A Georgian court has charged the mother and uncle of 14-year-old Aitaj Shakhmarova, who was murdered in early October, with forced marriage of a minor.
Local media reported on Friday that the minor had been kidnapped and forced into marriage by 27-year-old Asim Aslanov two months prior to the incident, and shot dead when she tried to escape on 6 October.
Police arrested Asim Aslanov on Tuesday after a four-day search, a day after the Telavi district court charged Aslanov in absentia.
Aslanov admitted to the murder of the girl in court on Wednesday, but stated that while he regretted the act, it had not been intentional.
‘I have never dealt with a weapon, I thought I would only inflict a wound, and when I saw the blood, I got scared and ran away’, said Aslanov, according to TV Formula’s translation. Aslanov was speaking Azerbaijani. ‘I thought [the gun] was pneumatic and only made a sound. I don’t even know how to carry a weapon, I never had one.’
Aslanov added that he had earlier fallen off a horse and injured his head, so was ‘not conscious’ when he attacked Shakhmarova. He did not specify where he had obtained the weapon.
Aslanov is being investigated for premeditated murder in aggravating circumstances against a family member, and has been imprisoned as a preventive measure. If found guilty, he faces either 16 to 20 years in prison, or lifetime imprisonment.
The minor’s mother and uncle were indicted by the Rustavi district court on Wednesday and face up to six years in prison.
On Thursday, TV Pirveli reported that Shakhmarova’s father, who had been abroad, had also arrived for questioning.
What happened to Aitaj?
Shakhmarova lived in Useinkendi, a village with a predominantly ethnically Azerbaijani population in Dmanisi municipality, according to local media.
The day after Shakhmarova’s murder, her mother told reporters that the 14-year-old had been kidnapped by Aslanov when she ‘went to the field to fetch a calf, and this boy was hiding there’.
Her mother, whose name has not been made public, also stated that she had been unable to rescue Shakhmarova because Aslanov had threatened to kill her.
‘They kidnapped my child. This did not happen with the consent of the family. I wanted to go there, but the boy told me that if you come here, I will kill you too’, she said. ‘He killed my daughter because she wanted to leave’.
‘The girl told him, I’m only 14 years old, I don’t love you, leave me alone, otherwise I’ll call 112 [the emergency services], and he killed her. I ask that the murderer be sentenced to life in prison’, said the woman, before being charged.
On Wednesday, the prosecutor’s office stated that the investigation had established that after Aslanov abducted Shakhmarova and took her to Lambalo village in Sagarejo district, Shakhamarova had managed to call her mother using a stranger’s telephone and inform her of her abduction.
‘Despite the fact that the minor’s mother and uncle learned about the serious crime committed against the 14-year-old girl, they believed that the minor did not have the right to express [her] free will and make a choice’, the prosecutor’s office stated. ‘They did not report this to the law enforcement authorities and forced the child to live with the abductor’.
RFE/RL reported that Shakhmarova was shot as she tried to escape Aslanov’s home in Lambalo during preparations for the wedding of her kidnapper’s cousin.
Maya Khmaladze, head of the Dmanisi educational resource centre, told RFE/RL that teachers and staff at Akhmarova’s school were unaware that Shakhmarova had been kidnapped and forced into marriage.
According to Khmaladze, after the principal of Shakhmarova’s school warned that she would no longer be enrolled she continued to fail to attend, Shakhmarova’s mother stated that the child would return to school in two days, as she had been away ‘being a guest’. Khmaladze underscored that the child’s mother did not tell the school authorities that Shakhmarova had been kidnapped or that she needed help.
TV Formula reported on Thursday that the principal of Shakhmarova’s school, Gamlet Ismailovi, who is a member of the ruling Georgian Dream party and a member of the Dmanisi City Council, was himself accused of forcibly marrying a 15-year-old minor in 2015, while working as a schoolteacher.
Mubariz Ismailovi, a former principal at Shakhmarova’s school, confirmed the information to Formula and said that while an investigation had been started at the time, no convictions were ever made.
Early marriage is a longstanding issue in Georgia which remains prevalent, particularly in rural communities.
Numerous reports have emerged in recent years of underage girls being abducted, in some cases raped, and forced into early marriage, after which they stop attending school.
Ana Arganashvili, head of the Georgian human rights organisation Partnership for Human Rights, told Formula on 7 October that out of 39 court cases regarding child marriages in 2021—2022, a plea bargain was signed in 29.
‘In light of these statistics, we cannot convince a person to turn to the court and trust it’, said Arganashvili.
UNFPA, the United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency, published a study in 2022 on the subject of early marriages in Georgia, which found that 14% of all marriages involved an underage individual.
The research found that low public awareness of child marriage being illegal and harmful contributed to ‘most of the alleged crimes’ not being reported to police or other state agencies.
The study also noted that, unlike in previous years, Georgia’s Interior Ministry had not compiled and published statistics on child marriages in 2021—2022.
A public demonstration, under the slogan ‘A child is not a wife’, has been announced for 15 October, in front of Georgia’s parliament. The expressed aim is to express solidarity with Shakhmarova, and support women and children who are still experiencing violence.