A Step Too Late: Social network signatures call for improved policies on domestic violence

Human rights activists and an online pressure group are demanding a law that would deal with domestic violence after a young woman in an Armenian province, as preliminary evidence shows, died at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law.

Zaruhi Petrosyan, 20, an orphan and mother of an 18-month-old child, died in hospital on October 1 after suffering cranial brain hemorrhages, a broken finger and bruises in different parts of her body. While shortly before her death she said she had fallen down, her neighbors and sister claimed the woman had suffered violence at the hands of her family members.

Police later reported they had detained and were questioning Petrosyan’s 30-year-old husband in her death.

The case has elicited a wide response among online social networks and together with human rights organizations one online group has initiated a collection of signatures in favor of the demand for the adoption of a law on domestic violence that they believe will help deal with similar cases more properly.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan that bears about 3,000 signatures, the group demands a more serious attention to the problem of domestic violence in Armenia.

“Our silence confirms that such cases are a regular thing in Armenian society and allows them to continue,” reads a statement issued jointly by the Society Without Violence and Women’s Rights Center NGOs.

The organizations call for a concerted effort to ensure the publicity of the investigation of this case and a subsequent trial and urge all to join in the signature collection at the following website: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/armenia-must-pass-domestic-abuse-law

The collection of signatures was initiated by United States-based Simon Maghakian, who is convinced that many suffer the same fate as Petrosyan’s in Armenia and the state’s silence will lead to serious consequences in the future.

It is difficult to gauge the extent of domestic violence in Armenia as an overwhelming majority prefer remaining silent on the topic.

According to the results of a 2008 study by Amnsety International, three out of ten women in Armenia suffer physical violence in their families and about 66 percent suffer psychological abuse.

“Though, this is only the tip of the iceberg, because women are often reluctant to talk about it,” says the organization’s expert Laurence Broers.

In the Petrosyan case, her husband, Yanis Sarkisov, who is a contract-based serviceman in the army and is involved in the country’s peacekeeping brigade, is now in custody.

But her sister Hasmik Petrosyan fears “a cover-up” in the case. She says that Zaruhi had constantly suffered violence while living with her husband.

“When we were telling about the beatings to the police, they were constantly saying that was not important. Why? Is it because we are parentless and have nobody to stand up for us? We turned to police once, they took a signature from her [Zaruhi’s] husband that he would not beat her. But is this a solution? Had there been support from the state, my sister would be alive now,” says Hasmik, angrily.

She claims that Zaruhi’s husband bragged that “no matter how much I beat [her], she has nobody to defend her.”

According to Hasmik, Zaruhi left her husband for a few weeks and stayed with her, but her husband threatened that he would come and kill her and her [Hasmik’s] family, so she had to go back not to put Hasmik’s family at risk.

Human rights activists say that if there was a specific law and shelters created with state funding, then the police would have taken her to such a shelter and her husband would not have been able to make threats.

There is only a shelter of Women’s Rights Center NGO that operates in Armenia today. But the sisters did not know about this shelter. Despite the fact that two years ago the state earmarked allocated funds from the budget for the establishment of such shelters, because of the economic crisis the funding was not included in the budget, nor is it included in the 2011 budget.

But Armine Tanashyan, who heads a department on women’s issues at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, still says the state is taking steps.

“In February this year the government approved a Gender Policy Concept as part of which an interdepartmental commission has been set up to develop a four-year national gender quality program. This is great progress and a law will be developed and adopted in the time to come,” Tanashyan told ArmeniaNow.