The Khachaturyan sisters killed their father. Despite a history of abuse, they face murder charges

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Hours before his death, he had returned from a psychiatric clinic, lined up his three daughters to chastise them for the messy apartment, and sprayed their faces with pepper, according to the sisters’ investigators and lawyers. Her eldest daughter Krestina, who suffers from asthma, has passed out.

It was the night the Khachaturyan sisters – Krestina, 19, Angelina, 18, and Maria, 17 – decided to kill their father. They attacked him with a hammer, knife and the same pepper spray he had lit earlier.

Transcripts of interrogations leaked to the press and verified to CNN by an attorney for one of the sisters, show that the women attempted to injure themselves to give the impression that their father, who was asleep when the attack began, had hit them first with a knife. Then they called the police and an ambulance.

The next day, the three men were arrested and confessed to the murder, claiming to have suffered years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by their father, according to their lawyers and the Russian Attorney General’s office.

Last summer, the sisters were charged with premeditated murder, sparking an outcry among activists in Russia, which is grappling with a high-profile domestic violence problem.The Khachaturyan case quickly became a notorious cause for rights groups fighting to pass a law to protect victims of domestic violence, which was closed by parliament in 2016.

After a long and tangled preliminary investigation, their trial opens Friday in a Moscow courtroom. The two older sisters, Krestina and Angelina, will stand trial together. Maria, who was underage at the time of the murder but charged after the age of 18, has also been found to be mentally unfit to commit murder and will be tried separately for murder, according to one of the sisters’ lawyers, Aleksey Liptser. .

Domestic violence experts, as well as the sisters’ advocacy team, say that in the absence of adequate protection mechanisms within law enforcement and the justice system, their only choice was to defend themselves or finally die at the hands of their father.

In text conversations obtained on their father’s phone and posted to Facebook by Liptser, Mikhail Khachaturyan appears to have threatened to kill and sexually abuse them and their mother.

“I’ll beat you for everything, I’ll kill you,” reads an April 2018 text, accusing them of having sex with a male friend. “You are prostitutes and you will die like prostitutes. ”

The interrogation transcripts also painted a chilling picture of mental, physical and sexual abuse dating back at least four years before the murder.

“We think they had no other choice. The father drove the daughters to despair, their whole life was continuous hell. They cannot be compared to healthy, calm and balanced people … [the] the girls developed serious mental illnesses, including abuse syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. This has been confirmed by all reviews of the case, ”said one of the sisters’ lawyers, Aleksey Parshin.

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Since last summer, activists have organized dozens of demonstrations in support of the sisters as part of the “I did not want to die” campaign, calling on the authorities to reclassify the case around the self-defense of the sisters.

Celebrities ranging from former presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak to System of a Down singer Serj Tankian have called for clemency in the sisters’ case.

A 2019 survey by independent pollster Levada Center showed that 47% of Russian women and 33% of men believed the actions of the Khachaturyan sisters were justified.

A 2019 survey by Media Zona, a Russian media outlet covering justice and prisons, said that nearly 80% of Russian women jailed for premeditated murder in 2016-18 were trying to protect themselves from an attacker.

While Russian lawmakers have left the domestic violence bill on the back burner since 2016, they found time to decriminalize certain forms of violence three years ago.

In 2017, under pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church and defenders of “traditional values”, parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill known as the “Slapping Law”, which decriminalized the first offense. domestic violence that does not seriously injure the person, which is a less serious administrative offense.

Angelina (center) and Krestina (back), during a hearing at the Basmanny District Court in Moscow.

At first, public pressure seemed to have turned the situation around for the Khachaturyan sisters.

In January, the prosecutor’s office confirmed defense claims that the Khachaturian sisters suffered “constant beatings, humiliation, threats and abuse, physical and sexual violence” and that they developed a “backlash” defensive”.

Prosecutors then ordered the board of inquiry to reclassify the premeditated murder case as self-defense.

Parshin told the state-run TASS news agency at the time that the decision “essentially means the end of a criminal investigation” against the sisters, who face up to 20 years in prison on charges of premeditated murder.

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But in a stunning reversal, Viktor Grin, the same prosecutor who recommended the case’s first downgrading, confirmed in May that premeditated murder charges would indeed be laid against the sisters. No explanation was given for the change.

Mari Davtyan, an attorney for the sisters who often represents victims of domestic violence, has linked the reversal to a wider trend of human rights rejection that has grown steadily since the passage of controversial amendments to the Russian constitution following a referendum on July 1.

The referendum, intended to consolidate the regime of President Vladimir Putin for years to come, was followed by a series of high-profile arrests, such as accusations of treason by the state against former journalist Ivan Safronov, or the prosecution of ex-Khabarovsk governor Sergey Furgal, who was taken to Moscow for years-old murder, sparking mass protests in the Russian Far East. Both deny any wrongdoing.

“I think it’s impossible not to notice what’s happening every day since July 1, 2020, the state chose its path,” Davtyan wrote on his Facebook page. “And the Khachaturyan case is no exception. “

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