Author talks forced marriage and forgiveness

5:53 min

Born in northern Iraq, Arkan Asaad debuted as a novelist at the age of 30, with a book that dealt with his own difficult experience of forced marriage. 

"I tried to be the person that was the perfect son in my father's eyes but the problem was that I could not forgive myself," Asaad tells Radio Sweden. "I knew what love was and what the meaning of choosing your own life was."

In 1983, when Asaad was three years old, he and his family left northern Iraq for Sweden. It was during the Iraq-Iran war and the family spent some time in a refugee camp in Iran before arriving here and finally settling in Eskilstuna, a small town in south-eastern Sweden.

Sixteen years later, the summer when Asaad had just turned 19, he returned to his hometown and was finally reunited with his extended family. But three weeks later, his father told him that he would be marrying his cousin. The family had made its mind up and Asaad had no say in the matter.

An experience he has described in a novel but also in seminars as he tours Sweden, talking to young people.

He started touring the country's schools in 2011 and has given nearly 8,000 lectures since then, talking to pupils and teachers, and also to politicians and authorities. He has met over 700,000 children and gets mixed reactions. But mostly his young listeners feel empowered, he says.

"When I'm out giving lectures, it's about it's choosing your own life... that's what I talk about in schools," he says.

At first, Asaad coldn't resist the pressure from his family. He gave in and married his cousin during that visit to his hometown, Kirkuk. But when he later tried to get out of the marriage, he went through a hellish experience of revenge actions, lawsuits, broken relationships and, finally, an expensive divorce.

Today, Asaad has patched up relations with his father.

"Four years into this marriage, I broke it up and I knew what the cost would be: I would be banned from my family for life. After four years, I was dead in my father's eyes but after a few years I started to walk a path of forgiveness. I have the best relation with my father today," he says.

Asaad's ex-wife now lives in Germany. She's remarried and has two children. And HE has found an outlet in writing. But while his books are on the theme of honour culture, he avoids that word in his lectures because it has so many negative connotations, he says.

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