(first published on www.pushingthelimits.se october 2008)
Anush got married last Sunday in her birth town, Vanadzor. A town situated 1 and a half hour away from the capital Yerevan. When I saw her a day before, she was very nervous. She had met her future husband only 4 months ago and everything was going so fast . The parents were pressuring her to get married for the last 7 years, she was almost 30 and for a woman of her age in Armenia, it was almost too late to find a husband.
So the time was pressing and she did not have the luxury to fall in love, form a real couple, experience “things”. And by “things”, I mean having any kind of sexual life before marriage. It is almost unthinkable to talk of such things in the Armenian society. Young women are supposed to stay virgin and pure until their marriage. Dating was something that did not exist in the Armenian dictionary. Young couples were allowed to go for 1 or 2 dates alone (and only during certain hours and certain places). After the short so called “dating ritual” it was expected that the couple get engaged and eventually married.
Anush was nervous for the day after her wedding night. She was scared for the “red apple ritual”.
The red apple ritual is a very old ritual that is conducted a day after the wedding night. The mother of the bride with the help of he women relatives goes to the place where the newly wed couples spent their first night to greet them in a way and see if “everything” was ok. By “everything”, I mean if the new bride was pure/virgin and if the new husband is satisfied. In some remote areas or regions of Armenia, a small handkerchief with the blood is even shown to the relatives and the neighbours, to ease their concerns. As a symbol of virginity, red apples are offered to all the guests that day. And what happens if “everything” is not ok ?
Mariam from another town, was virgin, but she didn’t see any blood that night. The whole family panicked and the young women was taken to the family doctor for a check up. While the whole family was waiting outside, the shy women was praying that the doctor will clear everything and she would be able to stay with her husband…
Gayane from a remote village, north of Armenia did not even make it to the doctor’s office. Her Mother-in-law sent her off, back to her parents, just after the wedding day, ashamed of her not being a good virgin bride.
In our sexuality workshops at the Women’s Center, young women are always concerned about the virginity issue. They fear that something goes wrong, that they will bring shame, that nobody will believe them.
Doctors say that the reconstructive operation of the hymen (to restore virginity) is very common in Armenia and costs almost 150 USD.
Armenian men have more freedom in their sexual life, before and after marriage. Nobody questions their purity or their common extramarital affairs.
Anush’s mother called me yesterday. She was not very happy that I did not show up for the “red apple” event and informed me that everything went well and that now finally she can sleep well at night because her daughter brought pride to the family.
I sometimes wonder how is it possible to accept some unacceptable things and never even attempt to change them.
I wonder how is it possible to change some thing’s that are so deeply buried in a nation’s soul and blood without causing a catastrophe…