Getting a Job Saved my Life. Mariam Melikyan: a Lifelong Journey from Violence to Happiness in Everlasting Silence

photo by Emma Grigoryan

“Daily beatings and violence had become a part of our married life. He would beat me at the slightest pretext or for nothing at all. He beat me out from jealousy, whenever he was frustrated, or whenever he felt like doing it. When he beat me in front our daughter, it was the last straw for me. I just moved to my parents’ house together with my child,” says Mariam Melikyan.

Victims of domestic abuse find it hard to speak out about their experience. Such women are usually tight-lipped and would only speak reluctantly about what has happened to them when there is no other way. When they finally tell their stories, they secretly hope that people won’t blame them, that they will understand. But there are women who just cannot tell their stories. These women are destined to be silent.

Mariam Melikyan was born to deaf parents. Her father, mother and Mariam herself have hearing disabilities, but her sister and brother can hear and speak. At the age of 19, Mariam ran away from home to marry her husband, despite the fact that her parents were against this marriage.

“I was so in love with him back in those days, he was really handsome. My parents strongly opposed it all. He was divorced and had a criminal record. They were convinced he wouldn’t make a good husband. And time proved them right. I was hoping that our life as a couple would change him,” she recalls.

Mariam was 20 when their daughter was born. Her husband never had steady employment while they lived together. Whenever he did earn a little, he would make a scandal on the most trivial pretext and would disappear from home for days only to come back when he had spent all the money.

“We never really became a family while living together. We would often live separately. Violence and lies had become a common thing. He didn’t need a reason to start beating me. Sometimes he was just drunk, sometimes he was jealous. But very often he would beat me for failing to see his creditors off. Also, I was never ever allowed to argue with him. During our life together he had two more convictions and he blamed me for all his misfortunes.”

Their marriage lasted for six years. Mariam’s daughter was five when she saw her father beat her mother. Their daughter’s horror at the sight of abuse was the final nail in the coffin.

“After divorce, the first thing I thought of was my daughter. She was five years old and was going to school the next year. I was afraid I would not be able to provide her with everything she needed for the first grade. I was ashamed that my parents would have to do all this for me. I was ashamed of my helplessness. My ex-husband made several attempts to make amends, but then he switched over to threats. He was threatening to kill me or to take his own life. But I had made my decision and there was no turning back. During the first few months I would shudder with fear from every movement, whenever I knew someone was knocking at the door or when I noticed any sign of concern on my parents’ faces. I was scared my ex-husband’s debt holders would come after me and my daughter,” she recalls.

Mariam started looking for a job everywhere. People with hearing loss struggle to find employment in Armenia because of the common stereotypical thinking among employers, who are convinced that such workers might have difficulty understanding other staff members.   

“The only job that someone with hearing impairment could find is that of a cleaner. Of course, what you earn [as a cleaner] is very little, but there was a time when I had to settle for that too. One day I saw a dream where I had got a job at a big company with lots of people working there. The next day my neighbor came to tell me that the company she worked for was going to provide cleaning services to Vivacell-MTS, and one of her colleagues had gone on leave, so I could replace her for a short while.”

On the first day Mariam was introduced to the company head, who said she would obtain the job if she was able to communicate with other staff members by writing or speaking in signs. Mariam worked for a month and when the worker she was replacing came back from her leave, she started collecting her belongings. But then she was summoned by the head of the company again.

“When I entered the room, the director told me they were going to hire me right away. I said I would not take up someone else’s job, because it would be unfair and because I was merely replacing someone on a leave. But they told me I was getting a new job,” Mariam recalls.

“It was August already, and people at our workplace could see my anxiety. They knew what I’d been through before and realized how concerned I was for my daughter who was going to school. My ex-husband never paid alimony. He never worried about us, neither did his family. At the end of August, my fellow workers surprised me with a schoolbag and all the school supplies that first graders need. They gave me all these presents and only asked that I smiled in return,” she reminisces.

For the past 13 years, Mariam has been living without haunting and endless fear of the past. Now she can rely on herself and her loved ones, living in her neat and cozy house. In 2007, she began working in the company kitchen, helping to prepare meals.

“I still have difficulty interacting with people, but getting that job really gave me a start in life. It’s not just about salary, but the attitude of people around me, the fact they believed in me and encouraged me to have faith in myself. It made me realize that I wasn’t alone and that I was able to stand on my own feet,” she says.

At first it was hard to go on. Mariam was still in limbo and her financial situation remained unstable, all this exasperated by her secret fear of staying lonely for the rest of her life. Everything changed when Mariam met one of her old acquaintances several years later. She started a family with Sarik, who became a father to her daughter, while Mariam mothered Sarik’s son from his previous marriage. They have found happiness in a calm family life.

  • story by Sona Martirosyan
  • photo by Emma Grigoryan

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