By Sareen Habeshian
In a courthouse in the outskirts of Yerevan, Taguhi Mansuryan, 39, sat before three judges on November 22 and waited for her turn to speak. She remained poised and composed as her ex-husband, Vladik Martirosyan, went on about how their son does not recognize him, nor he his son. Mansuryan’s father, Vachagan Mansuryan, on the other hand, could not keep his composure and continuously chimed in to call his former son-in-law a liar or to raise the question of his grandson’s safety.
While the two were still married, Martirosyan would repeatedly beat Mansuryan. He even took a knife to her stomach when she was pregnant with their child. Mansuryan said she would often call the police to stop the beatings and report the violence but they were often reluctant to take her appeals. After the birth of their child, the two became estranged.
“But being an Armenian woman, I decided to forgive him and give him yet another chance,” Mansuryan said. “For the sake of my son not growing up without a father, I decided to forgive him. I forgave him, and after one month, the violence resumed.”
The pair divorced and Martirosyan started to lurk outside Mansuryan’s home, where she resided with her parents and infant son, and he would often attack her. During one such occurrence, on the night of July 7, 2016, Mansuryan called the police and was taken to the station with her mother, Karineh Mansuryan, to give a report. Afterwords, a policeman took them back home and Mnasuryan’s mother asked the policemen to check the street and make sure Martirosyan was not waiting for them.
“They didn’t even come out of the car,” Mansuryan recalled. “They just looked around and told my mom not to worry. I told her ‘Let’s go because no matter how many times we turn to them, they never solve this issue and they don’t take it seriously.”
Moments later, as Mansuryan opened the front door, Martirosyan attacked her from behind with an axe, slashing her stomach, head and back, nearly killing her. He then killed Mansuryan’s mother, and gravely injured her father, all as their infant son watched.
Law on Domestic Violence
A new domestic violence law was instituted in Armenia in January 2018, after much debate and resistance. The law introduced criminal and administrative liability for those found guilty of domestic violence. It provides a direct legal basis for police intervention in instances of violence.
Lara Aharonian, founder and director of the Women’s Resource Center in Yerevan, says that before the law was instituted, police would not intervene in cases of domestic violence, with the justification that there was no law allowing them to do so.
“Now, they don’t have that excuse so they need to take specific steps when there is a call and they need to register those cases,” she explained. “This is very important for us so that we know what the issue is, how widespread it is and what the gaps are.”
In the case of Kristine Iskandaryan, a 20-year-old women killed by her husband, the law offered no aid. On November 11, 2018, an ambulance took Iskandaryan to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with multiple trauma wounds. The Shengavit police department said that her husband, Illarion Nanushyan, 30, beat her during a domestic dispute and caused the injuries.
Following the attack, Nanushyan was taken into the police department, where he confessed to beating his wife. He was then released. Iskandaryan did not regain consciousness, and the following day, she died in the hospital. Nanushyan was arrested by the police only after Iskandaryan’s death.
The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women, composed of women’s advocacy and resource organizations, released a statement in response to Iskandaryan’s death, calling domestic violence a systemic crime against women, and a large scare problem, the lack of awareness of which leads to new victims.
“This approach, especially after the adoption of the domestic violence prevention legislation, which requires the police to be more sensitive to the problem, is unacceptable,” the statement said.
The Coalition condemned the police department’s response and called for a comprehensive investigation into the case to reveal why the police did not institute criminal proceedings until after Iskandaryan’s death.
On November 16, in reaction to the murder, the Coalition hosted a public forum to discuss “the absence of clear mechanisms for domestic violence.” Police colonel Nelli Duryan, and Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Zaruhi Batoyan, were both in attendance.
Duryan responded to questions from attendees and organizers about the gaps identified in the domestic violence law and about mechanisms for police intervention. She said police officers now receive training on conduct and procedures for responding to cases of domestic violence. Duryan acknowledged that there is still work to be done in combating violence against women in Armenia.
Although a domestic violence prevention law is now in place, women are not informed enough to protect themselves, Mansuryan said. There is a lack of education for women on what their options are in such situations.
Armenia signed the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe initiative that aims to prevent violence against women, in January 2018 but is yet to ratify and implement it. As a United Nations member state, Armenia has an obligation under The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to ensure that each citizen, regardless of their gender, is safe.
“Even though we have signed different conventions and laws, the reality and the practices are different,” Aharonian said. “There are still a lot of gender stereotypes in all levels of government, in the legal system, among legal practitioners and law enforcement.”