Case of Khachaturyan Sisters. Interview with Psychologist Zara Harutyunyan

Անգելինա Խաչատուրյանը դատարանում, Լուսանկարը` Արտյոմ Գեոդակյանի/TASS

In the last few day some people have probably noticed a woman walking around the city wearing a white shirt with the writing “SVOBODU SYOSTRAM KHACHATURYAN” (tr. Freedom to the Khachaturyan Sisters).

Psychologist and psychotherapist Zara Harutyunyan says it is already the third week the shirt has become her main clothing. Before visiting Armenia, she had walked around the streets of Moscow with the shirt as well.

“I wear it, wash and again put on. This is called a mobile picket. But I am not the only one in Russia. As people in Russia have no right to hold rallies, we raise our voice this way.”

Zara, who is from Yerevan, has been living in Moscow for about 30 years, but during summer she comes to her birthplace. In her opinion treatment on the writing of her shirt is not unequivocal. “I want people everywhere to see the writing on my shirt and to start getting interested about the case of the Khachaturyan sisters.”

Who are the Khachaturyan Sisters?

In Moscow, Russia, the Khachaturyan sisters were detained on suspicion of  murdering their father on 28 July, 2018. The sisters did not deny their actions telling that their father, Mikhail Khachaturyan, subjected them to abuse – both physical and sexual, and threw out brother and Mother (Aurelia, she is Moldovan) a few years ago.

In June, 2019, the edited and final accusation against the sisters is as follows: premeditated murder by a group of people. If the court decides that the sisters are guilty on that basis, they will be detained for 8-20 years. During the murder, the sisters were 17, 18 and 19 years old, and their father 57.

Attorneys of the sisters claim that it is not a murder but a self-defense, for which the materials gathered during the preliminary investigation serve as a basis. They are as follows: testimonies of neighbours about the fact that father Khachaturyan was known as “problem solver”, family tyrant and drug dealer.

In defense of the Khachaturyan sisters, it is already a few months pickets and protest marches have been organized in Russia and beyond its borders. People have signed an online petition urging Alexander Bastrykin, head of Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, to drop the murder charges. Now about 230.000 people have joined the petition. In support of the Khachaturyan sisters, many human rights defenders, activists and famous people, including Serj Tankian, soloist of  “System Of a Down” band, have made statements.

On July 6, supporters of the Khachaturyan sisters are going to raise their voices in Russia and other countries. A few days ago, the Moscow City Hall received an application to allow march on July 6.

Zara Harutyunyan is also preparing for the march of July 6, but in Yerevan. She is hopeful that will not walk alone in the streets of Yerevan in support of the Khachaturyan sisters and believes that dozens of citizens (for whom domestic violence is a condemned crime) will join her. On this purpose she has opened an informative page on Facebook and several hundreds of people have followed it and how many of them will join the march, she has no idea, as does not know most of them. She expects to see everyone there.

“Ampop Media” has talked to Zara about the peculiarities of the case of the Khachaturyan sisters, the silence of Armenian community in Russia, and the importance of support which will be voiced by Yerevan on July 6.   

Question. Zara, why do you highlight the Yerevan march in support of the Khachaturyan sisters?

Answer. In my opinion, solidarity is very important in many issues. The evidence of it are the two successful cases in Russia in recent months, where solidarity and unity helped to solve the problem positively. First of them was when people unexpectedly succeeded in cancelling construction of the church on the river shore in Yekaterinburg. It was a great success as everything had already been determined to start the construction.

And the second one was the case of the journalist Ivan Golunov, when it became possible to get him out of the clutches in the proper sense of the word. And in both cases there was solidarity of people, as they realized – what had happened to Golunov, may happen to each of them and they said, we do not want like that.

Solidarity is of great importance in this case, because if we [Armenians] keep silent about it (ed: about the case of Khachaturyan sisters) and pretend as if everything is ok, then we silently agree that domestic violence is a normal phenomenon, that beating and sexual abuse to anyone are normal.

And when we speak, we cheer those up, who have not killed the sexual harasser yet. We give them hope that public is with them.

When we say that Armenia has adopted a law on the prevention of domestic violence, which does exist, it is very good and was adopetd still during previous authorities under the demand of EU, we must understand that this law will remain on paper and our daughters, sons and wives will continue to be beaten. People should apply to the law enforcement agencies, but they don’t do it, as “dignity” replaces the police and other law enforcement or human rights organizations for us because people are shamed and don’t want to be disgraceful. But it has nothing to do with disgrace, and the public should give an adequate response to it.

Q. You are dealing with domestic violence victims in Russia, and those who know you, say you are one of the best professionals in the field. Which factors make the case of the Khachaturyan sisters differ from others? And if the case was not in the Armenian family, would you show the same activation in defense of the girls?

A. Yes, I would show the same activation, but only in Moscow. Of course, in Yerevan, I would not try to boost people because I would not see any connection with that accident. My friends and I are very attentive towards physical and sexual abuse and we are trying to help victims in any way.

The case of the Khachaturyan sisters differs by a point. The peculiarity is that he [Mikhail Khachaturyan] was a tyrant, he was a criminal, was walking with weapons. There is no other difference. In terms of sexual harassment, such cases are so similar.

Those who say they do not believe in the actions of that person should understand that there is no question of believing or not. They should search and read about details of the case and actions of that person in the internet. But it is not an extraordinary thing, there are such people in all societies, in Armenia as well. Have a look at the statistics as well and you will find out that in almost half of the applications about sexual harassment there is a family member. And the case of the Khachaturyan sisters differs by the fact that not the girls were killed, but the dictator was.

The case of the Khachaturyan sisters differs by the fact that not the girls were killed, but the dictator was.

Generally, in such cases, women commit suicide as there is no defender. In many cases, just dictators kill their victims. This was the extraordinary case when they survived. Such cases happen in Russia. To save their own lives, people take an extreme step by killing the dictator. The word is not about the people who are broken and depressed having destructive spirit, like Aurelia, mother of Khachaturyan sisters. She is depressed with wan eyes and she is frightened. Some of this kind of women make a suicide. Elder generation will probably remember that during the Soviet Union people used to say someone’s daughter-in-law drank zhavel [bleach], someone’s wife drank zhavel. When hearing it, people already knew the reason. At best, they died, and at worst – everything was eroded. And that was a common case.

Till nowadays the police do not respond to such alarms adequately, the result of which are these kinds of consequences. The response of the Police is as follows: it is your family dispute, solve it yourselves, when someone will be killed, we will interfere. Very few people try to fight. And where the law does not work and people do not feel protected, there begins lynching.

And where the law does not work and people do not feel protected, there begins lynching.

Q. Are you sure people in Yerevan will join you?

A. I do not know, no, I’m not sure. I am a sociologist with my first occupation, I graduated from Yerevan State University, and I watch carefully what kind of changes are happening among society as a result of unexpected steps. We can never predict the effect of any step on society.

A year ago one could hardly find anyone who, hearing about Nikol Pashinyan’s march, could predict that he would sit on the seat of Prime Minister two months later. I know that if everyone shows his participation and support, we will change to the better. By helping the weak, we become better. By going out to the streets and supporting the girls, you will prevent such cases in the future, when being the witness, you will tell your friend and relative that it is wrong.

I am eager to unite over this issue as society changes due to it. Women, growing up sons should say that respect is not less important than love when making a family. By this approach we will have a normal generation tomorrow, as beaten women and children will not make a future in our country. They always stay in a severe psychological situation lifelong, always use drugs and get treatment. I want our children to grow up healthy, psychologically healthy.

Q. May this wave have a negative impact on the society, creating new conflicts in families and serve as a basis for new violence?

A. Some people say, that by freeing the Khachaturyan sisters, all children will kill their parents tomorrow. I am astonished by this response. I have 3 children and I have never thought that my children may kill me tomorrow. And I do not know anyone who would think so. The Russians say «знает кошка чье мясо съела» [meaning – unnecessary manners of emotions, including sin, which a person would like to hide]. Do you think it is easy to kill a person?

Q. No, I don’t. Do you personally know Khachaturyan sisters and their family members?

A. No, I do not personally know and I have never met them. But I know their current status: they live in different places under home arrest. They are limited in their movements, have no right to communicate, and are deprived of communication. Only lawyers and their mother have the right to visit them.

Lawyers know me as a specialist in this field and are aware that I am willing to support them with any issue within the framework of my profession.

It is not me who has chosen this path: it turned out so, that I became a specialist of this topic. This is a very painful topic and many psychologists refuse to help people with such problems. It is very difficult as you get exhausted, you can not do anything, the law does not work, and people are terribly depressed. And I do my best, but it is not enough. However I can’t refuse to help these people because I realize that if I don’t help, others will not do. These are terrible cases from which people are avoiding.

And now if each of us runs away, keeps silent and ignores this case, everything will continue the same way. But the case of the Khachaturyans has become an extraordinary one. People in Russia and beyond it make pickets and demand freedom of the girls. And that is fair. The girls must be freed.

Q. The Armenian community in Russia, the largest in the world, seems to be silent, there are no united initiatives in support of Khachaturyan sisters.

A. Yes, the Armenian community is silent. They have no wish to speak. Perhaps they are silent in order to avoid giving the case an Armenian coloring. I am sorry, but that’s a self-deception, as everywhere, on the Russian media, the case is being circulated, regardless of the wish of the Armenian community, and the surname Khachaturyan is always in the headlines. And what should we do? Hide and keep silent just to keep our image? Renounce the surname Khachaturyan as an Armenian one? But it is us. That’s why while being in Armenia, I want people to estimate the situation correctly and talk about it and don’t say with closed eyes “we don’t believe it.”

While being in Armenia, I want people to estimate the situation correctly and talk about it and don’t say with closed eyes “we don’t believe it.”

Q. Have you visited Armenia on this purpose?

A. No. Each summer I visit Armenia, as I have a family here – Father, a sister, home and graves [of family members]. My visit just coincided with the visit of Narine Abgaryan (ed: famous Russian writer, blogger, born in Berd, town in Armenia) and we decided to talk about it in Armenia as well. We are one of the few Armenians in Moscow who talk about the case as our heart aches for the girls, because it’s a terribly unfair story. We do not want it to be repeated. Silence under the pretext of “dignity” should be ceased. The way the brilliant revolution brought back dignity to people last year, the same way we should help people to return their dignity and courage.

Interview by Suren Deheryan

Translated by Mary Grigoryan in 12. 07. 2019

For Armenian original CLICK HERE

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First Published: 12/07/2019