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A Woman's Right to Justice

We are printing the following essay as we received it from Anoush Ter Taulian, without any editorial changes or comments, at her request.

Violence against women is often not taken seriously in the world and Artsakh is not an exception. As an Armenian-American woman who lived in the war zone in Artsakh for nine years helping to defend my homeland, I personally experienced this violence. For instance, during the war in 1993 in Martuni, Artsakh, a French journalist, Leo Nicholian, sprayed mace in my eyes and beat me with a stick because he was trying to steal my video camera. While I was crying for help, a French photographer, Max Arshag Sivaslian, came and stood by watching, saying let this be a lesson to you-this is a man's world." Later both of these men stole my video camera. When I asked if they had it they said "No," but when I had a commander, Monte Melkonian, call the police, the police came and found my video camera in their room. They were not punished. Instead they said I was a spy and I was not allowed into Artsakh for three months while I gathered letters of support to prove my innocence. Only when Mesrob Surpasan wrote a letter for me was I finally allowed to return to Artsakh.

It was very sad that these unscrupulous men had no regard for my rights as a woman and would want to destroy the work I was doing to help our soldiers and our nation. It was even sadder when I told people about the crimes these men had committed and no one really cared. People would not hold them responsible, saying things like "I didn't see it happen," even though I told them about witnesses they could contact. I wondered how they would feel if their wives, mothers or sisters had been attacked and what they would do then. I knew the court system was corrupt and I couldn't find any investigative journalists who would write about what happened. Later Mr. Nicholian killed two women with a grenade but only served a few months in jail. Mr. Sivaslian is now a famous photographer inMarseillesandYerevan. I wonder if less people would buy his book if they knew he was an unpunished thief and an accessory to assault? For me the pain of these incidents is still great and I now look at everyone I meet thinking "Would this person defend my rights if necessary?"

Also during the first years I was in the Artsakh Freedom Struggle, I met many commanders who deserved respect, but later when I was living in Martakert trying to be a volunteer soldier, I met a few commanders who did not respect women. In 2000 when an officer, Vartkes Arzoumanian, tried to attack me, I decided to pursue a case against him knowing I would be the recipient of many attacks against my reputation for doing so. I always want to thank the wonderful honest detectives in the soldiers' courthouse who were working hard to defend the rights of all soldiers. After a long trial, Mr. Arzoumanian was found guilty and given probation. Because a high-up commander Vito Balasarian did not respect my rights, I was punished by not being allowed to work in the soldier's hospital where I had been volunteering for many years and I was not allowed to be a registered soldier. Of course, inAmericathere are also examples of women soldiers who face discrimination and receive little justice.

Because so many doors were closed, I decided to leave Artsakh and pursue justice through my art like a series of paintings and writings I have done on the conditions of women in Artsakh. For instance, in the painting, "Unjust Officer', a commander, Vito Balasarian, is giving woman soldiers flowers on Woman's Day while he is stepping on me and my rights because he is calling the judge to free the assailant from jail. In "Endless Work", you see an Artsakh woman working hard while her husband is lying on the couch calling her to change the T.V. channel. And in "The Lover", a doctor is holding two puppets, one his wife and the other his mistress. Similar problems occur in theU.S., but they are more vividly expressed inArmeniadue to the hard economic situation.

Recently inYerevan, I spoke about these issues at a meeting during the "Caucasus16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence" sponsored by Woman Aid International. In theU.S.I give speeches about the conditions of Artsakh women and the need for theU.S.to recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide and acknowledge that Armenians are an indigenous people which have a right to the historical homelands that were stolen from them. Because of pressing political problems, solving woman's problems is often a low priority. But women are the backbone of the nation and what good is a revolution if women are still in a subservient position?

I have a lot of information and materials on Artsakh women including two videos I made "The Children of Artsakh" and "The Artsakh Freedom Struggle.' If anyone is interested in seeing these videos or having me as a speaker, I can be contacted at [email protected]

Anoush Ter Taulian

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