Why domestic violence has been shushed in Armenia and why change is in store
The preventable murder of Mariam Asatryan
On May 9, Armenian police reported that the body of a murdered woman had been brought to Masis Medical Centre.
The victim was 30-year-old Mariam Asatryan from the village of Shahumyan.
The police report said that the crime was committed with particular cruelty: the woman had been beaten to death with a rubber pipe and a wrench.
26-year-old Hakob Ohanyan was immediately detained on suspicion of murder, and later confessed to the crime.
A few days later it became known that Mariam and Hakob had been in a relationship.
Later it turned out that Mariam had informed law enforcement agencies about prolonged physical and psychological violence for two years. Moreover, since 2017, employees of the Women’s Support Center had repeatedly appealed to law enforcement agencies in connection with the threat against Mariam Asatryan.
In October 2017, she contacted the centre via a hotline. Then her partner severely beat her and broke her arm. Her body had stab wounds. For two months she lived in a shelter for the Women’s Support Centre, then voluntarily left the shelter.
Mariam returned to the centre again in 2018 with both her hands broken from another beating. In a word, law enforcement agencies were aware Mariam was being periodically beaten, but did not take any steps to prevent further abuse.
Mariam had two children. One child is three years old, another is just under two months. A forensic medical examination showed that at the time of the murder Mariam was pregnant.
Why is domestic violence not talked about in Armenia?
In Armenia domestic violence is often dismissed as strictly a ‘family matter.’
It is believed that such matters should not go beyond the walls of the house, let alone be decided by the police. This has left women and children vulnerable to abuse.
Women are also less likely to report domestic violence if they are not financially independent. Without their own income or means of supporting their family, women are more susceptible to becoming trapped in abusive and unhealthy relationships.
Even if a case of abuse makes its way to court, male perpetrators generally get off with a fine, after which they return to the family.
In Armenia, property rights are usually given to men, and they are usually the sole owners of the home.
Until 2000, there was not a single shelter or protection centre for victims of domestic violence in Armenia. The Women’s Support Centre became the first public organisation in Armenia to extend a helping hand to people who have been subjected to domestic violence.
The head of the centre’s programmes, Hasmik Gevorgyan, says that in 2010, when the centre was just starting to work, about 50 complaints were received per year. Today this number is close to two thousand. Meanwhile the shelter can accept a maximum of 16 people at a time.
Only two shelters are currently operating in Armenia for victims of domestic violence, both of which are funded by public organisations.
Finding clear statistics on domestic violence is quite difficult.
Crimes committed before 2018 were not classified as domestic violence. Even today, violence in unmarried households is not classified as domestic violence.
• In 2010-2017, according to member organisations of the Coalition against Violence against Women, 50 cases of murder of women were recorded in Armenia.
• In 2016-2017, the murders of 19 women were investigated by the Investigation Committee of Armenia. Only three cases were closed.
• In 2017, according to official data, there were 793 cases of domestic violence. Only 458 reached the stage of investigation. The Coalition Against Violence Against Women received 5,600 reports of violence that year.
• In the first six months of 2018, nine cases of murder of women were reported.
• In 2018, 519 criminal cases involving family violence were investigated. In the cases accepted for investigation, 493 people were recognized as victims. Of these, 25 were under the age of twelve, eight were between 12 and 14 years old, 24 of them were 14-16 years old, nine were 16-18 years old, 183 victims were 18-35 years old, 244 were older than 35.
• Experts note that every fifth woman in Armenia is subject to periodic domestic violence.
Since 2015, the Armenian media has more actively covered cases of domestic violence against women and children. As a result of this change, in 2017 the National Assembly adopted a law “On the Prevention of Family Violence, the Protection of Persons Affected by Family Violence, and the Restoration of Family Consent.”
This law was protested by many Armenian citizens. Opponents of the law argued it would destroy the foundations of the traditional Armenian family and allow the state to interfere in its affairs, as well as take children from their parents.
After the adoption of the law, 990 cases of domestic violence were registered in Armenia by law enforcement agencies. Per the law, the state will provide financial assistance to victims of domestic violence who have nowhere to go after leaving the shelter.
This amount can be used for rental housing, for payment of vocational retraining courses or for treatment.
Now Armenia is preparing to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention), and also to create the first shelter run on state funding.
Human rights activists are sure: the ratification of the convention will incite public protest, and will test the political will and courage of Armenian politicians to resolve the issue of domestic violence.