To get a sense of how modern technology can be put to use in the service of ancient tradition, one might want to consider a visit to the Yildirim internet cafe in Gokce, a small, poor and dusty village near Turkey's southern border with Syria.
When Hasip Yildirim, a 34-year-old former truck driver, opened the cafe two years ago, he imagined it would be a place for local children to play video games and surf the web. Little did he know it would become Gokce's lonely hearts' club, although with a somewhat unsavory twist.
Many of the men in Gokce (pronounced "Gohk-che") practice polygamy, which, although officially outlawed in 1926, endures throughout 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. Since Yildirim opened his cafe two years ago, Gokce's men have started looking for wives online, where -- thanks to Turkey's growing clout and visibility in the Middle East -- Turkish bride surfers are suddenly seen as quite a catch by women in the region.
"Everyone's coming to the internet cafe now to find a wife," said cafe-owner Yildirim, speaking inside his fluorescent-lit, one-room business, which has some 20 computer terminals. "Sometimes, there's no space to sit down."
Locals have zeroed in on Morocco since its citizens can come to Turkey without a visa. In the last year, some 10 Moroccan brides -- all second wives, including a 45-year-old who married a man 30 years her senior -- have come to Gokce, population 3,200. More than a dozen more are expected to arrive in the coming year.
"Everybody wants a Moroccan bride now," said Yildirim. He now acts as a kind of virtual matchmaker, scouting out potential Moroccan wives on an Arabic chat website called Habibti.com ("habibti" is the feminine version of "my dear" in Arabic).
"The Moroccans think Turkey has prestige, that it's a strong country. They also trust Turkey -- they know it's a Muslim country and that we pray and read the Koran," Yildirim said. "They don't ask if we are rich or poor, or what we eat. The first question they ask is if we are Muslim or not."
Issam Moussaoui, executive director of the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women, a women's rights organization based in Casablanca, says a poor economy and little access to jobs have forced many Moroccan women to look to marriage abroad -- particularly in Europe -- as a way out of enduring poverty.
For some Moroccan women, being a second wife might not sound so strange. Polygamy in Morocco was banned only in 2004.
Meanwhile, after decades of not being involved in the Middle East, Turkey's stock in the region is rising. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's harsh criticism of Israel's attack on Gaza earlier this year endeared Turkey to many in the Arab world, while, in recent years, several Turkish soap operas -- dubbed into Arabic -- have become hits across the Middle East, further reintroducing the country to the region. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"Moroccans know a lot more about Turkey now," said Moussaoui, speaking by telephone from Casablanca. "Especially now with the television shows, people know Turkey a lot more. A lot of women watch these shows daily. They know a lot about Turkish culture and that Turkish men [seem] more romantic than other ones."
The romance is apt to wear off quickly in Gokce, located some 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers) from Morocco. Although Turkey's per capita income of $12,000 is three times what it is in Morocco, much of southeast Turkey is mired in deep poverty. In Gokce, surrounded by parched fields of stunted wheat, many of the homes are built out of mud brick and few of the roads are paved.
Halit Oncel, 38, was the first villager to find a Moroccan bride online. In the front courtyard at his home, raw 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 Oncel says his second wife, Mona, a 38-year-old from Meknes in northern Morocco, is "happy" in Gokce.
"A bride from Istanbul couldn't live here. But a bride from outside Meknes can," said Oncel, a truck driver with a shy grin that opens up to reveal a missing front tooth.
Oncel and Mona married a year ago, after a three-month online courtship. With eleven 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 never used the internet before this. I saw some people were making friends online and I thought I could do this to find a wife," he says, sitting barefoot and cross-legged on a rug in his spartan living room. Through habibti.com, Oncel says he met four potential candidates. When Mona agreed to marry him, after a series of video chats, he sent her money for the airplane ticket to Turkey.
"I'm a pioneer, which makes me feel good. Others are following me," he said.
Mazhar Bagli, a sociologist at Dicle University in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, estimated that roughly 8 percent of the region's population practices polygamy. Overall, an estimated 3-4 percent of the population in Turkey practices polygamy.
"This issue has been highlighted in the media and academic circles, and this interest gives an impression that there is a rise in polygamy practices," Dr. Bagli said. "But I believe that, comparatively, there is not much increase in these practices."
In Gokce, at least, the arrival of the internet means that the practice is certainly not going to decrease. On a recent afternoon, Hasip Yildirim was sitting in front of a computer screen, holding simultaneous online chats in Arabic with three Moroccan women who he was hoping to introduce to some locals. Huddled around him were a group of curious boys, munching away on sunflower seeds.
At a dimly-lit grocery next door, storeowner Abdulbaki Oncel -- the younger brother of Halit -- still seems to be figuring out the process that brought brides from Morocco to tiny Gokce. "Finding these Moroccan girls has been very lucky for our village," he said, shaking his head slightly. "Morocco is very far from Turkey."
Yigal Schleifer is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.