Armenia: Domestic Violence
Armenia: Domestic Violence Taking High Toll
Increasingly the issue of domestic violence in Armenia is a topic for
public discussion. Yet, greater attention to the issue isn’t yet
translating into an expansion of programs to alleviate suffering and
address policy shortcomings.
In 2012, Armenia set a grim record for domestic violence when six
women, ranging in age from 21 to 50 years old, died over the course of
six months in incidents involving their husbands or fathers-in-law.
Collectively, the six dead women left behind 12 children. No official
registry of domestic-violence attacks exists in Armenia. But a 2008
survey of 1,000 Armenian women by Amnesty International found that more
than three out of 10 had suffered from physical abuse, and 66 percent
from psychological abuse.
The outcry over the recent deaths prompted activists to believe that
the government would start making state funds available for the
protection and treatment of victims of domestic violence. But on January
21, the government blocked passage of what would have been the
country’s first domestic-violence law, saying that revisions should be
made to existing legislation, or to the bill itself.
In the absence of government funding, non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) are struggling to meet needs. “There are many cases, and only NGO
efforts do not suffice,” commented Susanna Vardanian, director of the
Women’s Rights Center, a Yerevan-based NGO, which is a backer of the
stalled draft law.
At present, three private domestic-violence shelters (two in Yerevan
and one in the nearby region of Armavir), along with several NGO-run
hotlines are all that exist for female domestic violence victims. Over
the past two years, the Women’s Rights Center, which runs two hotlines,
four regional crisis centers and one shelter, has received some 2,557
calls from women seeking help, according to Vardanian.
At a facility run by the charitable foundation Lighthouse in the
village of Ptghunts, the 55 women residents are mostly unemployed, and
either pregnant or raising children. The shelter provides basic job
training, as well as psychological counselling.
For decades, domestic violence was a topic that not only battered
women, but also officials and law-enforcement authorities shied away
from acknowledging or discussing. But now, that has begun to change,
with people starting to be held accountable for abusive actions .
For example, Haykanush Mikayelian received a 10-month sentence in
2012 for her role in the abuse of her 23-year-old daughter-in-law,
Mariam Gevorgian, over a prolonged period starting in 2009. According to
testimony at the trial, Mikayelian burned Gevorgian’s body with an iron
and a cigarette lighter, beat her regularly and kept her locked indoors
Although police officers are arguably now more aware of the
domestic-violence problem than several years ago, they are often left
flummoxed by the lack of state-run shelters and legal mechanisms to
prevent ongoing abuse of a woman by a husband or relative.
“As soon as it comes to taking actual steps, we seem to be faced with
the same resistance,” remarked Lara Aharomian, director of the Women’s
Resource Center, another Yerevan-based NGO active in addressing domestic
The draft domestic-violence law that the government rejected earlier
in January would have tried to strengthen official measures to protect
victims by introducing restraining orders and expanding the number of
shelters, among other measures.
Activists believe that the six fatal domestic-violence cases in 2012
might have been prevented if Armenia had had a law outlining responses
to the abuse, and, correspondingly, providing state assistance for
shelters. “[T]he law proposes the creation of a number of facilities,
[and the] training of police, which are preventive measures,” said Anna
Nikoghosian, a project manager for the non-governmental organization A
Society Without Violence. If shelters had existed near the homes of the
six murdered women, all of whom lived outside of Yerevan, “some . . .
might be alive today.”
“There are many badly in need of support, but it is impossible to
house all of them in only three shelters,” agreed Lighthouse Director
Lala Ghazarian, head of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare’s
Department for Family, Women and Childcare Issues, stressed that the
domestic-violence bill isn’t gone for good. “It just needs some changes”
to bring it into line with existing criminal law, she said. “We are all
well aware that we need a law, shelter, trained policemen, functional
tools, but it implies extensive work to change legislation, and it will
Some government members have said that parliament, now controlled by
the Republican Party of Armenia, could pass a domestic-violence law by
2014 or 2015, once ongoing amendments to the criminal code are complete.
Meanwhile, as the topic’s stigma fades away, many ordinary Armenians
affirm openly that they are eager to find solutions. In the village of
Burastan, 30 kilometers outside of Yerevan, women in 2006 told
EurasiaNet.org that questions about domestic violence “destroy
traditional Armenian families.” Seven years later, they admitted that
abuse is an issue that “has to be addressed.”
“Our children have been growing up in an atmosphere of beatings and
fights,” commented 67-year-old Karine Galstian, a mother of four. “Only
now we realize how wrong it is to keep silent, because we should at
least teach our daughters that the husband has to respect his wife,
should not beat her, should not humiliate her in front of the children.”
In the absence of further government measures against domestic violence, such realizations could make a critical difference.