- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 December 12 , 2003 

Broken Ties: Families victimized by domestic violence are offered "Hope"

She is skinny, shrunken, with eyes like a frightened bird. Through childishly incoherent speech interrupted by sobs, she is trying to find the right words to tell her story . . .

"I was scared to go back home. I was afraid he would kill me," she finally bursts out and becomes silent, making clear that the story has finished.

Mariam Panosyan, 23 years old, was brought to "Hope" Crisis Center of Armenian Maternity Fund after she was literally thrown out of a second floor window by her husband. She sustained only light injuries. But fear seems to have overtaken her heart.

She was brought to the crisis center by her mother and aunt. They, according to the employees of the center, told about the incident and were insisting that lawyers of the center should formalize Mariam's divorce. But specialists didn't rush the divorce papers.

The center's aim, workers say, is to strengthen families, to help them overcome conflict situations and to recommend divorce only as a last measure.

Hope consists of two subdivisions: a family center, and a shelter for victims of violence. After a month of consultation at the family center, Mariam (her name has been changed in this story, for her protection) and her children spent another month in rehabilitation at the shelter. Simultaneously, Hope employees worked with her husband, trying to reveal the reasons that provoked the violence.

"It is very important that spouses and members of the family where the conflict occurred are aware of our work. Otherwise there would be no way for the victim to return home," says head of the Maternity Fund Susanna Aslanyan.

Employees of the crisis center are trying to adapt their work to local Armenian conditions as much as possible. They named the shelter "House for Mother and Child", a name, they believed, that would not have negative social implications.

"Traditionally family problems are not a matter of discussion, and violence is almost a forbidden topic," Aslanyan says. "Some people to this day think that there is none, and cannot be any violence in Armenian families."

In 2002 the Maternity fund made a research among 1,200 families. The results found that 35 percent of the women experienced physical violence; 70 percent were psychologically abused; 0.3 percent complained of sexual violence.

"Many women don't even realize that being prohibited to work, to interact with friends, or forced to wear certain clothes can be qualified as violence. They also don't realize that they should protest not when beating has become a usual practice in the family, but right after the very first slap in the face," says Aslanyan.

To the question if domestic violence in Armenia is of high concern, Susanna Aslanyan answers with a counter-argument:

"If the problem exists and no steps are undertaken for its diminishment or eradication, it is quite possible that it can expand and become threatening. To make matters worse there are also some aggravating factors connected with social hardships. The change of traditional role-casting between men and women also provokes violence. Nowadays women are sometimes the bread-winners of the family; however, traditionally the bread-winner and consequently the head of the family should be the man,"

In Mariam Panosyan's family there were no "aggravating" factors. The husband was the bread-winner and indisputably the authority of the family.

"Mariam's problem comes from childhood," says psychologist Anna Badalyan. "She had a very aggressive mother, who forbade the girl to have friends, and simply go outside. Mariam was not adapted to the outside world, she grew up reserved and unsociable."

Her husband was chosen by her mother when Mairam was only 17. The fiancé seemed a catch -- wealthy, sociable, had lived in Europe for a long time. Mariam seemed to him an ideal wife -- beautiful, modest. The first month of their joint life went on smoothly. The conflicts began when it became clear that Mariam, who was about to become a mother, was still a child herself.

"We talked to her husband. He was losing his temper over his wife's immaturity, who could neither cook, nor do shopping," says the psychologist. "The husband took the whole burden of the family, children, and at the same time was irritated and ashamed by his wife's inertness, especially in the company of friends and relatives, who were teasing him. This resulted in an outburst and he threw Mariam out the window."

The Panosyans were the only couple during the whole year who the Center helped get divorced. Mariam was left with two children, ages two and half, and five.

"We helped her to find a job. She becomes more independent, and confident. However she still can't speak calmly, without tears about her husband and everything that has happened to her. Deep in her heart, she probably hopes that they will unite one day," says psychologist Badalyan.

During its year of existence Hope Crisis Center has counseled 566 clients (385 women, 93 men and 88 children). Forty-nine women took refuge in the shelter, for periods from one week to one month.

The project of Armenian Maternity Fund for Providing Assistance to Victims of Domestic Violence is planned for two years and is financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

"In autumn of next year the shelter will face the menace of being closed," Aslanyan says. "But how would it feel to slam the door in the faces of those who need our help? That's why today we look for potential donors, who could help the shelter to keep the building."

For information about Hope: Call (374 1) 28.75.49;
email . To make a contribution to the shelter or to others in ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta project, click here.


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