Yesterday was stressful, partially because I’m a spurkahay (Diasporan) that’s not willing to conform to Armenian standards, partially because Armenian men think they can do whatever they want, and definitely because of the language barrier.
I went by the Birthright Armenia office after work and was there until 8pm. I walked toward Hraparak metro as I typically do, going through the park that’s just north of Vernissage. Unlike all the previous times, this time I saw a young-ish guy push a young-ish girl into a wall and place his leg next to her in an intimidating way to stop her from leaving.
Some people would have kept walking, some people would have confronted him. I did all I knew to do: I stayed and watched and called a Hayastanci (local Armenian) friend to figure out what I should do.
The guy proceeded to smack her around a bit. I could see that she was bawling her eyes out. He continued to be in her face, say some things to her and hit her. He also had two friends about 3 meters away (~10 feet) doing nothing. One time he hit her so hard that there was a loud smacking noise. The two guys said the equivalent of “hey;” that was the limit of their involvement.
I call the police, who thankfully have an English speaker available. Unfortunately, that English speaker doesn’t understand words like “hit,” “beat,” “smack,” or “punch.”
“This guy is hitting this girl.”
“This boy is hitting/punching/attacking/etc this girl”
“Who attacked you?”
“No one attacked me, the boy hit the girl.”
“When did they hit you?”
“No, he is hitting her now, hima!”
Eventually she understands and says the police will come in five minutes.
By the time the police arrive—which amazingly was in roughly five minutes—the guy had stopped hitting her and was now holding her “softly.” She had also stopped crying. In fact, everything seemed normal. Normal enough that the cops didn’t think there was any problem whatsoever. “Boyfriend and Girlfriend” and “no problem” they said to me. This was even after I had my Hayastanci friend explain the situation to them. Apparently, the girl wasn’t willing to discuss what happened to her to four male cops with her boyfriend beside her (assuming she thought there was even a problem to begin with).
Fine. I leave, not particularly surprised that absolutely nothing was done. At least I could hope that I made an impact on the guy that people are willing to report his abuse. I start moving on thinking about what else I need to do until the calls begin.
Only a few minutes after walking away the cops call me. With my very limited Armenian and ample usage of “chhaskatsa” and “inch?” I understand that they want to know where I am. As a general rule, I only like to speak to police if I’m reporting a crime or I have a lawyer present. When the police are constantly asking you your location, I’m not inclined to answer. With my limited Armenian, I simply cannot understand why they want to speak to me or know where I am as they said there was no issue. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that they don’t keep calling and calling and calling and calling… I’m starting to get worried enough that I start calling people for advice. They agree that I should figure out why they want my location, but as I can’t setup a three-way call on my phone, they can’t give me any better advice. At this point, there are a few theories of what is going on.
- The cops aren’t coordinating with each other and the cops calling me aren’t the same cops I saw.
- The cops just need me to sign some statement that they came or something equally bureaucratic or trivial.
- The cops are going to turn this around and accuse me of a false police report.
- The cops gave my number to the abuser, and the calls are actually from the abuser who wants to get revenge. (Definitely not something I would have thought of as an American)
- The cops know I’m America-Hay and thus care about their image and want to make it seem like they’re doing a good job. This could include getting my statement (a.k.a. driving me to the station where there will be an English speaker) and promising to “investigate.”
Chances are, the last possibility is the most likely. Regardless, the lack of understanding of the situation and whether I was potentially in legal or physical jeopardy was particularly frustrating. Fortunately, after 25 missed calls the cops stop calling. I try to relax.
The story concludes in an uninteresting and unsatisfactory way that I’d rather not mention here. The complete dismissal by the cops followed by their barrage of harassing phone calls will definitely make me pause before calling them again. I now have, sadly, a better understanding for the fatalistic Hayastanci that have given up hope that Armenia will get better.
In the mean time, “enjoy” this excellent video (English subtitles) about the prevalent domestic violence in Armenian Soap Operas made by the Society Without Violence. (Trigger warning for visceral—if fictional—acts of domestic violence)