06 12 19 - Institute for War and Peace eporting
( From A.Melikian- L.A. )
Thousands of women endure beatings, lacking the means =o protect themselves.
By Gayane Abrahamian in Yerevan and =avar
Almost half of Armenia’s women have =uffered domestic abuse, say researchers, yet this disturbing problem is being =ushed up because of traditional attitudes.
“Armenian women suffer =iolence, but they are afraid and keep silent, as they don’t believe that =nything can be done about it,” said Consuelo Vidal, United Nations resident coordinator in Armenia at the launch of a 16-day programme Campaign Against Gender Violence =hat continues until December 16.
For 13 years, Hasmik Hakobian has been married to a =an from a traditional Armenian family in the town of Gavar around 100 kilometres from Yerevan.
She was just nineteen when her father married her off =o a young man, whom she’d only ever seen from the window of her house. =o:p>
“I have a black eye permanently so the =eighbours have long stopped asking me what the matter is,” said Hasmik. =#8220;Happiness for me means not being beaten and blood not gushing from my =ose.”
Hasmik said she was beaten for the first time three =ays after her wedding, and since then she has lost count of the number of =imes she has suffered abuse.
“I was pregnant then,’ she recalled. =#8220;I was baking bread. I don’t know what my mother-in-law had told my =usband, but he was mad with rage when he rushed into the bakery. He snatched the rolling pin from my hands and hit me on the back and head with it. I =ame round in hospital, having already delivered the =aby.”
Hasmik decided to leave her husband, but her father =efused to take her back home, saying that wives were always beaten by their =usbands and advising her to put up with it and raise her =hild.
Ethnographer and sociologist Mihran Galstian said =hat traditional denigrating attitudes towards women in Armenia has made such =iolence possible. Armenian folk proverbs actively encourage beating by promoting =he idea that “a woman is like wool - the more you beat it, the softer =t becomes” or “a woman is made to =ry”.
officials and parliamentarians also refuse to =cknowledge there is a problem.
For example, Armen Ashotian, a member of parliament =rom the governing Republican Party, said, “Domestic violence is not a =eature of our families. I think that people who want to raise this problem are =eally not bothered by the issue but just want to get new grants. They are lowering =he image of Armenia for the sake of their own pockets.
“There are occasionally cases of it, but =omestic violence is not on a big scale in our society. They shouldn’t =resent Armenia as some kind of African tribe, where people eat one =nother.”
Data collected suggests otherwise. In 2004-2005, the Sociometer Centre for Independent Sociological Studies conducted a poll =f 1200 women in Yerevan and eight towns and eight villages. Forty six per cent said they were =xposed to violence in their family, a quarter in the presence of their =hildren.
“Our officials refuse to admit that violence =oes exist in Armenian families and that serious measures need to be taken to =ight it,” said Susanna Vardanian, director of the Women’s Rights =entre in Yerevan. “Moreover, they accuse others of destroying our traditionally =trong families in order to get grants.”
“Unfortunately, many see the abuse of women as =ormal. The belief that violence is an integral part of married life originates =n early childhood: first a girl is beaten by her brother, then by her =usband, and she comes to think that that’s the way it should be,” =aid Adibek Aharonian, director of the Sociometer =entre.
According to Sociometer, 45 per cent of the women =uffering abuse in their families keep quiet about their problem. Only 0.3 per =ent resort to divorce, and no more than 0.4 per cent contact the =olice.
Vardanian said women had no faith in the police to =rotect them and they were afraid of the consequences, “After the police =eave, [a victim] may be subjected to still greater violence, as it’s =hameful to wash your family’s dirty linen in =ublic.”
Gulnara Martirosian (not her real name) now lives in =n old people's home in Yerevan, although she is only 45. Her 25 years of married life were an endless =eries of fights not only with her husband, but also with his mother and =rother.
“Anyone who felt like it could beat me,” =he told IWPR. “If something was wrong in the house, I was the one who =ot the blame. They pounced on me and beat me - all together. Once I tried =o defend myself, I grabbed a chair and hit my husband over the head with it.”
This incident, which happened in 2002, cost Gulnara =er sight.
“I hit him and darted out of the house, but =here was nowhere to run - my parents are dead, I have no relatives, and I sought =efuge in my neighbour’s house,” she went on. “My husband =ame for me there, and when he saw me, he splashed acid in my eyes. I remember my =ace burning, the pain was so bad I lost consciousness. I was taken to =st1:City w:st="on">Yerevan and =perated on there, but my sight never returned.”
No one from the family comes to see Gulnara and she =ays her children have been told that she is dead.
“I couldn’t stand up for my rights, as I =ad no money, no relatives to run around the courts for me. That’s how my =ife has passed,” she said.
Since the Centre for Women Rights opened seven years =go, more than 10,000 women, including over four thousand victims of domestic violence, have called its hotline, asking for help. Another =rganisation, the Motherhood Foundation, has been open for four years and has dealt with =,000 women, who said they were exposed to abuse.
“These are rather high figures for Armenia, =onsidering that women suffering violence tend to seek help from their relatives and friends, and only those in a hopeless situation turn to organisations =ike ours,” said Anna Badalian, a psychologist at the =oundation.
IWPR randomly polled ten women in Yerevan on the street. Four of them =aid they had been beaten by their husbands more than once. And there was a clear difference in outlook between the generations. =o:p>
“If couples divorced because of beatings and =buse, there would be no families left in Armenia,” said =ccountant Satik Kintoian, 78.
“I remember my grandfather saying that a man, =hen choosing a wife for himself, should beat her first, and if she cowered =n the corner, that meant she would make a good wife, and if she ran away, then =he wouldn’t.
“I was beaten and loved too. They say the more =e beats you, the more he’ll love you. I have no regrets about my =ife. I’m not saying that a wife should be beaten every day, but when =he crosses the line, she should have a =eating.”
Zaruhi Minasian, a 26-year-old translator, takes a =ifferent view. She said she has never been subjected to physical abuse but she =as experienced psychological pressure.
“I have no respect for men who want to prove themselves by taking it out against women,” she said. “That =nly proves that these men are weak.”
Gayane Abrahamian is a correspondent for =rmenianow.com.