In the Name of Zaruhi: A Call to Action in Armenia and Diaspora

Although more than a month has passed since the death of Zaruhi Petrosyan—the 20-year-old mother whose death was attributed to severe beatings at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law—the story of her tragic death continues to reverberate in the media. Public outrage has given way to concrete action and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women in Armenia has planned “16 Days of Activism to Stop Violence against Women” in memory of Zaruhi, due to take place from Nov. 25-Dec. 10.

The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women in Armenia has planned “16 Days of Activism to Stop Violence against Women” in memory of Zaruhi, due to take place from Nov. 25-Dec. 10.

The coalition is comprised of seven NGOs: the Women’s Resource Center, Armenia; Women’s Rights Center; Society Without Violence; PINK Armenia; Women’s Support Center; Zangakatun; and Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Yerevan. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has also added its name to the list. “Maybe diasporan organizations should join as well,” said Lara Aharonian, the director of the Women’s Resource Center in Yerevan, in her statements to the Armenian Weekly.

According to Aharonian, a petition is in the works to secure a fair trial in Zaruhi’s murder case. “We will need lots of people to sign it as well in the diaspora,” she added, noting that “Armenia is the only country in [the] south Caucasus without a domestic violence law or protection order.”

“We need to pressure women’s organizations in the diaspora, like the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) in Boston, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), and others, to do similar actions on domestic violence; to use their local connections in Armenia; to write open letters to the president and prime minister or other local authorities they are in touch with [and] pressure them for a domestic violence law; [and] ask for [a] fair trial for this case specifically.”

A law would be a meaningful first step. Without the law, women’s rights organizations cannot pressure authorities to provide free services for battered women, to support shelters, or to begin a state funded nationwide campaign to eradicate domestic abuse.”

Furthermore, she said, “Women will rarely go all the way to punish their perpetrator since [they] themselves are not protected by the law.”

On Nov. 25, the first day of the protest, the coalition will begin accepting donations for a small fund to provide immediate support to Zaruhi’s family. They also plan on opening a bank account in Zaruhi’s daughter’s name, to provide her with a financial backbone once she turns 18.

“[We will be] asking people on the streets to give us their pennies…to start a small fund to help the family right now,” said Aharonian. “The daughter’s fate is still undecided—[whether] she will end up in the orphanage or not, we don’t know for sure yet. So we will wait till the end of the trial to open the account.”

Zaruhi was herself an orphan, a fact her husband used against her when subjecting her to beatings. According to Zaruhi’s sister, Hasmig, the husband would brag about his cousin who held a high-ranking position with 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.

An “unprotected child,” Zaruhi met an unusually cruel fate. Often, once children become too old for their orphanages—usually at 18—they are forced to fend for themselves. The future is quite uncertain for these girls, who often lack the required skills and connections to become self-sufficient, and who therefore opt to marry soon after leaving the orphanage.

Now, this newly formed coalition is focusing on raising domestic abuse awareness in Armenia. “People still think that domestic violence is a private thing and not a criminal case,” says Aharonian.

The coalition will be closely monitoring the Zaruhi case, “to make sure the justice system will handle it correctly…that the investigation is not being corrupted.”

“Once this case gets a fair trial, then the coalition will concentrate on an action plan on a national level.”

According to Aharonian, there are a number of things needed in Armenia: increased public and government awareness; economic development programs; and more service centers in major cities like Yerevan and especially in rural areas where circumstances are far worse for women.

Forces must be joined with community workers, she says, to set up training programs for police officers, nurses, doctors, teachers, and social workers.

Of course, a domestic violence law and a protection order must be adopted. “[The] Women’s Rights Center has one still pending,” says Aharonian.

The sexual violence law needs to be amended, she adds. “We are working on that and will soon present it to the parliament.”

And finally, lobbying efforts need to be directed at female politicians to increase their focus on women’s issues.

Aharonian believes that the diaspora can be a powerful instrument in encouraging development in Armenia; strengthening civil society; fighting for women’s rights, human rights, and gender mainstreaming; and joining the anti-corruption battle.

Together with the Ministry of Social Affairs, an inter-sectorial agency has been formed, at the initiation of the prime minister, that aims to end gender-based violence. “We prepared a national action plan from 2011-15,” says Aharonian. “Now we need to make sure that it will be applied—that is going to be a challenge—but based on that document, we can make the government accountable… To do that, we soon need to disseminate that paper all over, even in the diaspora, and each year [we need to] ask for specific results.”

Zaruhi Petrosyan died on Oct. 1. Her husband, Yanis Sarkisov, was subsequently arrested and faces trial. Soon after news of the circumstances of her death spread, a petition—“Armenia Must Pass Domestic Violence Legislation”—was drafted by Simon Maghakyan, a concerned diasporan, and signed by almost 3,200 individuals, though initially the goal had been to collect 1000 signatures.

“I have received a letter signed by the chief of Armenia’s police headquarters indicating that the petition to the prime minister has been referred to them and that it has been forwarded to the Investigative Service within Ministry of Defense (which prosecutes crimes by military contractors. Zaruhi’s killer husband is a military contractor),” Maghakyan told the Weekly.

However, Maghakyan fears this might pose a problem to Zaruhi’s case. “Yanis Sarkisov (who killed Zaruhi with his mother) is a contract-based serviceman in the Armenian military. But was he on duty when he murdered his wife?” asks Maghakyan in a blog post.

“At first, I took the letter as a positive sign,” he writes. “It is awkward, however, that the military investigators are looking into the case of domestic violence.”

“They do not have, as far as I understand, any authority to prosecute Zaruhi’s other killer–the mother-in-law. Neither do they seem to have authority to investigate the possibility of the brother-in-law’s involvement (two specific demands that our petition made),” he adds.

However, with the number of organizations monitoring the case, “the 16 Days of Activism,” and the amount of coverage the case has received from social networking sites and the media, the onus will now rest with the authorities to bring justice to this case, and to take the necessary steps—in sync with demands made by Armenia’s rights activists—to prevent such cases from happening again, and to swiftly adopt the much-needed domestic violence law.

Note: The coalition has set up a Facebook page, “March to stop violence against women in Armenia,” where readers may direct inquiries.

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in Political Science and English and her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts (Boston).
Nanore Barsoumian

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  1. In Armenia this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Armenian Government  will not do anything about violence agianst women.

    Armenia is  such a backward and godforsaken country and men belong to the dark ages. worst than any african country I have lived in.

  2. Yet more feminist propaganda. How come there is such a fuss about a woman being beaten to death, yet there is never any outcry when a man is beaten to death. There are many more men being beaten to death than women, yet somehow beatings have only been deemed importand if the victims are women.
    I’m so sick of these “concerned diasporans” trying to change things in a country they don’t live in. Why don’t they all take their western funding, their lack of testicles and try to destroy just their lives.
    The hell with all these fake “concerned diasporans” They can all go to hell. It’s sexist, biased, and plain wrong to only express “outcry” when one woman gets beaten to death, yet when a much larger number of men get beaten to death nothing but silence is expressed.
    Furthermore, how can they “claim” that there is significant gender-based violence, just based on one case? Seems as if, like their Western counterparts, they are using the age-old propaganda tactic of “Turn one incidence into a public safety issue, keep repeating a lie until people are scared into signing away their right”
    Who’s behind all this crap? No doubt, it’s supported by funding from the West. They have screwed up their societies and are now looking at destroying any normal society left out there.

  3. I am shocked and saddened and disappointed in the lack of human rights and justice in Armenia.   This is so horrible that I never want to visit Armenia.  I wanted to before but until things change, I will never go there.  They must change their laws and attitude.   Shame!

  4. When we hear everyday about the criminal acts commited by Armenians against their country and countrymen, we feel  ashamed of being a diaspora Armenian. 
    But what would you say if you were an Armenian woman in Armenia ? 
    What a real shame for us all to have let so long our daughters, sisters and mothers being treated as they are. We have the duty to help them resist to all the forms of humiliation and oppression. Enough is enough.

  5. how do we sign the petition, and contribute financially???
    how can a wife abuser/murderer be a military contractor???
    if you can’t defend and care for your immediate family, how can you be in charge of a country’s safety???
    people are sick 

  6. Levon,

    You are missing a point. May be more men are being beaten to death in general, but not in domestic violence cases and not by their wives. It is not about who gets killed more, rather who gets abused more within a family.  And in present day Armenia, violence against women by their husbands is common. What is more disturbing, most people and even women do not see anything wrong with it.

  7. Levon, no one should be beaten to death even people like you who don’t see a difference between regular fights between men and violence against women as a tool of oppression. You chauvinist soulless ***.

  8. And what does the Church say? What does it do? Does it still ask the bride to pledge to be “obedient” and the bridegroom to be “the master/owner/lord” (“Der”)? Doesn’t it still consider that to celebrate God in a church, it is necessary to have a beard and someting hanging in one’s pants and that even the most intelligent, generous and devout women are a sub-species when it comes to celebrate Jesus and Mary? What about imitating that Irish elderly Catholic lady who called for a women’s boycot of mass? See how many people would be left if women stopped going to churches that treat them as second rate humans. THey would be almost empty, I bet.
    Another question is : it is well known that it is not just anyone who emigrates, it is usually those who have a chance to survive in a new place, therefore the smartest and often the better educated. Who can assert that the present composition of Armenia’s population is exactly the same – only smaller in number – as it was 25 years ago, and that there hasn’t been a change in the proportions of various “social types” that might account for a lack of progress in certain fields?

  9. Wife beating is not something that our strong Armenian men who made us the first Christian nation in the world would engage in. It sounds more like something that our once honorable men have picked up from Armenia’s neighboring countries.
    Physically abusing a man or a woman who happens to be at a physical or social disadvantage is anything but macho, it is cowardly and not becoming of our proud people.
    Physical abuse only results in planting fear and low self esteem in the victim. It never earns the abuser true respect for the victim. True respect and loyalty is earned with intelligence, mental, spiritual strength and nurturing love. A man who uses brute force to get his way lacks the intelligence to mentally steer people into his corner and earn true loyalty and respect.
    It is a shame for a people who lost so many men and women in the Genocide to lose some more this time with their own hands.
    Our men are supposed to shelter our women in their strong arms, and raise sons who respect their mothers, wives and value and defend each other.
    Our women are supposed to uphold their fathers and husbands and respect their honest efforts in supporting their families and love them for who they are, instead of going bananas over material things like designer clothes and cars and putting unreasonable demands on their husbands.
    We dreamt for so long to have our homeland back. We now have to fight to make every single life valuable in Armenia.

  10. Levon,
    I can’t believe you can call the fight against domestic violence “looking at destroying any normal society left out there”… what is “normal” about the society that thinks it is OK to beat women or kids or anyone at all. If you are concerned about men being beaten up, have the testicles (talking your own language) to start your own case of concern and your own battle against it, but if no, let people who are brave and concerned do their job.
    FYI: I am ARMENIAN, live half of the year in my country and love it very much and I am very proud of people who started raising their concerns against the domestic violence in Armenia.

  11. LEVON,
    whatever the reasons are that caused you to express your anger the way you did,
    it is not acceptable,
    while i am not an advocate of eastern or western values, or granting any group of a society special protection under the law, i believe the time has come to eradicate subordination, subjugation and fearful living specially in a family
    a spouse is not a slave, if they don’t agree with you, you don’t abuse them mentally or physically, they are not property, you don’t own them, you CANNOTbeat them, it doesn’t prove that you are man, only shows that you are not…
    i have seen domestic abuse throughout my childhood, it affected my outlook on life in profoundly negative ways,
    zarouhi’s death represent a classic case of a bully oppressing his spouse because she is not able to defend herself, due to so many possible reason,
    and that is just not acceptable,
    and for you to throw stones at those who are trying to raise the awareness and pave the way to implementing changes in the hopes of lessening or stopping this societal disease is frankly sickening,
    don’t you have sisters, female cousins??? what if you have a daughter and she ends up in the hands of an abuser??? don’t you want the state to enforce laws to protect your loved ones???
    not to imply that the laws in the western countries are actually protecting women, but at least they are trying…
    so awake  your conscience, join the march, and don’t rush to send the entire diaspora to hell, or i will be forced to say…
    diasporayi chaph qar @nkni glkhid

  12. Marina, very interesting suggestion that the composition of Armenian society has been affected by the emigration of certain types of Armenians to other countries, leaving behind groups in the RA with questionable standards.  I don’t agree with this suggestion but I appreciate the fact you are wrestling with the reasons for the lack of protection of women/wives in Armenian society.  It means you abhor it and want to explain it in a way that lifts shame off of the majority of us.  I can relate to this.

    However, I think we need to look the shame square in the eyes and recognize ourselves in it.  We all know the stories from our folklore and proverbs that promote being silent and obedient wives who bring honor and respect to our husbands.  This is an old motif in our literature and our traditions.  We are not the only ancient people who practiced this kind of gender discrimination, by any means.  But we have all consciously and unconsciously participated in it.   Most likely, because of the fact that we were for so many centuries under foreign domination and unable to develop our society through self-determination, such attitudes and traditions were not challenged or examined and allowed to evolve as they might have been in a freer society.  Plus, I speculate that those who feel oppressed are likely to look for arenas where they can be more powerful, and sometimes the easiest place to exert your “power” is in the privacy of the home against the weaker among us.

    So…I’m actually proud and happy to see my people struggling with this issue.  It is evidence to me of an awakening from our oppression to a realization of our true value as human beings.  It is a shaking off of an inferiority complex that has deep and complex roots in our society and that gets compensated for in some among us by unchecked machismo/bravado.  A society that struggles to protect its weaker members is one that I believe is evolving into a stronger democracy.  We need to remember that we are relative infants when it comes to living as independent and free people.  I applaud those who are the whistle-blowers and bell-ringers on this issue of domestic abuse and I view them as my patriotic heroes.  These brave souls are bringing Armenia out of the dark ages.  Bravo.  It is only a matter of time before we start to struggle with the inequality within our churches.  But first we must protect our women, children and even some men within their own homes.  Asdvadz Baheh Mer Haykagan Dooneh.

  13. Sorry to read Levon’s comments.  How many of this Levons exits in our society?  I lived in Middle East and we as Armenians always critisized Iranian society as only men exist and women do not count, etc.  It’s shameful that Armenia has the same kind of mentality.  Your family should be the safest asset you have in your life.  If the west has created equal rights for women, what’s wrong with it??  Does it scare Levons??  To avoid domestic violance, education is the best tool.  Unfortunately, Armenian men are scared of educated and powerful women.  Diaspora has helped Armenia barely surviving for the last 20 years.  And unfortunately many Armenians from Armenia have opened our eyes that corruption, fraud, violence, domestic violence is a norm in their life.  Let’s hope this will change soon.  I wish good luck to this movement.  We needed this to start years ago, but it’s never too late to change.

  14. No Armenian in who’s veins flows Armenian blood would hit a woman.
    The law has to protect all the citizens of an honorable  nation especially it’s women and children.
    The relatives let Zaruhi down, the neighbors let Zaruhi down, the society let Zaruhi down and worst of all the justice system let Zaruhi down.
    The law MUST be passed!

  15. Armenian women threw themselves into rivers and mountain chasms to escape the brutality of the Turks in 1915 and thereafter and now we hear of domestic violence in Armenia against the remnants of its womanhood? What a disgrace. It is my hope that immediate action is taken to stop this abuse of women.  After age eighteen they leave the orphanages unprepared to support themselves? What kind of future is that? We have a lot fo work to do in Armenia to make it a habitable place for everyone to live in. It is past time for Armenian social services to step in and show they belong to the modern world of no more wife beatings. Are we going to allow Zarouhi’s death to go unpunished? Make an example of her husband, mother-in-law and anyone else connected to this horrible death. The daughter – what can we do to help her have a better future?

  16. Levon, in your article replace each word ‘men’ to women and each word ‘women’ to men… of course neither shall have been abused and used…
    But, yet, the women bear more of the abuse hidden within their marriages from ignorant men whose ‘instincts’ make them think they are the superior
    in the marriage and the wife the inferior being. Your own mother may well have been such… and you never knew, she may not have felt she could
    share this with her own son.  Wrong… for a son seeing the abuse by the
    male of the female assumes that is how it shall be too, someday, in his home too.  Hence, abuses continue… Just as the Turk continues pursuing
    Genocides – it knows only to ‘eliminate’ peoples to gain their own goals.

  17. Is this the modern face of Armenia? I am surprised that in this day and age we still have bigots who might condone such action – where are you living, haven’t you heard about the Millenium Developmebnt Goals, or women’s rights, gendre issues etc. The onus is on the Armenian Parliament and civil authorities to introduce legislation to combat such abuses.

  18. Arusyak jan, I am as angered as you are by this character Levon, who misplaced his anger against poor subservient and abused women of Armenia.  Not only he is soulless but he is brainless too.

    I wish to send my dollars to this good cause against Domestic Violence Legislation, but I don’t wish my dollars to go into the wrong hands.  Thus, who is a responsible person from Diaspora that can collect our dollars and send it to the right party; the center of Domestic Violence Bureau.
    Thank you.

  19. For Levon: Reading your post gives me the chills. If you were married to my daughter and you put one finger on her I can say that you would not have the second chance to do so again. Women are our mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters and daughters etc. The way I read your post, it would be ok if someone beat your grandmother or mother. Maybe someone should beat you so you can really enjoy the black and blues, the pain, the fear. I am an Amerigatzi Hye but above all I am Christian and a believer in human rights. I am not a sexist nor am I perfect. Zaruhi should not have been beaten to death. Yes it happens all over the world, even in the USA, but it is 100% wrong whether here in the US or Armenia or any country.

  20. I am astonished at the very superficial analysis of the comments. I am sure some of you are young, well educated and caring. However, I would like to see an Armenian, a diaspora Armenian, who has a reasonably comfortable life, to study and analyze sociopolitical psychology of races and cultures. Wars, displacement, famine do they change the gene structures of people? For thousands of years, as an underdog we have been ravaged by so called powers. Men have gone to war, killed and been killed, women raped and kidnapped. Haven’t all the residue left traces on nations and communities?
    Remember, an Armenian mother/woman was a sacred individual in the society. Respected and cherished. Today, the face of the nation has changed because of various reasons. It is not an excuse to raise a hand against anybody or against a woman. Unfortunately, Armenian women have become very subservient, the same goes to our men. fear of insecurity in various fields expresses itself with aggression. The Zarouhis are many unfortunately. I am hoping that, we will have the courage and the vision to return to our basic values of respect and tolerance. We must start from our homes, schools and institutions, without exaggerating. Condemning violence is a sacred volition.   

  21. in my opinion, there should be a massive education in the country to teach the families to not raise their sons any differnt that their daugthers, to not treat the sons like the kings and the daughters like servent…if you talk to a lot of weman who are raised in Armenia they would defend the man, when he is demaning, abusing and violent. the woman are raised to believe that this is normal..

  22. To levon,   why are you so afraid of condeming the husband who beats the wife, are you affraid of losing your kingdom?

  23. In many Armenian families the man of the house has the power over the wife.
    In this case however, it seems like the mother in law and the husband shared common personality of enjoying bitting someone who was in thier lives.
    Watch out for those who are territorial in their behavior. Add some temperment and some issues to the mix and you have individuals with hatrate.

    Another questionable issue: wether or not the mother in law influenced the husband’s act of bitting? I think she did, when he was growing up as her son.

    Finally, how about Zaruhi? did she contribute to her being bitten by angering the husband and mother in law? I think no matter how much she did, they shouldn’t of bitten her to death. The husband could devorce her.

    But, in this case the Husband and the mother in law left no other options for her, and Zaruhi didn’t have any other options to seek by herself. I am not sure how it goes on in Armenia in this kind of cases, but it also depends on what kind of options are provided by the courts.

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