Twenty-year-old Zaruhi Petrosyan became one of the latest victims of domestic violence in Armenia when she was viciously beaten to death by her husband and mother-in-law, says the victim’s sister, Hasmig.
In an interview with News.am, Hasmig recounted a horrific story of abuse that her late sister, mother to an infant girl, suffered, and the impotence and unwillingness of the police to act when faced with cases of domestic violence.
Zaruhi’s relatives insist that by the time she was transported to a hospital, she had been severely beaten for days in a row.
“The neighbors have stated [to the Masis police] that on the day of my sister’s death, they entered the apartment and witnessed how they [the husband and the mother-in-law]… had broken her knees and fingers, crushed her skull, and stuffed cloth in her mouth, to stop the bleeding. Then, one of the neighbors told their son to call the cops. When her mother-in-law and husband realized that the cops would be on their way, in her beaten state, they threw [Zaruhi] down the stairs, pulled her body back into the house, so that they could tell the cops that she fell down the stairs and crushed her bones,” said Hasmig.
The sister believes that Yanis Sarkisov, her sister’s husband, broke Zaruhi’s fingers after she tried to dial for help.
Slideshow images are courtesy of Araz Artinian, a documentary filmmaker, humanitarian worker, and activist, who uses various creative modes to raise awareness about issues of concern, especially injustices affecting women and children in Armenia.
Hasmig revealed that from the beginning of her sister’s marriage to Yanis, in March 2008, she was constantly subjected to severe beatings until blood would pour out of her nose and mouth, and she would lose consciousness.
“They beat my sister even in her pregnant state,” said Hasmig.
On a number of occasions, Zaruhi went to Hasmig’s home covered in bruises. She’d tell them that her husband and his mother had repeatedly beaten her, demanding that she call her relatives and ask for money for his car payments.
“It so happened that my sister separated from her husband and lived with us for about two weeks. Every day her husband would call and threaten her, that if you don’t come back home, I will come over and kill you and your sister’s family, and if you go out of the house, I will kill you outside,” said Hasmig.
They went to the police twice, said Hasmig, “And it’s even in writing that if he so much as touches her, they would take him in…the Masis [Police Department].”
“But they all turned a blind eye,” Hasmig’s mother-in-law added.
Yanis would brag about his cousin who held a high-ranking position in the Etchmiadzin police. Since his wife was an orphan girl, he’d say, he could do anything he wanted with her, even kill her, if he wished.
Hasmig’s mother-in-law, who witnessed Zaruhi’s beatings and the bruises on her body, confirmed her story.
Gayane Markaryan, the director of Pyureghavan’s Care and Protection Center, the shelter where Hasmig and Zaruhi had stayed prior to their marriages, told a similar story. When on the few occasions Markaryan had contacted Zaruhi to ask about her wellbeing, Zaruhi had said that she was miserable and often beaten.
“Six or seven months ago, she was already complaining that my life isn’t good, I’m constantly beaten and tortured, they’re keeping me and my child in terror. And 15 days ago, she called and began to cry, saying there is always a fight in our house, my mother-in-law this, my brother-in-law that…and on and on,” said Markaryan.
Now her relatives are afraid the truth is being covered up by the police, because Zaruhi is an “unprotected child.”
According to Hasmig, when she began telling the Masis police about the beatings and abuse her sister was suffering, the investigator kept declaring that her story was unimportant and irrelevant, in an attempt to smooth over the alleged crime.
Hasmig’s mother-in-law said that when she criticized the investigator, she was escorted outside the station and reprimanded by his officers for being too loud.
Meanwhile, the police and hospital reports on Zaruhi’s death contradict one another: The cause of death and even the time of death do not match.
According to Hasmig, the police investigator claimed he spoke to Zaruhi at 2 a.m., which is when she allegedly told him that she fell down the stairs. “My sister died at 1; how could the investigator have spoken with her at 2?” said Hasmig.
Furthermore, the hospital staff claimed that before her death, Zaruhi’s request was “don’t prosecute my husband.”
Yanis, who has since been detained and is undergoing questioning, denies having committed any crime, saying “I am not guilty. She fell and died.”
The News.am story should bring the issue of domestic violence to the forefront of Armenia’s national agenda; at least, that is what many activists are hoping for. Some have called for legislative steps to protect the rights of women in Armenia, many of whom are victims of abuse.
Despite overwhelming evidence confirming that domestic abuse is rampant in Armenia, news reports and personal accounts make a case that Armenia’s authorities choose to ignore, or even worse, deny.
One blogger, Artmika, writes: “I remember when relatively recently the Women’s Resource Centre wanted to put posters in Yerevan to highlight the problem of domestic violence and indicate a hotline for those affected to call, the Yerevan municipality refused to allow it by claiming there is no such problem in Armenia. Typical mentality. Let’s pretend that we do not have such problem, let’s not talk about it, otherwise it may affect our image… Instead of facing up [to] the problem and developing effective means to tackle it. In the meantime, cases, like the one [above], keep happening…”
Studies show that only 17 percent of domestic abuse victims reach out to the police. However, the deputy head of the Police Order Maintenance Department, Karen Mehrabyan, has argued that “If it were so, then every third man is also subjected to violence, because women always pressure them to bring money home,” reported ArmeniaNow.
In April, the director of the Women’s Rights Center, Susanna Vardanyan, told ArmeniaNow’s Gayane Abrahamyan that her organization had initiated a draft law on domestic violence, which had been examined by various ministers and officers of the law. “Five years ago, we could not even have said that. High-ranking officials would just have laughed and said such a problem did not exist in Armenia, that these were just isolated cases, but now many are even ready to support the adoption of the law.”
Zaruhi’s death has sparked renewed efforts to protect the rights of women within the home. Citing her death, a petition has been drafted by a concerned party, titled “Armenia Must Pass Domestic Violence Legislation,” on an online petition site that aims to collect 1,000 signatures.
Because family is a strong unit in Armenia, no one wants to speak about abuse, while the government claims it is a private matter, Heather McGill, a researcher with Amnesty International told Inter Press Service in 2009.
‘The traditional Armenian image’
Meanwhile, on Sept. 29, only a couple of days before Zaruhi’s death, Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry announced it was organizing a “Miss Armenian” beauty contest.
According to the minister, Hranush Hakobyan, participants, local or diasporan, are expected to have “mastered” the Armenian language, be good cooks, and “preserve the image of an Armenian woman,” reported epress.am.
When asked to elaborate on “the image of an Armenian woman,” Hakobyan said, “To tell you the truth, I don’t accept filthy, ill-mannered girls.” A woman must be “modest.”
“I also don’t accept journalists who raise their pens and attempt to write filth about the traditional Armenian image in the papers,” she added.
“Really good things can be portrayed in these processes of globalization, while the bad is not reproduced. The world is changing very quickly, it’s getting smaller. We can see and comprehend all the social phenomena of different countries, but the traditional Armenian woman is a good mother, a good daughter, a good wife. All her actions, really, are balanced and measured,” she said.
The Armenian woman should “be within [her] limits.”
While it appears the Ministry is encouraging self-censorship in matters that could harm the national image, activists are asking for a larger and louder chorus.
In an open letter, Armenia’s Society Without Violence condemned the death of Zaruhi, adding, “As women’s rights NGO members, we call human rights organizations, activists, interested people, mass-media, and international organizations to be observant, to highlight this case by every possible way of dissemination, to provide the publicity and transparency of the case investigation and the trial for reaching the fair judgment of [the] 20-year-old woman’s murderers.”
“Otherwise the stereotypes, that such crimes are inter-family issues, that such cases do not deserve to be in the public’s and law enforcement bodies’ attention will have more and profound roots in our society.”
“With our silence we will allow such crimes to be justified and guilty people to avoid the punishment determined by law. In other words, by our silence we will have more innocent victims.”