The Centuries-Long Conflict

Mari Sahakyan

Guest Contributor

When I was growing up, I took it for granted that there could never be normal relationships between the bride and the mother-in-law. I have seen how my mum and my grandmother would fight with each other during my entire life, and the issues were always the same: some trivial conflicts that happened almost twenty years ago, before I was even born. But the oldness of those conflicts never made them irrelevant for my mum and my grandmother. I was always amazed by the amount of efforts and time both of them would put to try to remember every single detail about those few “vicious” years when they lived together. And every time when one of them would remember an offensive word or a poisonous glance, their eyes would shine with excitement, and they would rush to call my dad and remind him about it. My poor dad never understood how they could remember all the negative acts, but failed to memorize the wonderful moments they’ve lived with each other. It seemed to be simply thrown away from their memory.

Of course, there were times when my mum and grandma would get bored from fighting over the same matter again and again. But both of them were too committed to their decades-long conflict to give up so easily. That is why they would take time to create new reasons to fight with each other, so that they were sure that they never run out of topics to argue over. Out of the blue, my mum would decide to call my grandmother and tell her everything that was on her mind at that moment. Although it seemed absurd for us, for my mum that was a graceful act, because she considered it a sign of honesty, as she did not hide anything in herself. As she would always tell us, she was a “straightforward person” that thought her duty, to tell people “who they really are.” So, she would call my grandmother and commit her duty. Of course, during those calls my grandmother would never receive compliments. Quite the opposite: new offenses, new insults. My dad would come home with that helpless look in his eyes stare at my mum and ask her “Why Lusine? Just tell me why?”At those moments we would even laugh together, but all of us knew that that was the last laugh before the huge dispute between my parents would start.

If the conflict was only between my mum and my grandmother, it would be easier to bear, but the truth is that it slowly began to spread on all of us. As even the small reminder of my grandparents would make my mum feel stressful, at one point we were forced to make a choice: we had to either totally forget our grandparents and not even visit them, or deal with the fact that every time we went there a huge conflict between my parents was awaiting us back home.  This was a really tough decision for me back then, as I was only twelve years old. At that age, I loved my grandparents’ home so much that sometimes the only reason for me to go to classes and do homework was the fact that at the weekend I could go to Massiv, where my grandparents lived, and have a rest. That two days I was always surrounded with love and caring and for me that small apartment on the tenth floor was like a little piece of paradise. Every week my grandfather would have a new toy ready for me, and my grandmother would overload me with the tasty food so that I would feel nothing, but pleasure. Still, that pleasure was always mixed with a sense of guilt. I knew that back home, my mum was feeling that I “betrayed” her, because I knew that my grandparents were the only reason of my parents’ fights, and I knew how much they made her suffer, but I still came to them and acted like nothing happened. In the end I had to make a decision, and although it was really hurtful for me I decided never to see my grandparents again: just for the sake of peace inside of my own family. And the worst part of it was to realize that I faced all of those painful decisions, only because twenty years ago my grandmother forgot to iron the shirts, or my mum did not prepare dolma for the guests.

Sadly, most of the Armenian families face a similar situation. It has almost become a cultural tradition to treat the brides in a bad way and to hate the mothers-in-law. In English, the word “mother-in-law” does not have that much negative connotations and an embedded hatred as it has in the Armenian word “skesur.” Only the sound of “skesur” brings into mind a fat old woman whose only mission is to embarrass the bride as much as possible. The “hars” (Armenian word for bride), on the other hand, is thought to be “not good enough” for the husband’s family. No matter if she does the housework, goes to work, keeps the kids, or even manages to do all of these tasks simultaneously, the “skesur” would always find a reason to blame her for not working hard enough. Having this in mind, most of the Armenian brides have a feeling that they are almost in a “war” with their mothers-in-law. Although the times pass, these old conventions do not fade away and the century-long conflict between brides and mothers-in-law still continues. I hope that there will come a day when hearing the word “skesur” would actually bring a smile on the bride’s face, and the mother-in-law would genuinely love her bride and make her feel at home and not at a battlefield.

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