Twenty-year-old Zaruhi Petrosyan became one of the latest victims of domestic violence in Armenia last month when she was viciously beaten to death by her husband and mother-in-law.
It’s another hectic day, miles away from Armenia. The weather here is rainy and grey. I’m restless because I don’t know whether you are truly in a better place now. You may be safe from the unjustifiable wrath and violence that you endured over the last two years. But at the same time, your right to live the everyday life of a 20-year-old mother was brutally taken away. When I learned of the cruel fate that you suffered at the hands of your husband and your mother-in-law, I trembled with horror. Although violence should never be the solution to any problem, it apparently was a way of life for you.
However remote the possibility, I wonder if our paths ever crossed during the time I spent in Armenia. You may have even called me kuro jan (sister dear) in a brief encounter at a market or in the subway. I stare at the photograph of your smiling face embedded in the newspaper article detailing the morbid circumstances surrounding your “fall.” The image gives me the uncanny feeling that at some point in the past our eyes locked together. Perhaps I feel this way because I am overcome with the urge to connect with you somehow. I am struggling to understand your fate, but does it matter?
You endured the unbearable, and while everyone is wrapped up in arguing the larger dimensions surrounding this crime, where is your voice? It has been silenced, waiting to be amplified by the deafening outcry on behalf of men and women who denounce your death and all forms of violence against women. In the midst of it all, you leave behind an infant, a grieving family, and the trail of domestic violence in Armenia—which some are attempting to carefully conceal.
As your diasporan sister, an Armenian woman myself, it infuriates me that you and others succumb to aggression carried out by men and women alike. And I have trouble reconciling the attempts by some individuals, whether in positions of power or not, who downplay and at times downright deny this immense social problem.
Why are we so afraid of exposing the wounds that plague the homeland, Zaruhi jan? Why are some so adamant in wanting to silence those who dare expose the truth, and, instead, choose to neatly cover the stains behind the shimmering facades of Yerevan? It is likely due to the uneasiness these realities bring. How does that compare to the discomfort you experienced? Maybe some individuals want to avoid the shame which they may or may not feel after committing abusive acts. How does that measure up to the self-inflected guilt and humiliation that you and others have suffered following psychological and physical trauma? Shouldn’t addressing your wellbeing as a woman, as a mother, be a priority?
Maybe denial is the easiest route for those wanting to skim over our problems. After all, how hard can it be to close our eyes to deep-rooted social issues like domestic abuse? Let them shut their eyes. Yours were once a witness to the ugliness that continues to be suppressed. We shouldn’t be talking about poverty and power, corruption, sexism, and other wide social inequalities…
Concealment only deepens wounds. The first step for providing some sort of way out is to address reality directly. This may just lead to ways of finding and implementing workable solutions. It will not be a pretty process and is guaranteed to be painful but, frankly, it is necessary. Mobilizing as many citizens of Armenia and of the diaspora around urgent issues is crucial. Rest assured, kuro jan, that many in and outside the homeland have been active in having their voices heard in the name of justice and equality. And as I write to you, efforts to make the government adopt a harsh stance towards issues of domestic violence and violence against women are hopefully being noticed. Yet, promises to pass domestic violence legislation remain unfulfilled, as a petition circulates and increased media coverage of the incident continues to make headlines.
Armenia, of course, is not unique in carrying this burden. Violence towards women, whether verbal, physical, sexual, or psychological, is rampant all around the world, piercing through all social classes and cultures. Some countries, however, address this issue head on—showing a willingness that Armenia ideally could emulate.
Passive injustice is not an option, nor is disillusion towards Armenia. Such crimes need to be denounced by political rhetoric and judicial means, while changes are made on the ground. Deep-set mentalities need to shift and we need to break free from reductive roles and images that are both expected of and imposed on Armenian women.
You may have been silenced, but be certain that your sisters and brothers you left behind will be making your voice heard.
The investigation and the awareness slogans may not protect the lives of other women, and they certainly cannot restore yours. I can only hope women everywhere will have more options, outlets, and opportunities to flee violence and begin healing.
Combined efforts both by the government and responsible citizens in Armenia and Armenians living abroad should lead the way in addressing and lessening the injustices surrounding women’s issues.
In the meantime, be well…in that place where you are now…