Till death do us part?: A young woman’s suspicious death highlights problems with domestic violence in Armenia

A suspected violent death of a 20-year-old woman in Armenia’s central Ararat province at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law this week has caused anger among local civil society organizations dealing with domestic violence.

According to a police report, Zaruhi Petrosyan had been taken to hospital in Masis, a major town in the province, with cranial brain hemorrhages, a broken finger and bruises in different parts of her body. Despite that, shortly before her death on October 1, Petrosyan testified that she had received those traumas as a result of fainting and falling down.

The woman’s friends and neighbors insist, however, that the young woman was killed in consequence of brutal beatings that she had suffered at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law since 2008.

Police say investigation in this case is still ongoing. Yanis Sarkisov, the 30-year-old husband, is detained and being questioned.

Petrosyan was mother of an 18-month child.

“We believe that after such events we should continue to raise problems in this sphere and raise awareness among people,” says Director of the Armenia Branch of the Open Society Institute’s Assistance Foundation David Amiryan.

It is with the Foundation’s support that a study of family violence was recently completed in Armavir, a province in Armenia’s west, adjacent to Yerevan. The data of the latest studies in Armavir matched the results of the research conducted on the national level, according to which one in three women in Armenia suffer domestic violence.

Representatives of nongovernmental organizations dealing with domestic violence issues say violence is manifested from regular insults and being yelled at, to beating and murder.

Studies show that only 17 percent of victims actually seek help from police.

Representatives of police, meanwhile, think that NGOs inflate the numbers.

“If it were so, then every third man is also subjected to violence, because women always pressure them to bring money home,” says deputy head of the Police’s Public Order Maintenance Department Karen Mehrabyan, a comment that starkly underscores the national attitude.

The law enforcement official, says that they receive very few complaints, only about 10 during a year, but they are ready to assist in drafting new legislation that will address stopping domestic violence.

Women’s Rights Center NGO Chairman Susanna Vardanyan also believes that a law specifically on domestic violence is crucial. Under current legislation, domestic violence is treated as any other crime of violence, therefore there are no specialists who work such cases.

“Last year our NGO, police and other concerned organizations submitted a draft law to the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs but it has not been put up for discussion yet,” says Vardanyan.

She says that the proposed document presents in detail what domestic violence is and how citizens – a husband or a wife, children or any other member of the family – should be protected from it.

Aram Harutyunyan, a leading specialist at the Ministry’s Department for Family and Women’s Issues, found it difficult to answer an ArmeniaNow request to explain why the proposed document has not been given attention till today. The Ministry official promised, however, that it will be done since “a government commission has already been set up to deal with domestic violence issues.”