The smallest yet probably oldest of the successive Soviet nations, Armenia prides itself for its ancient traditions. In his International Women’s Day statement, President Serge Sarkissian wishes women “happiness, luck, and healthy and strong families,” commending the preservation of women’s “traditional role.”
Does the latter include being a victim of violence? The Armenian government’s very poor record on combating widespread violence against women may suggest so.
Armenia is the only country among its Council of Europe neighbors without legislation criminalizing domestic violence. Armenia’s government has been arguing that it will pass comprehensive legislation once the Council of Europe finalizes its convention on the issue. It’s been nearly a year since the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence opened for signatures, yet Armenia hasn’t ratified it (see the interactive map of countries that have).
Here are five reasons why Armenia must step it up in the fight against violence against women. If you agree, take action here.
1. Way too many. Amnesty International’s November 2008 “There’s no pride in silence: domestic and sexual violence against women in Armenia” report found that 25% of women in Armenia are victims of abuse. Even worse, victims don’t have effective access to the criminal justice system, shelter, medical care, redress, and reparation.
2. Way too unfair. In May 2010, a teacher who had continuously sexually and physically abused mostly girls at a boarding school for disabled children was sentenced to only two years in prison (while a businessman who had sexually exploited teenage boys received a 15-year sentence). Initially, when prominent female activist Mariam Sukhudyan alerted the media about the abuse, law enforcement promptly pressed charges - not against the pedophile but the activist!
3. Way too little. In October 2011, military contractor Yanis Sarkisov was sentenced to an only ten-year prison term for brutally beating his wife Zaruhi Petrosian to her eventual death. According to Petrosian’s sister, the wife had endured ongoing cruel physical abuse at the hands of Sarkisov and his mother, who was never charged with the murder.
4. Way too unbelievable. In 2011, a 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped by her father, and the police carried out no effective investigation. But the worst was yet to come. The society turned against her and her mother, with the parents of her classmates demanding her expulsion and neighbors demanding their eviction. The rape victim’s mother says her daughter is suicidal.
Even when the violence is caught on tape, Armenia’s authorities can dismiss it, especially if the assailant is the appointed governor of Syunik – Suren Khachatrian. In 2011, he hit businesswoman Silva Hambardzumian in the lobby of a hotel after being accused of corruption. Despite security camera video showing the assault, the authorities dropped Hambardzumian’s claim, explaining that she had not sustained an injury! And the ruling Republican Party refused to condemn the assault, let alone fire the governor. In other words, an Armenian official can hit a woman without facing any penalty as long as she doesn’t sustain injury.
5. Way too important. Armenia’s government must raise awareness of violence against women as an unacceptable and punishable crime and a human rights violation, as nonprofits don’t have the mechanism to carry out this monumental mission by themselves.
Please take action to send Armenia’s authorities the message that domestic violence legislation should be adopted now, before it’s way too overdue.