“I could not live with the realization of what he had done to children.” Nana Manucharyan: from Stigma to Resilience of Burnt Clay
“The moment I learnt the truth, I just lost any interest in life. I wished I hadn’t known anything at all,” says Nana Manucharyan, who was only 21 when she discovered the ugly, devastating reality of her marriage: her husband was a child abuser.
She was 14 when they met.
“We were five sisters in our family. I had to be independent and strong, and I learnt to protect myself when I was six. I was coming apart at the seams by the time I turned 14. My parents had divorced and my mother tended to devote much of her attention to my younger sisters. I felt lonely and helpless in this big world, as if I didn’t have a single friend. I was longing for someone, who would love and protect me. And then he came along. Tall, slender and handsome, he became the center of my little universe filled with dreams. He was a photographer and was 19 years older than me,” Nana recalls.
The photographer became her one and only friend, someone who helped her explore the outer world.
“He admired me. He was so caring and thoughtful. I started to trust him soon enough to feel safe around him. He was kind and easygoing and he got on well with children: he taught photography at a youth center.”
Nana was 17 when they decided to get married. Three years later, a son was born to the “happy couple”.
“After the baby was born, my husband became estranged from me. He would come home late, spending hours at the computer and quickly closing all the pages whenever I was around,” says Nana.
“One day, when he went out, I turned on the computer and started poking around. What I found were sexually explicit images. There were photos of minor children – boys and girls aged 8 to 15, who posed naked, half-naked, alone or in groups in those photos… I cannot describe the repugnance that I felt while watching those images… Then I came across some conversations on social media. I was shocked and did not realize yet what was going on.”
The confrontation with the horrendous reality forced Nana to seek the children she had seen in the photos. She was determined to talk to them and find out the truth.
“When I met young boys and girls and heard their stories, I was about to go mad. My husband had committed lewd acts against these children and even raped some of them. And yet all of them never spoke out about what had happened to them for years,” Nana told http://www.DaphneArmenia.com .
Despite the criticism from people around her and warnings against speaking out on her discovery, Nana decided to go to the police and testify against her husband.
“I only wanted to raise awareness among other parents and help them protect their children, so that he would not be able to hurt another child. I could not stand the thought of not having spoken up once I had discovered those atrocities.”
Going to the police was only the beginning of her struggle. Law-enforcement officials tended to ignore her testimony, which in turn, put her under pressure and growing strain.
“It took me years to come round after testifying. I told them my husband continued to work with children and his actions were dangerous. I told them he had to be stopped, but they did not take any steps. Instead, they told me to contact them again when I had fresh evidence. They were obviously trying to conceal the case.”
“I went to guardianship authorities. They heard me out and questioned the sensibility of ‘raising such issues’. ‘If you have a problem, leave this country’, they told me. Then I showed them the materials taken from his computer during the criminal investigation — photos of minors, sexual content. I told them I was seriously concerned that this man was going to raise our child, but I received no adequate response from them. They only asked me to stop displaying those images, as they were too disturbing for viewing,” Nana recalls.
The first phase of Nana’s fight for justice went on for about two years before the case was dismissed and her husband ended up walking free, while she won custody of her son.
“I kept fighting in all possible and impossible ways, and that struggle lasted for six years. There were people who told me my actions were appalling and would do nothing but harm to my son’s future. They told me I was destroying my child’s life with my own hands, so it would be better if I kept my mouth shut. Some of my acquaintances were indifferent to my situation. ‘Do as you wish, it’s your problem,’ they said to me. I was tortured by nightmares and agony, because I knew very well that there were and would be new victims. All the doors were closed, and I was about to give up in despair,” says Nana.
Thanks to Nana’s efforts, however, her ex-husband was dismissed from his workplace, where he taught photography to children.
During those years, he kept watching over Nana and their son, looking for a chance to meet them. But Nana’s resolve not to give in and continue her fight grew strong every day as she watched her son grow up.
In 2018, six years on since Nana had started her hard-fought battle for justice, a criminal case was filed against her former husband under Article 141 of the Criminal Code of Armenia (sexual intercourse or other sexual acts with a person obviously under 16). The man has been in hiding since the criminal case was launched.
“You will not be tested beyond your strength, as the saying runs. Maybe I had enough strength not to give in, but it took me years to cope with all this and understand what had happened to me,” says Nana.
Nana has closed all the doors on the past. She keeps a tight lid on the past with persistent fight and justice obtained. Her life is now full of colors covering the clay that she models with her own hands at one of her studios. Nana has founded «Terracotta studio» — an arts and crafts center in Yerevan with its branches in several regions of Armenia, offering master classes in pottery and ceramics techniques.
“Terracotta means burnt land or baked clay when translated from Latin. I think every artist is in a constant search for a name that describes their art and themselves. I had chosen that name for myself long ago. When I look back at my past now, I realize that I have no fear of anything. I’ve grown up too fast… After this continuous struggle I adopted three essential rules to live by – meet trouble halfway, draw a lesson from it and move on and speak up against injustice,” says Nana, who now has her feet on the ground and is as strong as terracotta made at her studios.
- story by Lilit Arakelyan
- photos by Emma Grigoryan