Fighting Tradition: Domestic Violence is Fabric in the Family Cloth
Tuesday, December 5, 2006 1:55 PM

“If the day ends up without a fight and I have no blood on my body, I am happy that day,” says Varduhi Khacha yan, 47, resident of the village of Burastan in the Artashat region.

{ai146001.jpg|left}Such days are too few in Varduhi’s life. Seventeen years ago, while she was pregnant, her husband beat her with a stick. Varduhi gathered her things and fled to her parents’ home.

“My father did not accept me, he said: ‘Go, he is your husband. He may happen to beat you from time to time . . .’

“I had nowhere to run. I came back. From that time on, the day without beating is not a day,” says Varduhi.

She is the mother of four. They witness the beatings and the mother says they, too, are the victims of her husband’s anger.

Yeranuhi Khachatryan is 12. She tells about a time when her father had thrown the mother downstairs from the first floor, then held his foot on her throat to strangle her.

“What can we do? We can’t escape; he will later catch us and kill us. We can’t call the police. It’s a shame. The neighbors will laugh at us,” says Yeranuhi.

Experts say such cases of violence against women in Armenia are widespread, but the traditional stereotypes do not allow women a proper recourse against them.

“When we raise the question of violence against women in high places to pass a law, they say there is no such problem in Armenia; that it is artificially imported from foreign countries,” says Director of the Women’s Rights Center Susanna Vardanyan.

“We are even blamed for having sold ourselves to the foreigners and for making our traditionally strong families deteriorate.”

At least one Armenian scientist says the blame is legitimate.

Ethno-sociologist Mihran Galstyan, of the Institute of ethnography of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, says, too, that claims of domestic violence are exaggerated.

“Many organizations just extort grants from abroad, the foreign mediation into Armenian families is quite dangerous, if the woman is constantly told her husband has no right to reprimand on her, we will not have families,” says Galstyan.

Research favors the opinion that domestic violence is a serious issue.

Independent sociological survey center “Sociometer” conducted research in Yerevan and eight towns and eight villages. Among 1,200 women, 75 percent said they are victims of husbands’ violence. The survey also found that in one out of four cases, children witness the violence.

(By comparison, a World Health Organization study puts the number of women physically abused by their partners or ex-partners at 30 per cent in the UK, and 22 per cent in the US.)

“Unfortunately many seem to feel that humiliating a woman is a casual thing, because thinking that violence is an indispensable part of family life is formed since childhood,” says Director of the “Sociometer” Aharon Adibekyan.

But Galstyan has also held a sociological survey in 1,626 settlements across all the marzes of Armenia. According to his research, only 7.3 percents are exposed to family violence.

According to the survey answers and tables they ask nearly the same questions.

Adibekyan explains that the numbers are so different because of the skills of survey takers.

“Such surveys need a delicate approach. Not every woman will tell all her family problems to a person who she sees at first time. That’s why we involve in our survey teachers of villages, workers from communities, who are well known in villages and in different city communities, so a woman’s answers to their close people could be as sincere as it possible. That’s why our numbers are so high”.

During the seven-year existence of the Women’s Rights Center 10,181 women have sought help from their hotline service (080 080 850), of which 4,174 have been exposed to domestic violence.

Additionally, 3,000 women who have undergone violence have appealed to the “Motherhood Fund” during the 4 years of its existence.

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“These figures are quite high for Armenia, if we take into account that women who have undergone violence more frequently appeal to relatives and friends for help, and only those who have found themselves in a desperate situation appeal to the help of such organizations,” says Anna Badalyan, psychologist at the “Motherhood Fund”.

Badalyan says many do not even realize there can be a family without violence. For many, a “beating” is within the scope of family life.

According to statistical data 45 percents of women who have been exposed to violence keep silent trying to alleviate the situation; 0.3 percents of them appeal for divorce and 0.4 percent appeal to law enforcement bodies.

“There is a need for a law to make the training of police specializing in family violence possible; no one today appeals, for no one trusts in it; they think police will come and bring an action against, and then they will have to pay money to have the case closed,” says Vardanyan.

Besides, Vardanyan says it is fixed in our national mentality that the woman is always to blame, adding that violence against women is fixed even in Armenia’s linguistic mentality.

There are, for example, folks sayings: “Woman is wool; the more you comb it, the softer it gets.” Or “A husband’s beating is like a rose’s pricking.”

Serob Mesropyan, 78, Varduhi Khachatryan’s neighbor, has a refined test for trying woman; he has used this test while choosing wives for his sons.

“If the woman escapes in a corner of the house when you beat her, then she will become a wife; if she runs out, then she will not. I have chosen my wife that way, and the test proved right when I chose wives for my sons,” the old man says.

At the beginning of the 20th century, writer Yervand Otyan wrote a literary essay, “Should the Woman be Beaten?”:

“As a result of the wrongly interpreted modernization, women get less beating than in the good old times. … The day the habit of beating women totally disappears among us, ‘the gentle women of the Armenian world’ will cease to exist.”

In her call for legislation protecting women, Vardanyan says it is this mentality that must be overcome. She says her attempts to gain the attention of lawmakers have been fruitless, because they maintain that there isn’t any domestic violence in Armenia.

Published in: Fighting Tradition: Domestic violence is fabric in the family cloth, Gayane Abrahamyan, ArmeniaNow.