BY MARO MATOSIAN
The death of Zaruhi Petrosyan — beaten to death in 2010 by her husband and mother-in-law — has sparked a stronger public discussion about violence against women in Armenia. Before 2010, domestic violence was not discussed publicly, nor even acknowledged as a matter of social concern; rather, it was seen as a private, family matter. Since 2010, through the efforts of women’s rights organizations and civil society, this human rights violation has become visible, to the point where survivors are able to voice their own stories.
After many years of advocacy, a new domestic violence law has been drafted in Armenia by the Ministry of Justice, and is based on the recommendations from different organizations with experience in handling violence against women.
This draft law aims to protect women and children from violence, thereby making Armenian families more peaceful. But it has met with virulent resistance. Why?
The reasons are interesting, and perhaps surprising at first glance. Armenia faces many geopolitical challenges, but an important one concerns its decision to join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union. In doing so, Armenia has acknowledged Russia’s leading role in Transcaucasia, but this move also subjects Armenia to Russian efforts to distance it from the West. This applies especially to the European Union, which seeks warmer relations with countries found on its periphery.
After a major setback three years ago, the EU once again is seeking various agreements that will lead to exchange programs, cooperation, as well as increased foreign assistance for Armenia. In doing so, the EU has also signaled basic standards, including those for human rights, which it expects from all partner countries. This has generated a culture clash, as pro-Russian elements seek to impede this rapprochement, ostensibly ‘protecting’ Armenia from the invasion of ‘alien’ values and norms.
Such ‘protection’ is accomplished in various ways. One is for pro-Russian sources to financially support groups who will oppose progressive reforms. Such groups often attempt to stir fear, misinformation, and panic towards initiatives – such as the Domestic Violence law — in order to confuse the public into opposing them. The accusations of these groups are outrageous, claiming that a DV law will
- counter our traditional Armenian values
- destroy the Armenian family
- take children away from families and place them in orphanages
- That children, as a result of family disruption, will become gay
… and many other absurdities.
The draft law has been posted on the Ministry of Justice website, in order to gather commentary from the public. Women’s rights organizations point out mainly three gaps in the text, which contradict international best practices. They are as follows:
- Mediation mechanism: According to the draft, the police will serve as the primary mediator between the victim and the perpetrator. Based on international experience, this mediation proposition is inefficient and can be dangerous in domestic violence cases. And, based on local experience in Armenia, police may well use this tool as a way to “victim blame” and to pressure women into reconciling. Moreover, this mediation is proposed after protective orders are put in place, which means that threats and violence have already occurred.
- Case management: The draft also proposes that a council, headed by the Prime Minister, will be used to manage the issues of domestic violence cases. How this will occur, and how the mechanisms for it will function, are unclear. There are only 2 shelters in Armenia currently, and they are run completely by NGOs; and yet, the draft also recommends state-run shelters. In principle, this is laudable; but in practice, this is cause for concern, since State social workers have no experience in this field, and usually their practice has not been victim-centered. Another contentious point concerns references to “immoral” or “insulting” behavior on the part of the victim, which would justify the perpetrator’s abuse. This argument was often used by abusers and authorities, as they accused the victim of betrayal and infidelity.
- Lastly, we are pleased that the draft introduces protective orders in Armenia; however, it doesn’t contain any punitive measures, and instead refers to Armenia’s current penal code, which is inadequate for cases of domestic violence. (On the other hand, we acknowledge that there are provisions in the law to train service providers, such as social workers, police, and judges. Until now, this was solely done by women’s organizations.)
We also hope that the government will initiate awareness-raising campaigns to send a strong message that such behavior is unacceptable and punishable as 1 in 4 women are victims of abuse. Hopefully this will counter the present state of impunity towards domestic violence, and the public-at-large will come to an understanding that there is no excuse for domestic violence.
Survivor Testimony: WSC former beneficiary Hasmik Khachatryan
Hasmik Khachatryan is a domestic violence survivor and has publicly spoken about her story. Hasmik stated that when she would go to the police for help and protection from her husband, they would instead call her husband to come to the station and have them reconcile. This type of mentality that attempts to fix the situation for the children’s sake puts the victim in an even more dangerous and vulnerable situation. It is the responsibility of the law enforcement to protect victims of abuse. Authorities do so when violence occurs publicly between strangers in the street. However when a woman seeks protection from abuse at the hands of her partner, it’s seen as a private issue that should be resolved at home.
When Hasmik would attempt to leave the home, family and friends would ask her how she was planning on living, with no income and children to take care of. They would encourage her to go back to her abusive husband. Society believes that for a woman, it’s better to live at home with her family, even if she’s being abused. Her safety and her right to live a life free of abuse is not important; only the preservation of the family is important, not even considering the psychological scars on her and the children.
“My husband broke my nose, my eardrum, left me with many concussions. One day I left the house heavily bleeding, and decided to go to a hospital outside of my town in Gavar, where everybody knew him. There, the hospital referred me to the Women’s Support Center, who saved me and changed my life. I didn’t know that there were shelters available to stay in, and I was afraid of the unknown. After many months at the shelter I regained my strength, and healed both physically and psychologically. Now I have a small business and sell pastries to stores and I am able to support my family.
I am sad, that the court pardoned my ex-husband, because he never understood that he is responsible for his crimes, and he continued his violent behavior towards others. Many batterers think that violence against a woman is not punishable. That is why having a law is so important”-said Hasmik.
To learn more about Hasmik’s story, click here:
Maro Matosian is the Executive Director of Women’s Support Center.