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
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
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
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
"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
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;
. To make a contribution to the shelter or to
others in ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta
project, click here.