Let’s talk domestic violence

Women’s Support Center staff members protesting in Gyumri, March 9, 2020

As Armenia celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, 13 year-old Nazeli lay in a hospital bed in Yerevan fighting for dear life, after being severely beaten by her mother’s partner. Her mother was less fortunate, having succumbed to her injuries eight hours after being beaten by the same man—eight long hours during which both victims lay in their own blood in a house in Gyumri. A phone call to the police was placed only after the realization that the 43-year old woman had passed away. 

The culprit? A 28-year-old man who has been charged with manslaughter and inflicting severe harm. The accused faces up to 10 years in prison.

Nazeli and her mother are the latest victims of the heinous crime of domestic violence; equally disturbing, however, is the way domestic violence is handled in Armenia. The country’s law on “Preventing violence in the family, protecting the victims of violence in the family, and restoring harmony in the family” adopted in December 2018 did not actually criminalize domestic violence. 

Its very adoption was subject to much heated debate both among legislators and the society-at-large about what was considered government interference in “family affairs” and “threats to Armenian culture and values.” Eventually, terms such as “restoring family harmony” and protecting the “traditional Armenian family” were enshrined in the law to appease critics.

The protections the law does offer people who have been subject to domestic violence include fines for the perpetrator and, depending on the severity of the situation, protection orders for various lengths of time – with the longest being a six-month ban on communication with the victim, with two possible three-month extensions. 

Despite its inherent weaknesses, the passing of the law was, at the time, considered an important milestone in the fight against domestic violence in Armenia. One of the important changes it brought was mandatory training for police, prosecutors, judges and others in the criminal justice system on how to respond to complaints, investigate and prosecute cases. 

Nevertheless, the Gyumri tragedy of this past week, the fourth femicide so far this year, has now reignited debate about the effectiveness of the law, as well as the overall prevention and protection mechanisms available in Armenia today.

The law is, no doubt, an important weapon in the fight against domestic violence and should be urgently reformed. Alongside legal reform, a major cultural shift is essential to effectively address domestic violence in Armenia today.

Indeed, domestic violence is such a taboo in Armenian society, many will deny it even exists. Others will question how prevalent it is – with only four women murdered, is it really such a big deal? Some will justify it, and many will say it’s an “internal family affair” that doesn’t warrant external intervention. 

But the fact remains that domestic violence is a big deal everywhere in the world, and Armenia is no different. And just to confirm how big a deal it is: according to official figures, 378 cases of domestic violence were investigated by the Republic of Armenia police in the first 10 months of 2019. 

So yes, alongside the preventive and protective hand of the law, we need to talk about domestic violence, to call it out as the despicable act that it is, to educate people about it. When a neighbor hears the calls for help from next door, they should feel compelled to act; when family members witness the abuse, they should feel it is their duty to help; when victims suffer, they should understand it is wrong and feel empowered to claim their rights. 

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visiting Nazeli on March 8, 2020

“Many of us are hurting for this girl and her murdered mother. But let us accept that this girl and her mother are also victims of the mentality that violence in general, and violence against women in particular, can be justified,” wrote Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan when he visited Nazeli in the hospital on March 8.

It was an unprecedented step for an Armenian leader to visit a domestic violence victim. Now, Pashinyan’s administration must walk the walk by undertaking appropriate legal reform and implementing policies that raise awareness of domestic violence.

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Houry Mayissian

Houry Mayissian is a communications professional with journalism and public relations experiences in Dubai, Beirut, and Sydney. She has studied European politics and society at the University of Oxford, specializing on the democratic reform process in Armenia as part of its European integration. She is currently based in Yerevan.
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11 Comments

  1. My heart aches when I read these accounts. How many more before we wake up with an intolerance for any violence ….especially against women and children. The law must be strengthened. The public must display its outrage. The diaspora be active in its support and influence. But it all starts with an each of stopping the ambivalence. There is no middle ground on this issue. Thank you for sharing this sad but important news.

  2. Up to ten years in prison for the suspect is laughable and such an insult to the victims , this must not stand and it must become zero tolerance for such behavior and punishment should extend way beyond 10 years and even 50 to 60 years , in this case it is murder and assault, the government should be given extended powers to handle the situation and not being so reliant on legislative powers , democracy is lax when it comes to issues like this , it is best to have iron fisted rule against any violence inflicted upon women and females

  3. I didn’t go to Oxford but have a HUGE Armenian family filled with blue-collar gas station and jewelry store owners to doctors and bankers. Everyone knows everyone knows everyones business. Nobody hit their wife and I’m confident it would not have been accepted by the other adults.

  4. From Seattle, Washington
    My condolences to the family of the victim(s).
    I hope a comprehensive program can be implemented to educate the Armenian male population, and to empower women of all ages in Armenia can be implemented quickly to address the Grossly acceptable yet violent behavior.

  5. What an animal. Although this type of crime exists everywhere, it operate sunder a patriarchical veil of silence in “macho” Armenia, as does anti-LGBTQ violence. As Armenians in particular it is shameful–we complain justifiably ad nauseum about violence done to us by Turks, tatars/Azeris etc yet do this to our own people.

    • Those are my sentiments exactly. The time is now, not tomorrow, to start prosecuting these worthless things who call themselves men and put them where they belong, in the ground or life imprisonment. Life is precious and we as Armenians cannot afford to lose one soul by this heinous act. The laws must be put in place immediately to stop this violence.

  6. Up to 10 yrs for murder and for leaving a child fighting for her young life⁉️⁉️What a joke the Armenian legal system is. This is a disgrace on the nation, it’s people and it’s “forward looking” prime minister.
    This leads only to wonder about Armenian values. Certainly it appears women are not valued in Armenia. Justice andMother Armenia both weep.

  7. What role did consumed alcohol play in this tragedy?
    In America this would be a simple, but tragic, case of murder and attempted murder.

  8. Capital punishment is the solution! No man has a right to raise a hand on a woman! Period!

    I’m disgusted and ashamed by Armenian men’s backward mentality! We expect this type of behavior in Muslim nations where women are not considered equal.

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