Finding freedom during lockdown

Author: Mariam Grigoryan

Illustrator: Mananiko Kobakhidze


Before the pandemic, Karine Sahakyan*, 34, had spent years suffering from her husband’s beatings and her mother-in-law’s abuse at their home in the Ararat region of Armenia. The coronavirus lockdown forced her to find the courage to save herself and her children.     

“My story begins at the home of one of my relatives, six years ago.  My family and I were invited for a birthday party. Though I wasn't eager to go, later I understood why my relative had insisted on my coming,” Karine recalls. 

“During the whole evening two women, with fake smiles, carefully followed my every step and word. That was the evening I met Aram*, my future husband. At first glance he was an honest and modest person. And to impress me, they all said he was a hardworking person. A real husband for a well-educated girl.”

Karine says that it was just a few months later they decided to get married.  

“Everyone was happy, including me. It was only later, after the wedding, that my nightmare started.

“My husband and mother-in-law never missed a chance to reprimand me. They always attempted to find something wrong and started an argument, which always ended with violent beatings and curses. Even though I feared my husband, I kept trying to tell him that his behavior was wrong. 

‘You are his wife and he can beat you as much as he wants, girl,” my mother-in-law used to say. She would proudly add, “If he beats you, you deserve it.’”



Unfortunately, Karine’s story is not unique. Despite a 2017 law to combat domestic violence, it remains a deadly issue for women in Armenia. While data varies depending on the source, it is estimated that 50 women are murdered by their current or former partners every year in Armenia.  

Lawyers and human rights’ activists believe there is a very simple reason the law is not sufficient to protect women: laws preventing violence are not effectively implemented. 

“Although our laws are taken from the international conventions and covenants,  they are not strict enough to accomplish the mission,” notes Hasmik Pakhanyan, a lawyer of Women’s Rights’ Center.

“Our laws are mainly adapted to the Armenian society, where solving domestic problems is definitely not welcome. Even during the discussions of adopting the law on domestic violence, the deputies were not eager to give consent to it,” Pakhanyan says.

She adds that a major issue is that police are inclined to issue warnings instead of arresting men accused of beating a spouse. 

The problem became worse during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to Pakhanayan. Women’s rights and human rights organizations try to raise awareness about the issue and even published the number of domestic abuse reports

Government officials, like Public Defender Arman Tatoyan, also spoke about the issue. His office hotline received 13 calls and Tatoyan announced that a special committee had been created to deal with domestic abuse and find sustainable solutions for the issue. 



But for women like Karine, the situation quickly became unbearable as they were forced to spend days locked up with their abusers. Many, like Karine’s husband, were unable to return to Russia to work, creating even more tension in the households, notes psychologist Marine Yeghiazaryan of the Women’s Rights’ Center.

“In villages men couldn’t go abroad to work and stayed in the stressful situation, which generated violence,” she says. 

Karine says that when she heard about the lockdown, her first thought was it would be better to be killed by the virus than stuck with her husband. 

She notes that she had decided many times in the past to leave, but she couldn’t find the courage to go through with it. 

“Everything somehow changed after the birth of our children. Aram went to Russia to work. It is strange for a woman to accept but I was happy for that, because he would be far away. So, we saw each other for one or two weeks during a year,” Karine says, adding that “those one or two weeks were passing so slowly as if my life had stopped.”

She remembers his temper would be even worse on those short visits—anything could set him off.  “I couldn’t say a word before a phone or glass would be thrown at me.”

Psychologist Yeghiazaryan notes that many women do not know their rights—and some prefer to stay silent over speaking up.



But something changed for Karine on March 30. 

“That evening, for the first time, I promised myself not to forgive him, even for the sake of our children. The brutal beatings and curses brought our six-year marriage to an end,” she says.

The evening began as many others had: Aram came home drunk and there were all the telltale signs of a brewing fight. 

“This time he was very furious.  I hadn’t even said a word before I felt his aggressive steps towards me. He roared at me as loud as he could,” she says.

Aram blamed the lockdown for keeping him in Armenia, and when she tried to leave, he said he would divorce her, and find “an obedient woman for my children.”

Karine got out of the house, but she was alone. Crying, and frightened, she walked the streets and thought only of how to get her children out of the house and away from her husband. 

The police were not an option. Karine notes that while many people believe the police will help women when they call for help, they do not. “I called the Police, told them the situation with full of hope and asked for their help to get my children,” she says.

“The answer was more terrible than I could expect. ‘You need to go back and sleep.  It is an ordinary thing. Tomorrow your husband won’t be drunk and he won’t harm you anymore,’ the policeman said.”



But Karine was determined to stop the abuse this time. Instead of giving up, she called Women’s Rights’ Center, an organization that helps women in Armenia, including in Ararat region, where she lives. 

 “We received the call of Karine Sahakyan, 34, on March 31st when she already left her husband after a fight and had gone to her parent’s place, discouraged. She was worried for her children and wanted to bring them back as the police had refused to investigate her case,” Yeghiazaryan, who works as a psychologist at the organization, recalls.



Yeghiazaryan was able to help Karine: the lawyers were able to restore her custody of her children because Aram had never officially been registered as their father. The psychologist was also able to work with Karine to help her start dealing with the trauma she had experienced for six years.

“Now she lives in peace at her parents’ home. How it will end, only the time will tell,” Yeghiazaryan says.  

Karine is hopeful that she will be able to create a good, peaceful life with her children, ages two and four.

She says while she and Aram are not officially divorced yet, she has no intention of reconciling. 

“When he comes to see the children, we speak about our past and he attempts to find a common ground for reconciling. Sometimes, I feel his behaviour has changed and we can start everything from the scratch. But I am afraid of stepping into the same river twice, I am afraid of going back to my previous experience, I am afraid of being cheated on again,” she says.  

“Those are the fears that remain with me these days.”

              

*The name of the characters has been changed for privacy reasons.


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