Congrats Newlyweds!

{M} I got engaged when I turned 18. After the engagement, we learnt that my husband had used drugs in Russia and had been in prison for about four years. He said he was like that and that he has changed now. He told my father he won’t do anything, and that it was my family’s decision whether to let us marry or not. And it all started. In our area, we call it “khoumar batsik” when the girl starts visiting her fiance’s house. During the engagement, the bride should be brought to the groom’s house, and when they bring her, the mother-in-law must give her golden ware as a gift. My stepmother was around, she said she won’t meddle. She told me that if I agree, they’ll take me to their house that day and put a ring on my finger. After that it will be too late to break off the engagement.
{A} It’s hard to say if I liked him in the beginning or not. Probably not. I’m such a strange person. When I came home after the wedding, I said, oh my god, now there will be a process and I don’t know how it will happen, and I don’t want it. I didn’t realize that I got married and that was it. Now I’m a woman.
{A} I didn’t marry out of love. When I was a student, I studied for a year and they decided to take a gap year because my parents didn’t want me to live alone for rent or to live in Yerevan for rent with someone at all. They said they would come, arrange something remotely, move my study just because I had nowhere to live. And I loved what I was studying. When someone appeared who lived in Yerevan, it was convenient for me. Education was important to me. I thought so without realizing. I know it’s a very strange decision, and I only knew him for a month, but I saw him for two days, and we also talked on the phone… The third time we saw each other, we got engaged. When we met for the fifth or the sixth time, it was already our wedding.
{M} There were a lot of men who wanted to marry me before that. When he came, it seemed to me that he was my hope.
{L} Before getting married, there was a clear limit for me: I’ll never marry a man who came from Russia, why? Because he can have a child abroad, secondly, he can have an infection, etc., thirdly, he can use drugs. It’s not that I didn’t know, I knew all that very well… but that moment came… and at that moment, knowing all that, instead of saying let’s get a health checkup, I kind of couldn’t imagine it when I saw my husband.
{N} That day, there was a terrible storm and lightning all over Armenia. He persuaded my mom to take me to their house telling that his family gathered at home and they wanted to see the bride. And my mom said that he was my fiancé, it would be OK if he took me to their house and brought me back. So he took me to their house. They started to drink intentionally, he started it, so that no one would take me home, so that no one remained sober. I hadn’t been to their house before. If I got out of there, I would break off the engagement, but I didn’t get out of there. I had to sleep with his relative’s daughter. Well, they prepared the bed and she told me to lie down saying that she would come soon. I took off my clothes, put on the pajamas and hid my head under the blanket to get warm. I felt someone enter the room, but I didn’t raise my head to see who it was.

Window Period

{L} We went to Russia. Everything was perfect, like a miracle. Suddenly my inner feeling says that it doesn’t go like this, it can’t happen that everything is so perfect. So much care, love, warmth…
{M} I must say, it was very good from the beginning, I felt very good. Really. He didn’t hit me, he didn’t drink, I didn’t have any trouble, my mother-in-law, everyone loved and respected me.
{N} I felt, I saw that he was taking medicine, I would ask him what medicine he was taking, and he would say he was taking vitamins.
{M} He said that he got tested when he was in prison, but everything was OK. He doesn’t know whether it was his window period or he wasn’t infected, or maybe he got infected in prison.

Acharyan 2

{A} I’m not from Yerevan. Yes, I was a student, but I don’t know addresses. It was written “Acharyan 2”, well, I call home and say that they gave me this address, I don’t know where I’m going, and I ask if there is any laboratory there, and he tells me that he doesn’t think so and that maybe it’s newly opened. I get there, well, there was only uncertainty. That building, it was a deserted valley, you know, you walk between dogs, and I say, where have I come to? I read and say, something’s definitely wrong, it’s not happening to me, they mixed it up, it’s probably another analysis, it’s necessary. I go there, we go to a separate room, and they start asking questions. I just think it was wrong to do like that, I shouldn’t go alone. I’m twenty years old, you know, I understand some things more or less, but it’s a different pressure, especially when you are pregnant, especially three months, especially…
{L} We went to the Center. It gave me a shock – where have we come, why am I here? I was in that state for ten or fifteen days, as if I didn’t feel what was happening, I also didn’t believe it. I was crying, I was very discouraged. The doctor who diagnosed me gave me a paper to sign to confirm that I wouldn’t infect anyone intentionally… It could have been postponed for a while, instead of immediately giving me that paper. I went out, and I was mourning in the corridor… Oh, who I was dealing with! That inner stigma was terrible. It would be better just to die…
{N} The first time I heard about my status… I can’t say I felt unwell or that I fainted. At that moment, you know, I didn’t understand, didn’t realize yet what it actually was. Yes, we hear that there are some diseases, but we don’t know. For instance, I knew about tuberculosis, they said tub, tub, I’ve heard it a lot since my childhood. But I didn’t know that people die from that tuberculosis, that they infect. I’ve heard a lot on TV – AIDS. I didn’t know it was the same HIV.
{A} I didn’t understand whether he knew about it or not, because three days after getting my test results when I learned I was HIV-positive, he just said to me that it has already happened and we won’t change anything. And I didn’t understand what it meant, I didn’t understand whether he knew about his status or not. Go away if you want, get divorced if you want, and the baby, well, you are three months pregnant, do as you wish, it’s your choice.
{M} It was the beginning of the seventh month of the second pregnancy, the gynecologist calls and says that I should visit her with a very close person, and that she has to tell us something. I went there with my mother-in-law, the doctor called us to her cabinet and said that I tested positive for HIV. And I laugh, at that moment when I heard about HIV, I could only laugh. And I said laughing that there is no such a thing, what are you talking about? When I was in the Republican Medical Center, it was as if God was training me. I was never interested in those booklets in my life, but when I was in the hospital it was very interesting for me, and I read so much about HIV. And I thought, such things haven’t happened for all this time, why am I interested? I already had information about HIV.
They said I had to go to the Avan district, “Acharyan 2” street, and get tested in the Center. And my husband is in Yerevan, taking his time drunk, he was just drinking and having fun. I called my husband and told him that I had been tested positive for AIDS. And my husband is like, such a thing cannot happen. We went to the counseling room, we passed the tests, and that girl explains that HIV is such a thing, it’s transmitted, sexually, that’s it. The third day came, and we went there to get the result. That girl called me alone to the room and said I had been tested positive for the second time. And I don’t remember a thing… I remember climbing the stairs crying, pregnant, dragging myself upstairs. To be honest, I don’t remember at all how the doctor approached us, I don’t remember because of the stress. We came home, and my husband started hitting his head against the wall. I call upon God, if only the baby didn’t get infected! The doctor gives hope saying there are cases when the children don’t get infected. I had breastfed the baby for quite a long time, a year and six months, how could he not get infected? He was infected, too.

Horror and Hope

{M} I was about four months pregnant, he hit me for the first time then, he was very drunk. After that he started drinking heavily, he was beating me badly, we didn’t sleep all night, he didn’t let me sleep when he was drunk. And he didn’t remember at all what had happened, what he had done. Then, in the morning, when I told him he had hit me, he said there was no such a thing, he said I was slandering him, and that if I was interested in someone else, I could leave him.
{A} Quarrels that were repeated according to a regime, the noise, the blood, those policemen who were getting into the house and leaving. In the end he was beating me. And that blood, I don’t know… He was hurting himself, he was in a bad condition. He started using drugs, before that he was drinking. He was playing. I mean, he was both working and spending what he earned in casinos… He was taking his medication, but in the end he didn’t do it properly.
{M} He didn’t take care of me at all, he didn’t come to the hospital, he didn’t like to be on the road, I took the child to the hospital, he wasn’t interested, he ran out of his medicine, I was going and getting it. Well, when you go to Yerevan and back all the time, they already ask why I do that, they suspected I had a lover. When I came home my husband asked how many men I had met. He was blaming me baselessly. He drank, quarreled, got jealous, and he knows that all this happened because of him. Instead of taking care of me, of his child, or at least of himself… he didn’t think at all. My mother-in-law used to say it was just the flu, and that everyone gets sick nowadays, and that it will go away, they didn’t realize the seriousness of that disease.
{N} There are cases when people stay, they don’t divorce, part of them stay because of getting intimidated, they are being kept forcibly, but there are also people who choose to stay of their own free will. I thought, well, if I leave him, go away and sue him… They told me I can sue him, but why should I do that? If I sue him, will I get healthy again, will my child be cured? If I knew there was such a small chance, I would do it. But I told them not to interfere in my family, and that I don’t want to divorce, it’s my life, I have to accept it and live.
{M} We came back to the village, and I already started taking medicine, crying every day, I put my head on the pillow and I thought of the child, what should we do, how should I raise my child and marry him off, I thought all the time how we should live. My second child was born healthy by caesarean section.


{L} At that moment you don’t think to accuse your husband for having infected you, at that moment you think what the others would say if they learn about it. I had that stigma, that inner stigma, it literally kills you.
{N} To be honest, I have never had a feeling of shame, because, it’s true, they think that if you have that disease, well, only immoral people, prostitutes and those who use drugs have it. I wasn’t ashamed of it because an understanding and conscious person who reads and has enough information will never think that only immoral people can have that disease. Because both the rich and the poor are equal before the disease. I know myself that I wasn’t that kind of person, besides, those who know were aware that my husband was ill before, and I wasn’t.
{A} The others are the shame, not me. If you think about yourself alone, there is no shame. Shame is when you think of someone else, when you think of everyone. Shame is one of the national things sitting in us. And very often the feeling of shame puts us in a deadlock, it blocks things that you would do if you weren’t ashamed, and another person would do it anyway and would have progressed in his life, he would achieve his goals, dreams, but I said – it’s a shame, and I stood back.
It’s a cultural thing. In my case, I think… I wouldn’t believe myself, this is the situation when you can’t work with yourself, they usually say that one should work with himself. Probably, someone must help me get out. Someone has to help me, I don’t know. But I also don’t let them help me, because that shame hinders me. I need to get rid of the shame, at the same time it hinders from getting rid of it. The shame is deep and has many layers.
{L} In fact, we complicate everything a lot, it also comes from our national mentality. We love to live the lives of others. For example, if one of my neighbors found out we have HIV, oh, that would be the end of the world. It’s because people always like to get into someone else’s personal life, they like to look for guilt – are you guilty or not, have you done something and get infected, or are you just a victim?..

HIV – myth

{A} It doesn’t matter that only I have a status in our family, this stigma can spread on everyone, they throw that black veil on everyone.
{L} If the boat goes out to the open sea, and if it has a weak spot, it’s from that spot that the water comes in, and the boat sinks, right? It’s the same with HIV. The person who has a weak spot, be it psychological or physical health, it strikes right there. It depends on who is standing next to him.
{N} I’ve heard that people look wounded, they are scary, thin, and that this disease is very obvious. But later, I learnt that the only cure is to take medicine or the rest of your life, but regularly. If you take the medicine once a day, you have to take it at the specific time not to become drug-resistant, so that they don’t have to change your medication later. It has stages, you can commit so many violations that the medicine won’t have an effect anymore, but they say the only good thing is that you just have to take your medicine on time, eat normally and you will live… No one will know, it won’t be seen on your face, it won’t be expressed anyway that you have this disease.
{L} If we were to compare a man and an elephant, a man feels powerless in front of an elephant, for him HIV is that elephant that has covered his sun, it doesn’t let the sun come to him, it can trample him every second, he depends on him… In other words, if that elephant goes crazy, that’ll be the end. When the first stage was over, I saw the elephant and began to examine its leg, then its tail, then its head, then the picture became complete, it started to shrink. I already understood what I was dealing with. I realized that the myths the TV, the Internet or that booklets, posters with scary images fed me with… I realized that in reality all that is a myth, there is no such scary picture that maybe used to be thirty years ago when there was no medicine. When that elephant started to get smaller and smaller I could control it as I wanted. It can’t do anything to me as long as I’m conscious, as long as it depends on me to take the medicine. In this state, it depends on me in every way.
People need to talk to reduce stigma caused by the TV and booklets. HIV infection… should not be associated with anyone, with any group.
“Red Black White” is a part of an ongoing project, the topic of which I’ve been researching for several years. The photo story features four women with stories that share their personal experience.
According to the information provided by the “National Center for Infectious Diseases” CJSC, as of March 2021, 4217 cases of HIV infection were registered in Armenia, 30,6% of which (1292 cases) are females. Heterosexual transmission is the major route of disease spread, and 93,7% of women living with HIV acquired the infection from their husbands. The majority of cases (350) were registered among women aged 20-29.