Taguhi Mansuryan was not always an “other.”
The 41-year-old beautician used to follow all “the rules” Armenian society demanded of her: she got married, she had a son—and she stayed with her husband even after he beat her.
"Sometimes women think that we have just started a family, everything will change,” Taguhi says. “In Armenian families you wait and endure for the sake of the child…[women] don’t want society to talk about them as immoral women, divorced women.”
Taguhi knows the feeling: she left her husband, Vladik Martirosyan, after a year of beatings but returned because she thought her infant son, Narek, needed his father.
But about five years ago she had enough. Taguhi went through all the channels women are told they can use in Armenia. She appealed to the police in the capital Yerevan, where she and Vladik lived; they tried to talk her out of pressing charges. A local NGO promised to help but did not.
Even when Taguhi finally got a divorce and restraining order against Vladik, it was not enough to keep her safe—physically or from social criticism for her decision to leave her abuser.
One evening, after Taguhi went to the police again to ask for help with keeping Vladik away from her, he attacked her and her parents, Karine and Vachagan Mansuryan, with an axe.
Her mother Karine died from the attack. Taguhi and her father, Vachagan, were seriously injured. After a lengthy trial, Vladik was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Even while she was in the hospital, recovering from her wounds, Taguhi was not safe from attacks, although this time they were social media comments by people who blamed her for the tragedy. “They wrote comments such as ‘he did well to beat that woman, so she is immoral, she betrayed her husband,’” she says.
She recalls feeling shocked when she saw the comments.
“Many people consider that if a woman is alone, it is immoral, for some reason…They wrote that I was immoral, they blamed me for being divorced, they said that I was disobedient to my husband,” she says.
“I said to myself that I have to speak up [about what happened to me] so that the public understands that it is wrong to judge someone if you do not know that person.”
At first, she says she felt a lot of pressure to be quiet and stop talking. Today, however, she celebrates the fact that she has created a different life for herself and her son, Narek. Taguhi credits Narek for giving her the courage to continue living after the attack.
“I am trying my best to raise him to be a good person,” she says. “If you feel violence close to you, as if you are in an abyss, you need to try and escape. You cannot stay there because, in addition to everything else, a child will grow up to be like [the abuser]. The child, seeing all this, might treat you the same way and then do the same with his future wife.”
In addition to running her own salon and caring for Narek and her father, Taguhi tries to help women whenever she can.
“I try to talk to my clients, to explain so that they do not allow themselves to be humiliated by their family,” she says.
That means asking questions and offering help if she notices bruises when women come to her salon—even stepping in when she overhears heated arguments. She also attends meetings and demonstrations organized by an NGO that helped her and her son, Narek, recover after the attack, Women's Resource Center NGO.
Before the pandemic, she used to travel around the country with volunteers from the NGO when she had time. One day, in March 2020, they were at Gyumri to honor a 43-year-old woman who was beaten to death by her partner.
Taguhi recalls the demonstration: women from the NGO and their supporters walked in front of the police building and asked why the authorities did not take steps to stop the violence before it escalated to murder.
“I even argued with the neighbors because they were saying unnecessary things, someone was saying that he did a good job, they were talking out of ignorance…mostly they were people making assumptions…so I decided to raise my voice, to say how it really happened. [Domestic abuse] has been in my family. If someone has not experienced that life, they can not really understand it,” Taguhi stressed.
Domestic abuse remains a serious problem in Armenia. In 2020, police investigated 366 cases of men abusing their wives, compared to 329 cases in 2019. During the pandemic-induced lockdown, there were 30 percent more calls for help registered at a hotline run by the Coalition Against Violence Against Women.
Women's Support Center NGO received about 20 percent more applicants for assistance in 2020.
Taguhi is still optimistic society can find a way to end domestic abuse, however, and that women can learn to overcome their fear of being “othered” for leaving an abuser.
"Despite all the difficulties, I will keep telling people not to be afraid of being different, not to be afraid of life and society,” she says.
“Many women are afraid, so they do not speak up, but it is not right.”