Yet another case of a woman being killed after a severe beating at the hands of her husband has forced Armenian society to speak once again about the one thing it doesn’t like to address - domestic violence.
According to the Special Investigative Committee, on the morning November 11, a 20-year-old woman was rushed to the Erebuni Medical Center presenting with severe trauma. The woman was unconscious and unable to give a statement but the paramedic on the scene confirmed that she had been beaten. The following day, without gaining consciousness, the woman passed away.
A police investigation confirmed that 30-year-old Illarion Nunushyan beat his young wife, Kristine Iskandaryan with his bare hands, causing her severe bodily harm. Nunushyan is under arrest while police continue their investigation.
The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women issued a statement noting that Kristine’s murder along with all the other cases of femicide in Armenia, is a result of the absence of the state’s ability and responsibility to protect women from domestic violence and abuse.
"The absence of clear mechanisms regarding cases of domestic violence and the lenient attitude towards the person committing the violence, contribute to the continuation of this violence and atmosphere of impunity. The time has come to acknowledge that violence is not a private nor a family matter; domestic violence and systemic femicide are crimes which society must no longer tolerate,” read the statement.
Illarion Nunushyan is known to be a petty criminal. In the past, he has been arrested on charges of robbery, once serving a two-year sentence and two other times fined 600,000 AMD, and another time 500,000 AMD respectively. Currently, Nunushyan is accused of yet another case of robbery; the trial is still ongoing.
Information about this family is scarce, the loss irrevocable. However what happened, sadly, is not an isolated incident.
Domestic Violence: Behind the Veil
The public’s memories are still fresh of another horrific killing from a few weeks ago in the province of Armavir. On September 28, 32-year-old Rustam Manukyan beat his 30-year-old wife Ovsanna Grigoryan and one-year-old son Arman Grigoryan. The child died on the way to the hospital.
On August 3, 2017, a man beat his 34-year-old wife so severely that she eventually succumbed to her injuries. That incident didn’t happen in a far off region, it took place on Tumanyan Street in downtown Yerevan.
On September 19, 2016, a husband brutally beat his wife, the mother of his three underage children and unceremoniously dumped her body in a stream.
Children, and women especially, are targets of domestic violence and reports of cases such as the ones mentioned above, are part of the news cycle and in no way are they out of the ordinary.
In the first six months of 2018, nine women in Armenia have been killed because of domestic violence. Between 2010-2017, more than 50 women have been killed at the hands of their intimate partners. Zaruhi Hovhannesyan, the Communications Director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women said that more than 2000 cases of domestic violence are registered in Armenia. The Coalition alone, in 2017, registered 5600 reports of domestic violence. The Special Investigative Service in Armenia investigated 458 cases of domestic violence in 2017.
These, however, are only the tip of the iceberg, as many cases of domestic violence usually stay within the silent walls of the family. It is still difficult to determine in Armenia what the real numbers of domestic violence are. Different surveys note that three out of every 10 women in Armenia are subjected to physical abuse, while 66 percent to psychological abuse.
“We have 10-15 cases of murder during the course of any year because of domestic violence, the majority of which are women. One-third of all murders in Armenia are cases of domestic violence,” Hovhannesyan said adding that reports of domestic violence have been on the rise because people are becoming more aware.
In most cases, the violence perpetrated against women is being carried out in front of the eyes of children; there is no need to explain what this does to them psychologically. And in this regard, children are the most vulnerable. There aren’t appropriate state bodies or agencies working with these children, and often it never becomes clear what happens to them when their mothers are murdered and fathers imprisoned.
The loss of human lives and the continuation of this cycle, for a long time, however, was silenced at the state level and every single report of violence made to organizations dealing with the protection of women’s rights was seen as the manifestation of “foreign” influences. It was also seen as a threat to the honor and customs of the traditional Armenian family and the violence, which sometimes resulted in irrevocable loss, is concealed behind the veil of such expressions as “we are a nation that respects our family, women, such things are not becoming of Armenians, it is shameful.”
After years of persistent efforts, last year the law on domestic violence was passed, and went into force of July of this year. While it’s adoption is a positive step, the law was so watered down that it continues to effectively be incompatible with international standards in the protection of women against violence
A Law Without Weight
Stella Chandilyan, a lawyer with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women said that while Armenia has signed the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s Convention on Domestic Violence, it has not been ratified by parliament. “This means that the provisions of the convention do not work in our country. If the state had ratified the Convention, and if the abuser would be subjected to criminal responsibility, then this would have been a restraining mechanism,” Chandilyan said.
According to the lawyer, several positive changes have been made in the Criminal Code. In the past when a woman filed a complaint with police about her abusive husband, in many instances she would withdraw her complaint following threats by her husband. Once she withdrew the complaint, police would no longer bother investigating the case. However, now, with changes to the criminal justice system, even if a woman withdraws her complaint, the police are obligated to continue with the investigation.
However, according to Chandilyan, the mechanisms proposed by the law have inconsequential preventive objectives, such as issuing a warning, or separating the abuser for a period of time from his victim, which are not effective and cannot prevent future cases of femicide or domestic violence.
Hasmik Gevorgyan of the Women’s Support Center also notes the deficiencies of the law, saying that those who passed the law didn’t understand what domestic violence is because not a single article in the law protects the victim. One provision of the law is for police to issue a warning against an alleged abuser. “A warning can cause serious issues,” Gevorgyan stresses. “When a woman who has been subjected to violence for years on end, finds the strength within herself for the first time to call the police, and the police issue a simple warning - and the woman stays in the home with her husband - this means that at every moment the situation can spin out of control and result in murder. The victim is not protected in any way.”
According to Gevorgyan, it is also necessary to implement an immediate, urgent system of intervention, so that victims of domestic abuse will be free from long bureaucratic paperwork, and having to wait for months for a decision, because in this case, every second can be important or even fatal.
“Often, women’s patience is tested by having to fill out all the paperwork and the waiting; on the one hand having to confront their husband’s persecution and on the other, having to deal with the paperwork of the legal system and its incompetency,” Gevorgyan says.
The experts all agree that the adoption of a proper law will not eradicate violence. Fundamental steps are necessary to change society’s mentality and stereotypes.
“We passed a law, however, we did not change the mentality of society, which continues to tolerate violence against women. Meanwhile, violence is a crime and can not be justified in any way,” Gevorgyan says. “As long as we don’t see this as a crime, and we say that, well, this is the traditional Armenian family, whoever doesn’t use violence doesn’t change anything. There is tremendous work to be done to raise awareness about changing attitudes, we have to start from the schools.”
Another issue is society’s indifference. According to Gevorgyan, in every neighborhood, on every street, everyone knows in which house there is violence taking place. “However, we are all indifferent, we all think it’s none of our business and we don’t get involved until we have another victim,” she says.
According to Stella Chandilyan, the cases of violence in Armenia are growing yearly and the adoption of the law did not serve as a restraining mechanism. She notes that state bodies did not have appropriate training to apply the law properly. “For example, police and judges have not gone through retraining or if they have it’s been very superficial,” she says adding that domestic violence must be seen as violence based on gender. “Meanwhile in Armenia, we are still afraid of the word gender and that signifies that we have much to do and this must be realized every day, by educating children from an early age, by eradicating gender stereotypes,” Chandilyan says. “Our society still tries in every way to justify violence, they accuse the woman of immorality, excuses are fabricated about the incident, meanwhile these are not only ridiculous but they contradict all international norms.”
The Normalization of Violence: Part of Our Tradition or a Distortion?
The frequency of cases of domestic violence is one of the reasons why society doesn’t always perceive the violence. According to the experts, one of the reasons is that the culture of beating has become an inseparable part of the language.
“A woman is like wool, the more you beat her, the softer she becomes.”
“If they don’t beat a women, you’ll know that she’s a widow.”
“A man is a bell, a woman cotton.”
Many in Armenian society have grown up hearing these and many other proverbs. Stories of subjecting women to violence are also prevalent in Armenian literature. Perhaps many remember Nar Dos’ “What happened, when two cubes of sugar went missing from the sugar bowl” story of the justification of the hero for killing his wife during his trial:“I just struck her, I did nothing else after all.”
Perhaps the best example of today’s much talked about equality between women and men can be found in the famous Armenian epic “Daredevils of Sassun” when Khandut says to Davit of Sasun, “Davit, I am no less of a person than you.”