On January 22, the Court of first instance of Armenia's Lori province, presided over by judge Lusine Abgaryan, decided to impose a fine of AMD 150 thousand (about $300) on Arjut village resident Karen Khechoyan who was charged with physically abusing his wife Lusine Ghabuzyan and minor daughter Marusya Khechoyan. The lawyer for the aggrieved party, Liana Manusajyan, found the ruling “laughable" and plans to appeal it.
Khechoyan would tie his daughter up with chains in a barn to “discipline” her
The defendant, a veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, was accused of inflicting physical and emotional injuries on his wife and children for years. The incidents of physical abuse would usually follow domestic quarrels between the spouses.
“My children and I used to be subjected to periodic beatings. The kids wouldn't go to school for months, waiting for the bruised to heal,” Ghabuzyan was cited as saying by her lawyer.
After one of the fights, Khechoyan tied his 16-year-old daughter up with chains in the bran. In court on Friday, the defendant justified his actions by saying that he was “only trying to discipline her.”
Marusya told the lawyer about another one of Khechoyan's “educational methods.” Speaking to Epress.am after the trial, Manusajyan cited her minor client: “[Father] was trying to turn us against mom, and we'd often testify against her to police. If we didn't, father would burn our fingers on the stove.”
After each beating Lusine Ghabuzyan would flee to Vanadzor to her parent's house; however, the woman would always return to Arjut, scared of her husband's violent threats. The latest incident left the victim in the hospital with a broken nose and a concussion. When discharged, she turned to the Yerevan-based Women's Support Center NGO where she and her two children were provided shelter. The spouses' three other kids remained with Khechoyan.
The Patriot, the Veteran, and the Traditional Man: defendant does not accept accusations
Karen Khechoyan pleaded not guilty on January 22 to all charges against him. He claimed he is a “patriotic veteran” who leads an “honest and law-abiding” life.
“I spit on you all. I used to work in the police and am aware of the law,” stated the defendant, addressing the victims' lawyer and supporters. Additionally, Khechoyan, who behaved aggressively throughout the entire hearing, started yelling threats and profanities when an Epress.am reporter asked the judge's permission to photograph the audience.
When the victims' counsel presented forensic medical evidence of a 3,5 cm bruise on Marusya Khechoyan's forehead, the defendant declared it was a result of his “discipline method.”
“I pressed a finger to her forehead and told her to leave the house when she came home with dirty hands. Can't I do that?” shouted Khechoyan to the court.
Prosecutor Armen Poghosyan objected, saying that this kind of injury couldn't have been inflicted with a press of a finger and had, in fact, resulted from a blow with a blunt object.
The defendant, however, ignored this statement and went on to justify his educational methods: “I am a traditional Armenian man, and my daughters can only leave my house virgins.”
Police reaction to the case
Lusine Ghabuzyan's despair, lawyer Manusajyan told Epress.am, only grew more profound after each appeal to the police. When, in particular, the defendant tied Marusya up with chains, the mother turned to the juvenile division of the Vanadzor police and received the following reply: “No one's been killed so we can't launch a case.”
Police officers also reproached the woman for taking her daughter to the station: “Why have you dragged her here? If she defies her father today, she'll defy you tomorrow.”
Court's “laughable” verdict
The corresponding articles of Armenia's criminal code punish intentional infliction of bodily harm and beating with a fine or imprisonment for up to 2 months. Prosecution had motioned for an AMD 250 thousand fine, but the court decided to impose one of AMD 150 thousand, taking into account “mitigating circumstances” – the fact that the accused has three underage children under his care and has no previous convictions.
The judge added that Khechoyan has been characterized by fellow villagers and colleagues as being either a “melancholic” or a “very patriotic” person. The veteran, who kept his family under constant fear of abuse for years, also received the praise of the local branch of the “Yerkrapah” Volunteers' Union. The members of the union have told the court that Khechoyan “faithfully participates in all the national and patriotic events.”
The aggrieved party, on the other hand, is convinced that the accused deserves a harsher punishment and intends to appeal the Friday ruling at the Court of Appeal. “The fact that he could get away with only a fine is laughable,” counsel Manusajyan told our reporter.
Growing number of domestic violence cases in Armenia
Experts believe that the issue remains unresolved since there are no laws or provisions in Armenia on the prevention of domestic violence. All such cases are examined under articles on either beating or infliction of physical harm which envisage extremely mild punishments. Judges rarely impose the maximum punishment – a two-month imprisonment – since there are always “mitigating circumstances” in favor of defendants.
According to Women's Support Center head Maro Matosyan [ARM] Armenia has no specially designed, gender-sensitive policies, and the government offers no tools or services to protect victims of spousal violence and their children.