A petition calling for the Armenian government to pass a law criminalizing domestic violence emerged last Friday on the website Change.org. The petition, addressed to Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, is the result of a grassroots effort by Armenia’s widespread global diaspora to have some say in the current debate taking place in the country.
The author of the petition, Annette Moskofian, is a diasporan, originally from Iran, who resides in London. Moskofian says she has been active with women’s issues in Armenia since her first trip to the country in 1995, when she witnessed a young man repeatedly hitting a young woman in public as she was driving away in a taxi.
“I asked the taxi driver to help the woman and call the police, and he said don’t worry, this is a domestic matter between the couple,” she recalls, “I was deeply shocked and upset witnessing this, and at the same time that the taxi driver thought this was not an important issue for the police to get involved in.”
Moskofian serves on the advisory board of the Women’s Support Center (WSC) in Yerevan. She says she launched the petition independently, but that ultimately she felt it spoke on behalf of a much larger demographic. “We [diasporans] were shocked and outraged with the way the law was misinterpreted as being anti-Armenian family values,” she says of the outcries by conservative groups, which claim the bill threatens to disrupt the traditional Armenian family unit. “I felt a strong statement from the Diaspora would be beneficial, especially for all the women who have no voice.”
Directly addressing the Prime Minister, the petition reads, “As you are aware, many groups in Armenia and the Diaspora are working tirelessly to raise money, donate resources, time and energy to help Armenia in any way possible. We do this because we believe in the future of our country, in a civil society where human rights are respected, where women have the same economic opportunities as men and are treated with dignity.” According to a 2016 report by Alexandr Gevorgyan for the Migration Policy Institute between 2011 and 2015, remittances from the diaspora to Armenia accounted for 17-20 percent of Armenia’s GDP.
The idea for a bill to criminalize domestic violence has been in the works for several years now. In 2007, the Women’s Rights Center in Armenia began drafting bill that would define the nature of domestic violence and set out mechanisms to punish perpetrators and help victims, but it was rejected by the government in 2013. Much of the debate posed by those in opposition to the bill stems from the notion that it does not represent local values (often described as “traditional”) but, rather, favors European interests.
Those promoting the bill say that for far too long what is “traditional” has been determined by those in power, primarily men, and the term has been used exploitatively to justify behavior that not only benefits a small group of people but also carries potentially lethal consequences. At least 50 women have been killed as a result of domestic violence in the last five years.
Moskofian, an active member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), calls for people to sign the petition to help pioneer a more just Armenia. She says these were the values upon which the independent Armenian Republic of 1918 was founded: “[We] had strong, progressive legislation and respected equality of genders. Our present Republic needs to be even more progressive and democratic than the previous one.” The petition has received over a thousand signatures in the days since it was launched.