From victim of violence to a businesswoman: “I do not like it when people perceive me as a victim. I’ve gone through a rough patch, but I’ve come out a winner.” / Hasmik Khachatryan
Freedom is the most precious acquisition for Hasmik Khachatryan, who has lived with domestic violence, beating and torture for nine years.
Five years ago, when she finally found the strength to change her life and protect her rights, she could barely imagine that one day she would have a business of her own, that her children would stand by her side and, what is more, that she would be able to continue higher education and help other victims of violence.
“I do not like it when people perceive me as a victim. I’ve gone through a rough patch, but I’ve come out a winner,” says Hasmik Khachatryan, whose controversial story shook Armenia a few years ago.
Looking back at the past years, Hasmik says she cannot even believe how much she has achieved after leaving her abusive husband.
“If a woman lives in violence and is able to survive, she can do better in her further independent life…. I will never change my present with the past nine years. Now I enjoy every day of my life, trying to make up for the years that I’ve lost,” she says enthusiastically.
Hasmik is building a new life together with her parents, her daughter and son.
Her first step was to move with her parents from Gavar to Yerevan, where she set up a small family business three years ago. Hasmik now makes baklava and gata with a famous recipe from the Gavar region and supplies the delicious pastry to small shops and supermarkets in Yerevan and even individual customers from her small pattisserie.
She has come a long way in launching her small business. It took will power and diligence to achieve success, which would never come to reality if not for her landmark decision to run away from her abusive husband in the town of Gavar, Gegharkunik province.
“I just ran away from home. That day, my ex-husband had beaten me up: he had kicked me so many times that I had a ruptured eardrum that started bleeding. He hit me on the head and burned my hand with a cigarette. Somehow I escaped, ran away from home and hid myself near the river all night. If I did not run away that night, I would probably be dead now, he would kill me.”
Hasmik’s mother finally found her in the morning, after her escape from home. She was so scared and confused that even at hospital and the police department she was ashamed to tell what had happened, how her husband had abused her.
“I will not forget how they spoke with me at the Gavar police investigation department. They told me that divorce was no alternative for me, because those who get divorced either become women of loose morals or start working as waiters in restaurants. I just did not know what to say, my brain was buzzing. I felt so helpless that I did not know what to do,” she recalls.
She was directed to Women’s Support Center from hospital, where she received psychological, social and legal assistance. Hasmik lived in battered women’s shelter for a while, where she underwent the stages of recovery and remedial action.
Hasmik admitted that the first phase was very difficult and that the recovery did not happen overnight, but she had to find strength in herself and defend her rights.
“I did not speak out before, because I did not trust people. When your family member treats you this way, you start doubting whether other people would fight for your rights. Social stereotypes, the attitudes of relatives were constantly overwhelming: they said it was a shame to wash dirty linen in public, to break the silence about your problems in marriage. But the person who abused me should be ashamed instead,” she says.
According to the court ruling, Hasmik’s former husband Sargis Hakobyan, who subjected her to physical and psychological violence for nine years, did not spend a day in prison, but she finally managed to get custody over their two children.
“My daughter has always lived with me, but my son returned only four months ago. He was very aggressive in my presence: he would not allow me to approach him and did not want to see me at all, because his father had turned him against me,” she says.
Even though the court decided to give Hasmik full custody over her two children, the Compulsory Enforcement Service delayed the return of her son for two years, and Hasmik finally reunited with her son only after a long struggle.
The relationship between Hasmik and her son largely improved within a few months after his return.
“I have never thought that one day I would have to support my two children all alone, that I would be able to establish myself, express my own opinion when I had done nothing and never worked throughout nine years…. It was very difficult. The very thought of living alone and failing to support my children was my worst fear … but I did it,” she says with more confidence in her voice.
Aside from workshops on women’s rights, Hasmik also attends a business training to acquire necessary skills and knowledge.
“When they offered me to start my own business and said that the initial phase would be funded by the Near East Foundation, I thought that after nine years of life in isolation, I’ve become a good cook. So I decided to bake gata and baklava, the traditional Gavar pastry which is very popular in the market,” says Hasmik.
Launching her own business was not easy, but Hasmik was able to cope with difficulties and obstacles and is now more confident: thanks to her stable business where her mother also helps her, she is able to stand firmly on the ground.
“It was very difficult at the beginning, when all the friends and relatives told me it wasn’t going to work, that all stores and factories were closing down, and a woman on her own would hardly succeed without large investments. In that period, I was more constrained, more vulnerable and shy, always expecting something bad from people. And when I started presenting my business at different stores, all I got was rejections,” she recalls.
She would walk around hundreds of shops every day, but barely one would agree to take her pastry.
“I entered the stores to present my business proposal, showed the pastry assortment, leaving my business card so they could contact me. In the evening, male owners of shops would call me, offering their “friendship” and promising to not only sell my pastry at their stores, but even find more clients. I was shocked.”
She came home desperate and weary every night, thinking about giving up altogether, but in the morning, she would wake up and walk around the shops again, offering her fresh pastry — delicious baklava and gata made with the Gavar recipe.
I month later, luck finally favoured Hasmik, thanks to her persistance and strong willpower.
“I realized that no matter how they try to undervalue woman’s worth, trying to make her believe that she is weak and hopeless for years, she still has to find strength inside herself,” says Hasmik.
After founding her own business, she resumed her studies at the University of Gavar and is now a third-year student at the Department of Information Science. During the first year of marriage, her husband forbade her to attend lessons at the university, and for Hasmik completing higher education remained a dream. Today, she has the freedom and the opportunity to continue her education, to work, to freely express her opinion and defend her rights.
Despite the limited time, she also manages to provide assistance to other victims of violence, working in parallel at the refuge of the Women’s Support Center.
“If I got divorced and I stayed in the village, I would not be able to cope with all the challenges, nor would I achieve today’s success, because the village people regard you as an unhappy woman if you are divorced. I felt miserable as a married woman, but now I am actually happy. When I wake up in the morning, I smile. For a woman who has experienced and lived with violence, this is a great achievement,” says Hasmik, admitting that even her own children now look at her differently.
“My children used to see me miserable and wretched – someone, who was being constantly harassed or forced to work. Now, I’m a completely different person. Today, they have a more successful, strong, self-confident mother who has achieved financial stability.”
Hasmik says she now feels peaceful and complete, living a full life every day.
“I try to learn as much as possible, grow my business, go ahead and raise my children to become good people. When I compare myself now with the five-year past, I realize that today I’m living in the world of my dreams and goals,” she says with a happy smile.