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