Standing Up to Domestic Violence
text by VERZHINE NIKOGHOSYAN, photo by VAHE SARGSYAN
Over the course of the year, there are many events within the Armenian community, but only a few of them address the real issues happening behind the closed doors of despair and shame: there are families who suffer domestic violence.
This was the main concern of the group consisted of volunteers that gathered together with the supervision of Rev. Fr Vazken Movsesian, the Priest of St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church located in Glendale, California, under the auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, to reach out and understand.
“The vision is two fold,” said Rev. Fr. Movsesian. “First it is to recognize that the problem is real, to bring awareness to the reality of domestic violence within the Armenian community. We can no longer ignore such tragedies. Second, the vision is to provide a solution. I firmly believe that that solution must be holistic – that is, it must include body, soul and mind. Our vision is nothing different than what Christ himself taught us – to heal the sick, to mend the brokenhearted and to proclaim the power of love over evil. What we are doing now is the first step in a bigger project to provide sanctuary, resources and empowerment to the members of our community who suffer domestic violence.”
The project was a long time coming. In 2009, Archbishop gave his consent to start the project on the diocesan level but the lack of funds held it back. The brutal murder of Zaruhi Petrosyan to the hands of her husband and mother-in-low was the last straw. Fr. Vazken and the Domestic Violence task force launched its beginning without any funds available whatsoever.
“We couldn’t wait any longer for anyone else, or for any more money. Even one case is too many and this was too many,” said Rev. Movsesian.
There is not only the case of Zaruhi Petrosyan, but unfortunately many others are affected with the same issue in the Armenian community.
“Sadly I can recall many cases of domestic violence. One specific case that has affected me personally, involved my own family,” said Dr. Anna Gasparian, a chiropractor by vocation who also is a committee member. “It breaks my heart to see my community suffer due to this epidemic. We are survivors and it upsets me to see domestic violence destroy morals and values that our ancestors bravely protected and passed on to us. We, Armenians, believe that family is holy. This belief and understanding has become distorted by the effects of domestic violence. It’s time to regain our vision and see families once again as holy,” she added.
The task force organized another domestic violence walk in the heart of Burbank and Glendale. Last year on Feb. 13, people marched the streets with candles to bring hope and light to those Armenian families that suffer, to raise awareness, under the slogan “Violence Hurts, Love Conquers.”
“One source in the District Attorney’s office (Los Angeles) said that she works with Armenian families who are involved in Domestic Violence, eight hours a day. Of those eight hours, she says the DA’s office prosecutes 2 cases a day,” said Rev. Fr. Movsesian. “This is of epidemic proportion. Furthermore, Armenians cling to a sense of “Amot,” shame. Yes, shame is part of the domestic violence equation in any demographic, but it is even more pronounced in the case of the Armenians. We don’t want to talk about things that are upsetting. We don’t want to air out our laundry in front of others for fear that they may think less of us. But in the end who is hurt?”
These are the main reasons that the domestic violence task force, supervised by Fr. Movsesian will hold its second awareness raising walk on Oct. 25. The purpose of the walk is to raise the issue on the surface where people can start acknowledging the problem and talking about it.
The walk will start at St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church located at 632 W. Stocker St., where the participants will meet at 4 p.m. and walk towards the Diocesan headquarters in Burbank. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian will offer his word and a blessing for the participants of the walk. The future plans of the project will be unveiled and discussed with everyone.
As a result of this hard work the group will open a Domestic Violence Resource Center and the Archbishop Derderian was happy to provide the space in the diocese. Still the group needs funds to be able to start and continue this work.
“We haven’t raised any funds yet. We need $25,000 by January. Then our immediate first years’ budget is hovering around $200,000 for staff and facility. We’re hoping to raise that amount,” said Rev. Movsesian. The center is planned to be opened by Jan. of 2013 on the bottom floor of the Western Diocese headquarters.
“The walk will bring awareness to domestic violence,” said Dr. Gasparian. “There are individuals who care and most importantly the church cares for its children. The center will bring many positive changes to our community but what I am most fond of is that it will bring spiritual healing. For too many that are involved in domestic violence, it seems that there is no hope and no way to change their situation but there is. The center will provide recourses and solutions to individuals seeking help.”
The center will be a place of comfort and help for the victims of domestic violence. The Armenian community gathered once more to address the issue and there is a lot of work still needs to be done to restore the Armenian families and their value for the people who lost their hope.
Everyone is welcome to join the walk. For more information visit the website at datevoutreach.org.
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