Italian "Troublemaker" in Armenia: Getting Berated for Reporting Domestic Violence
Ester Violante came to Armenia from Italy five months ago as part of a European volunteer program.
Coming home one day, she found feces next to her apartment door. Her neighbors wanted her out of the building, regarding Ester as a troublemaker.
It all started when Ester called the police after hearing frightful noises emanating from the apartment above. It sounded like her neighbors were fighting. A man was screaming and the sounds of a woman’s cries could be heard.
“I was concerned. The commotion upstairs, the sounds of someone being beaten, went on for a long time. Something terrible seemed to be happening. I went upstairs and was about to knock on the door, but I didn’t. I kept hearing a woman crying out and a man bellowing. It lasted for an hour. I decided to call the police,” recounts Ester.
There was no one at the police station who knew English. The cops muttered something in Armenia and hung up. Ester then called a domestic violence hot line and they promised to call the police for her. Four police officers arrived some 15 minutes later.
Entering Ester’s apartment they couldn’t communicate with her. None knew any English. Two of the cops then went to the neighbor’s apartment upstairs. They returned shortly afterwards and tried to tell Ester that nothing was amiss.
“They managed to tell me that they asked the husband what had happened. The man told the police that he hadn’t hit his wife. The cops told me not to worry and that it had all been taken care of. They went upstairs a second time and then left,” Ester says.
Five minutes after the police left, Ester heard a knock on her door. It was one of her neighbors, the only one in the building who knew English. The neighbor began to verbally berate Ester, telling her that she shouldn’t have called the police. It was a family matter and no one should be poking their nose in, was the neighbor’s argument.
“The guy said that it was normal in Armenia for a husband to beat his wife. I had to tell him that while it might be routine in Armenia it wasn’t all right with me, wherever I might live. There’s violence everywhere. It’s not only an issue in Armenia. But informing law enforcement about it, going the legal route, seems to be unacceptable here,” Ester says.
Ester has been constantly getting flak from her neighbors ever since. They accuse her of throwing garbage at the entrance to the building.
Residents of the Shengavit district building keep scolding Ester for calling the cops. She’s the only person in the building who did.
“I’m convinced that one of the police who arrived that day told the husband that I had telephoned them. That’s why the entire building knows it was me. But such personal details should have been kept confidential. At least that’s how it is in Italy. I was shocked when I heard that police here can reveal the identity of a person who files a report while glossing over the real crime,” Ester says.
When chiding Ester for calling the police, one of her neighbors told her that the woman upstairs was so shy and withdrawn that she would never have the courage to talk back to her husband. If she did, the husband would kill her.
“It was then that I realized that the incident could have ended badly. What if the wife talked back?” Ester asks.
The Shengavit police asked Ester to come down to the station and file a report. Ester asked to be provided with a translator, to no avail. No police officer was found who knew any English. Ester had to take a friend with her to the station to file an incident report.
Those interested in reading what the law in Armenia says regarding filing a police report can visit the website of the country’s Investigative Committee.
Ester is a volunteer with the Armenian Progressive Youth NGO, working to help national minority young people integrate into the general society.
Ester believes that what happened to her is part of her volunteer service since her motivation in calling the police was just one way of facilitating positive change in the society.
“For me, it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t want to tie the experience to Armenia as a whole. Nor do I want to complain about Armenia. There is a need for change everywhere in the world. There’s only a need for people with enough courage to implement change. It was a tiny incident that must be raised in order to become a part of wider positive change,” says Ester.
Photos: Narek Aleksanyan
Ester Violante telephoned the Hetq office today, requesting to make a few corrections regarding her quoted words that appeared in the article. Here are the corrections she made.
«I would like to make a few corrections in the article to be fair. First, when I heard sounds from my neighbor’s apartment I called the emergency services number (911-Hetq) and not the number of my district’s police station. When I called that number, as you wrote, we couldn’t understand each other because of the language problem, so I then called the number of the “Stop Violence against Women Coalition” and they called the police for me, explaining the situation to them. Second, when the policemen came into my apartment that night they couldn’t speak English as you wrote, but after a while they telephoned a person who spoke English She was translating what we were saying to each other. Later, when I went to the police station to bring my documents, I went alone (not with a friend), and the police located a translator for me.