Like A Virgin: Armenian In-Laws Want To See Blood On The Sheets

In Armenia, an ancient virginity ritual, "the red apple," is getting political.

We weren't familiar with the Armenian ritual of the "red apple," in which - even today - the groom's family inspects a bridal couple's bedsheets to ascertain the bride's virginity. If the requisite virginal blood is found, tradition dictates that the groom's family send the bride a bowl of red apples. Says the OTL blog, "While not everyone practices this tradition, as there are different types of classes, families, interests and localities in Armenia, everyone knows of The Red Apple."

To mark International Women's Day, a group of women staged a "burying the red apple" march, in which they quite literally submerged a series of the symbolic objects in soil, to protest the inherent double-standard of the archaic tradition. As the Frontline Blog put it, "There is a simple argument here - either one accepts men and women are equal in dignity, or one does not. If a man is expected to lose his virginity before getting married, and a woman is supposed to keep hers, there is something fundamentally wrong and illogical." The ritual may seem archaic to us, but the march has generated controversy. Said one agitated bystander, somewhat baffingly, to a Global Voices reporter, "Let them march and the next thing you know, narcotics addicts will want to stage their own demonstrations too."

When the ritual began, the marital age was so young that the "red apple" was taken for granted, but it's dangerously anachronistic in the 21st Century. Of course, Armenia is probably more invested in preserving embattled cultural iconography than we in the U.S. can understand, given a history in which cultural identity has come under systematic attack. But it's fairly clear that this is more than a simple relic of patriarchal symbolism: the value of virginity is real. And, naturally, emblematic of larger issues. Says Frontline Club,

think the aim of the march was to raise questions regarding women's rights and their choices in general, and those issues are not really so different – the red apple is just the ceremony of celebrating no choice! because while virginity and purity may be celebrated by two lovers, i don't see what exactly is being celebrated by the neighbors, relatives, and the wider public

While some say the concern is overblown - that very few families actually hold to the tradition - a post on Armenia.newseurasia.net is eye-opening: one blogger talks about being forced to help a bride manufacture a bloodstain and a commenter adds, "I've had a number of girlfriends in Armenia intentionally bleed on the sheets on their wedding night so that their new in-laws see. Sometimes this involves cutting a finger."

Armenia: International Women's Day Action Sparks Virginity Debate [Global Voices]
The Red Apple [armenia.newseurasia.net]
Bury The Red Apple [OTL]
Burying The Red Apple [Frontline Club]