Manjikian: A Letter to Zaruhi

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.

Dear Zaruhi,

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.

Zaruhi Petrosyan

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…

Lalai Manjikian

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Lalai Manjikian

Lalai Manjikian holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University (2013). She currently teaches in the Humanities department at Vanier College in Montreal. Lalai writes and teaches in the areas of human migration, refugee social exclusion and inclusion, the ethics of migration, media and migration, intercultural communication, and diaspora studies. She is the author of Collective Memory and Home in the Diaspora: The Armenian Community in Montreal (2008). Lalai writes a monthly column, titled “Scattered Beads” for the Armenian Weekly.

8 Comments

  1. Hye,  Lalai, so well expressed in memory of Zaruhi.  Are there not women’s organizations in Haiastan to join and take the cause of Zaruhi further, until the laws
    are in force against such abuse of women.  Are there any groups where women(or their family members or friends, can come to for aid.  Obviously, NOT policeMEN…  
    Manooshag

  2. Thank you Lale for this extensive and beautifully written article. I am very concerned and ready to support any action to eradicate this inhuman act of violence to prove once submission to authority .
    It really is lack of education, and bullying starts at home and in schools. We have a long way to go since it is a serious problem in Canada but also in Afghanistan…..
    Lale good luck in you studies and keep on the fantastic job you and many of your friends are doing as involved citizens of this world.

  3. Abris Lalai,

    I loved the way you approached the subject, thank God for young people like you, you give us hope and drive……God bless you.

    You will not see the changes you seek from one day to the other, but you will for sure see significant changes, as long as you and others like you don’t give up! Fight as the day will come that you will win, shout, as the day will come that you will be heard, don’t ever cry, but make the guilty parties cry!

    Once again, abris aghchiges,

    Harry Markarian

  4. Lalai,

    Your penmanship is beautiful. This is a very sad reality, one that is taking notice around the world. Let’s hope that we as parents can do our part in educating our children…

    Thank you once again for putting words to these very very sad emotions.

    Elize

  5. Dear All, there is action that is being taken by the WRCA – they are pushing the case further to try and get the mother-in-law indicted too. Also, there will be a 16 day of Activism starting Nov 25 with a March Against Voilence Againts Women. This is important as it has been taking place for the past years, but this year, the action is dedicated to the memory of Zaruhi.
    you can find more info on http://www.womenofarmenia.org
    Lalai – as usual, very well written.

  6. Parev Lalai jan, inchbes es? kides? zarmanali e aysorva mer dan nute aravoden minch hima anartarutunneru masin er, yev inch zukatibutun er vor hagarag sovorutians computere patsi Simonigin yev Narein ngarnere tidelu, yev gartatsi nayev Zaruhiin masin kradset. Hampigin midke yegav Artur meshjiani yerkeren mege- Darorinag- darorinag mart araradz…………… isg yes vercheres hajakh ge hishem yev kachapar ge gergnem, Siamantoyi nshanavor khoske. – Ov martgayin artarutun togh yes tknem ku jagadin……. shad jisht e amen mart al Asdudso sdeghdzadn e, payts ge havadam vor meghk chuni yete esem vor gan martig voronk arjani chen abreluuuuuu. Amen barakai shad abris vor andarper ches kdnevads yev nuynisg hotvads krads.

  7. You are absolutely right; educating our children is the key to stopping this vicious cycle. That’s where the root of this problem lies.

  8. Thank you Lalai for keeping Zaruhi alive and the SUBJECT of this matter and not taking her out of the equation yet. I believe Zaruhi is still with us and will remain here until justice is served. And for the previous commentator, Elize, you are very correct in stating that parents need to educate their children. I believe the core of this issue lies in the way we socialize our children. We need to teach them to respect and value others by being good models ourselves. We need to teach them to be responsible human beings. The question that I keep asking myself is that, I wonder what kind of an upbringing Zaruhi’s husband had as a child? and What kind of experiences did the mother-in-law had growing up?
    Thanks again Lalai for this amazingly written letter and more power to you!

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