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‘I keep silent and put up with it’ — surviving domestic violence in Armenia

26 March 2019
(daptar)

Despite a new law being passed to tackle domestic violence in 2018, women’s rights groups say not enough is being done.

‘We got married at the end of 2017. The wedding was not luxurious, but our love was strong. We were both over 30 years old — that is, mature and accomplished people — and we knew very well what having a family meant and had a clear vision of the future’, Sona (not her real name) says.

Just a week after the small wedding feast, Sona’s husband attacked her for the first time. He used physical force against her, demanding that she tell him about her ‘dark past’.

‘I don't know how the idea came into his head that I had had boyfriends in the past, that I had been in an intimate relationship, but he had no substantiated evidence of that. He was the first man in my life, but the doubt gnawed at his soul.’

‘He beat me very harshly. He said he would kill me if I didn’t tell him who I was in an intimate relationship with, but I had nothing to say. Eventually, his parents intervened; his mother spoke with him for a long time. It seemed he calmed down.’

The next attack, however, occurred one week later and over time they became more frequent. Sona eventually left her husband.

‘I went to my parents, but my husband immediately came after me. He apologised, begged me to go back, promising never to drink even a sip of alcohol, because he became inadequate after drinking. But I didn’t go.’

‘A few weeks later, it turned out I was pregnant. This changed my life. I told him about the pregnancy, and again he asked me to go back to him, and I decided not to leave my child fatherless.’

Shortly after returning to him, Sona and her husband moved to Russia; this was her husband’s decision. He wanted them to move so that he could forget about her ‘dark past’ in Armenia.

‘Of course, I didn’t understand what past he wanted to forget about, but I went with him anyway. I wish I hadn’t gone… In Armenia, my parents-in-law protected me, but in Russia, I was completely alone. There was not a single day he didn’t drink. He would throw me against the walls like a ball.’

‘During one beating, my hand was broken. They put a cast on it; I was eight months pregnant. He sent me to Armenia to give birth. After giving birth, I had surgery on my hand, but because my cast was put on incorrectly, there were some problems.’

Sona stayed in Armenia after giving birth, while her husband continued to live in Russia. Due to her injury, Sona was placed on disability. And though the baby is already two years old, she has not found the will to divorce her husband.

‘Everyday of my life is a subsequent denial of my own principles. I know my rights very well, but I don’t protect them. I keep silent and put up with the situation. I don't want my child to grow up fatherless. He is a bastard as a husband but he is a good father’, Sona says.

‘The violence continues’

In December 2017, Armenia adopted a new law meant to tackle domestic violence, which entered into force in July 2018.

The law enshrined a legal and institutional basis for preventing domestic violence and protecting victims. It was to provide the necessary psychological, legal, social support to those subjected to violence, as well as, where appropriate, temporary financial support.

After the adoption of the law, many were convinced that it would provide protection for persecuted women.

But Marina Yeghiazaryan, a clinical psychologist at Armenia’s Women’s Rights Centre, says that she has not seen a decline in the number of women subjected to domestic violence.

‘Though the law was adopted, the scope of our work has not diminished. We continue to receive thousands of calls. The violence continues’, Yeghiazaryan says.

‘Our work starts when a call is made to the hotline, which is answered by a psychologist’, Yeghiazaryan says.

‘We talk, assess the situation, begin to give psychological aid, and then invite the woman to our centre. Each call needs an individual approach. Complex and delicate work is being done.’

According to Yeghiazaryan, the centre receives more than a thousand calls a year, some of which are from repeat victims.

‘Even today, many women are not informed; they cannot protect their rights. Many people also avoid resorting to going to a human rights centre, preferring instead to keep silent and not talk about their problems’, she says.

Human rights activist Zara Hovhannisyan agrees that one of the main problems with the new law is that people do not yet know their rights.

‘[The law] does not function normally, because the state hasn’t made everyone fully aware of it; many are not well informed’, Hovhannisyan says.

‘I escaped to save my child’s life’

Gayane says that problems in her family began after the birth of their child.

‘He was agitated about everything: while I walked, the sound of my footsteps; while I did the dishes, the sound from the water tap; while I did my hair, the sound of the hairdryer. He was the most infuriated when our newborn baby was crying. He was always saying: “Shut her up, I need to rest” ’, Gayane says.

She says that while in normal families, the birth of a child warms couples, brings them closer, in her case, the opposite happened, and that her husband turned from a quiet man into a beast.

‘It was a mystery to me what happened to him. When he slapped me for the first time, I was shocked, not from the pain, but from his attitude. He had never hit me before. The baby had not yet turned a month old when the violence became frequent.’

‘Once, when the baby was crying at night again, he threatened to kill both of us if I did not silence the baby very quickly. Later, the instances did not end with threats. He was attacking my baby.’

‘I would cover my baby with my body so that the kicking could not reach her. He beat us like this for a month. One day, when he was at work, I took our clothes and ran away.’

A lack of resources

While both Sona and Gayane survived their experience with domestic violence, extreme cases can end in death.

In one particularly notorious case in Armavir Province in September 2018, a man beat his wife and one-year-old child. The child died on the way to the hospital.

The Women’s Support Centre runs the only shelter in Armenia for victims of domestic violence. The centre also offers psychological and legal support.

‘In our shelter, we can accept a total of seven women and their children. The location of the house is confidential. It has all the conditions to make a person feel safe; she is provided with all necessary living conditions’, says the centre’s director, Hasmik Gevorgyan says.

At present, five women are living in the shelter. Residents can stay for up to three months, though the period of their stay can be extended on a case by case basis.

‘When the three months expire, the social workers already understand whether the woman is psychologically ready to live alone, whether she can care for her needs. If we find a problem, the length of stay is prolonged’, Gevorgyan says.

According to Hovhannisyan, there are not enough resources to serve the number of women facing domestic violence.

When Gayane left her husband, she had almost no relatives in Armenia; all of them were abroad. Fortunately, the family of a close friend provided her with a place to stay.

‘A victim of domestic violence should appeal to the police station, but at this point, problems can arise, if suddenly the victim needs a refuge from their abuser. The state has adopted the law, but it hasn't created shelters for victims’, she says.

‘My friend and her husband saved our lives. A couple of times, my husband tried to enter the house, and we threatened to call the police. Only his brother somehow managed to calm him, and he asked me not to leave my husband.

‘I couldn’t forgive him and I wasn’t sure that one day, during my absence, he wouldn’t harm our baby.’

‘Half a year has passed since those hellish days’, says Gayane, reflecting on her ordeal. ‘Now I'm thinking more soberly and I regret not leaving him sooner.’

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