Sunday, 18 August 2019

F Free Platform

Domestic Violence and Armenian Traditions

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On December 8, 2017, Parliament finally introduced into law a statute addressing domestic violence within Armenia[1]. Originally entitled “Prevention of domestic violence and protection of victims of domestic violence” before being changed to “Preventing violence in the family, protecting the victims of violence in the family, and restoring harmony in the family,”[2] the passage of this bill was a long time coming, and its name change perfectly illustrates why.

Armenian women’s rights groups began drafting a bill to combat domestic violence back in 2007.[3] But in Armenia, where, as Sanan Shirinian of the United Human Rights Council explains, the interdependent family is a defining characteristic of Armenian identity, one of the major obstacles in battling issues of domestic violence is the deeply rooted social attitude that sees violence against women as a “family matter” not open for public discussion or judgment. Public discussion of the problem is regarded as an effort to destroy the family.[4] For this reason, parliament rejected the women’s rights groups’ initial domestic violence prevention draft in 2013.[5] Even the bill that finally was enacted earlier this month, did not pass without a significant amount of debate and controversy… debate and controversy which ultimately held dire consequences for the final manifestation of the law’s efficacy.  Indeed, women’s rights advocates within the country are criticizing the government for giving into societal pressures and editing the original draft in such a way that women are not fully protected under the law[6] (though such opponents concede that the passage of the present law is still a step in the right direction, given the conservative nature of the country).[7]

Ultimately, however, the law’s passage is not only important in that it at last provides some form of specific, government-backed support and relief to domestic violence victims, but its passing acts as a symbol to the Armenian people (and abroad) that Armenia is entering the modern world and refuses to be hindered in progressing by outdated belief systems. Indeed, it has brought to light many issues that have previously not been widely discussed, and ideas that have not yet, but must be (and are being), challenged and debated; namely the definition and conception of “traditional Armenian values” and the “traditional Armenian family,” and the role, status, and perceptions of women in Armenia.

There has been much discussion surrounding the domestic violence law’s potential to disturb and corrupt traditional Armenian values and traditions in terms of the family. At their core “traditional Armenian values” highlight essential community principles such as the importance of family, love and protection for one’s children, kindness, hospitality, and dutifulness to family and friends. These are wonderful values to embrace. However, a problem lies in the way such values have manifested themselves within society, namely through the oppression, silencing, and stigmatization of women in favor of a male-dominated, patriarchal society. The concept of a “traditional” family and society to Armenians has become synonymous with a patriarchal conception of familial and social life-- and these are not traditional values and manifestations that Armenians should want to uphold. Such a society and manifestation of values stunts and harms everyone involved— from the lower level of the family unit itself, to the larger facets of society, like government and economy.  Indeed, in the 21st century, fear of the disintegration of the “traditional” Armenian family and way of life has become fear of modernization, which is holding the country back.

In the current culture, there are problematic, deep-rooted beliefs about traditional family values that reinforce the idea that men should be dominant, and women subservient and submissive. “I put up with his beatings for 14 years because that’s what’s expected here in Armenia. In the Armenian family the woman has to put up with everything, she has to keep silent...” an Armenian woman explained during an interview to Amnesty International.[8] Indeed, denied at worst and discussed in hushed voices at best, there is almost a cultural acceptance and legitimization of domestic violence in Armenia that has been encouraged by these patriarchal traditions. Moreover, such traditional cultural norms and expectations of male vs. female behavior often not only foster violence, but almost normalize it.

Sanan Shirinian further reports that “social attitudes in Armenia are accepting, and even vindicating of violence against women” to the point where even women themselves “believe that abuse is a normal part of marriage and are unconvinced that a life without it can exist.”[9]  In fact, in a survey conducted by the Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis, 88% of female respondents believed that domestic violence is best resolved within the family and not taken to the police.[10] This demonstrates that to a certain extent, domestic violence is viewed as just a regular part of married life, similar to a simple dispute among couples to be resolved amongst one another.  

This normalization of domestic violence comes from the current conceptions of traditional Armenian values, which emphasize, and are indeed based upon, inequality between men and women.  

Historically, it is possible to see how such a male-dominated culture came to be. However, it cannot continue to exist in modern society if Armenia ever wants to progress. Indeed, clinging to traditions that maintain unbalanced gender roles propagates and reinforces a cycle of poverty and abuse in Armenia. The subordination of women not only affects the health of the Armenian economy and the ability of the nation to compete on a global scale, but it also affects the health of each member of Armenian families, including, everyone’s first concern, the future of our nation, children themselves.

Throughout history, man has been the dominant sex for obvious reasons. In earlier eras, men’s strength proved useful in defending his tribe and progeny, which was necessary for the continuation of the human race. Indeed, in the pre-industrialized world, it was oftentimes only through heavy manual labor that a living could be made for one’s family—again an area where men dominated. However, in today’s post-industrial society and economy, “thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success… Those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest. And because geopolitics and global culture are, ultimately, Darwinian, other societies either follow suit or end up marginalized,” explains The Atlantic.[11] Because both men and women are able to work equally well in this industrialized age, societies and nations that take advantage of this fact and provide resources and opportunities to both men and women equally are the ones that ultimately succeed on a global scale. Nations that cannot bring themselves to do so ultimately remain stunted, unable to compete internationally.

In fact, in 2006, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) created a database that measured the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With very few exceptions, it was found that the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success. For this reason, agencies providing economic aid have begun to push for the institution of political quotas in nations around the world in order to improve those nations’ economies.[12] Thus it is possible to see that, particularly economically, Armenia’s propagation of unequal attitudes towards men and women is keeping the country from growing and moving forward.

These spheres of economy, gender (in)equality, and domestic violence within Armenia are all interrelated. In fact, the three main roots of domestic violence have been identified as economic circumstances, insecurity, and childhood experiences—roots maintained by the sexism prevalent within Armenian society.[13] Indeed, Anahit Hayrapetyan, a photo-journalist who documented domestic violence in Armenia, views domestic violence as “an outgrowth of a culture in which mothers and sisters serve boys, and when the boys grow up, their wives serve them.”[14] Such an attitude and culture is harming and limiting the entire nation.

It is stunting the country from moving forward, because in this post-industrial economy, women’s skills and abilities are just as valuable and necessary to the health of the economy as men’s; thus limiting women is limiting the economy. It is stunting men because they cannot meet the expectations and pressures placed on them by such a culture. Tradition dictates that men are the main providers and protectors of the family, but that is no longer possible in today’s economy. The rest of the modern world is increasingly comprehending the consequences of living in a society where half the population is undervalued and underutilized, so Armenia, a country in which the patriarchy is still alive and well, has been left behind—meaning a suffering economy. Thus, men are unable to meet societal pressures to be providers, leading to deep insecurity (a root of domestic violence) and feelings of ineptness.

These traditions are also obviously stunting women, in that women are unable to fully live up to their potential within the country. Moreover, the continuation of sexist traditions not only leads to domestic violence, but encourages it, as many women lack the confidence and/or means to prevent and escape abuse.[15][16]

Furthermore, such traditions stunt and harm the future of Armenia. Children who grow up internalizing sexist, traditional values are taught unsustainable lifestyles and are denied the ability to form healthy relationships.  When children see that in their family (and also in their friends’ families, and neighbors’ families) their father demanding more respect than their mother, or they see that their mother is less valued or has fewer rights than their father, they come to believe that it is normal. That sexism is normal, and this type of relationship and situation is normal. This is incredibly harmful, particularly if a child grows up in a home with domestic violence and abuse, as it can lead to a continuation of a cycle of unhealthy and abusive behavior.

In fact, whether or not children themselves are abused, children often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. According to the Sudbury-Wayland-Lincoln Domestic Violence Roundtable, an organization dedicated to promoting safe and healthy relationships through education about abusive and controlling behavior “children whose mothers are abused are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development. Children who grow up observing their mothers being abused, especially by their fathers, grow up with a role model of intimate relationships in which one person uses intimidation and violence over the other person to get their way…  Seeing their mothers treated with enormous disrespect, teaches children that they can disrespect women the way their fathers do. Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems. They may replicate the violence they witnessed as children in their teen and adult relationships and parenting experiences. Boys who witness their mothers’ abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than boys raised in nonviolent homes. For girls, adolescence may result in the belief that threats and violence are the norm in relationships.”[17]

Thus it is possible to see that the passage of the domestic violence law, even in its weakened form, is an important step for Armenia and Armenian society. It not only provides (albeit limited) support to domestic violence survivors, but it acknowledges that domestic violence is not, nor should be considered, normal. The passage of the law acknowledges that domestic violence is a problem within the country that must be addressed. Even more importantly, the law demonstrates that Armenia refuses to be left behind by the rest of the world. It is choosing progress and modernity in hopes of crafting a better, brighter, healthier future for its people. 

Kristen Bayrakdarian
Williams College,

Political science and English



















The Armenian Center for National and International Studies

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