Monday, 20 August 2018

Open Letter: Over 100 Armenian organizations, prominent persons call for legal reforms to address LGBT community discrimination in Armenia

/for Armenian version - see Unzipped/


Press release (see full text of the Open letter with signatories - below press release)

Armenia: Armenian Organizations, Prominent Persons Call for Legal Reforms to Address LGBT Community Discrimination


Government Must Address Climate of Impunity, Intolerance, Inequality

(New York City, August 20, 2018) — Over 100 Armenian organizations and prominent individuals today issued a public letter to the Armenian government as well as Armenian political parties, international organizations and churches calling on them to condemn the recent attacks against Armenian LGBT activists and to promote legislative and policy changes to grant equality and end discrimination against LGBT persons in Armenia.

“The Armenian government urgently must address the policies, laws and social climate that foster intolerance and violence against the LGBT community of Armenia,” said writer Nancy Kricorian. “Without a clear plan for legislative reform and education, the Armenian government will have failed in its duty to protect the LGBT community from violence and discrimination and to grant them basic human rights guarantees.”

The letter to the government followed in the wake of the recent violent attack on nine people, among them LGBT activists, in the village of Shurnukh in the Syunik region of Armenia on 3 August. The attack reflects a disturbing and persistent pattern of hatred and discrimination against the Armenian LGBT community. Reportedly, the police launched an investigation, questioned the victims and detained several suspected attackers on 3 August, releasing them the next day, but apparently have not brought charges against anyone.

“It is particularly disturbing that at least one member of parliament, Gevorg Petrosyan, from the Tsarukyan Faction, called for the expulsion of LGBT persons from Armenia on his Facebook page,” said Sarkis Balkhian, human and refugee rights advocate in Yerevan. “While the statement of the Office of the Human Rights Defender was a welcome gesture, the condemnation was tame and insufficient.”

The law in Armenia fails to provide equal rights to LGBT persons in Armenia (see statement from Amnesty International). Armenian law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing, or social benefits, nor does it sanction as hate crimes attacks against LGBT persons.

The letter detailed its call to the Armenian government to:

· establish an agenda and timetable for legislative reform to grant LGBT persons in Armenia equality under the law;

· propose a plan to promote tolerance and respect throughout society for LGBT persons, including through the issuance of public statements and the establishment of a public education program;

· issue a statement condemning all attacks against LGBT persons and a commitment to investigating and punishing perpetrators and providing protection for LGBT persons.

It called on Armenian political parties to express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. It also called on international Armenian organizations, including Armenian churches of all denominations, to express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. Armenian voters and supporters of international organizations deserve to know where their parties and organizations stand on these issues.

“The new government of Armenia has brought hope for true reform to address issues of transparency, fairness, and equality and reforms in the LGBT arena should be part of this promise for a new age,” said Nancy Kricorian. “Outdated and false justifications based on ‘religion’, ‘culture’ and ‘values’ can no longer cover for hatred, violence and intolerance against Armenian LGBT persons.”


***
Open Letter to the Armenian Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, Minister of Justice, Minister of Diaspora, Armenian political parties, and global Armenian organizations

August 2018

The recent attack on nine people, among them LGBT activists, in the village of Shurnukh in the Syunik region of Armenia reflects a disturbing and persistent pattern of hatred and discrimination against the Armenian LGBT community.

Reportedly, the police have launched an investigation, questioned the victims and detained several suspected attackers on 3 August, releasing them the next day, but apparently have not brought charges against anyone. It is particularly disturbing that at least one member of parliament, Gevorg Petrosyan, from the Tsarukyan Faction, called for the expulsion of LGBT persons from Armenia on his Facebook page. While the statement of the Office of the Human Rights Defender was a welcome gesture, alone it is insufficient.

The Armenian government urgently must address the policies, laws and social and political climate that continue to foster intolerance and violence against the LGBT and other vulnerable communities of Armenia. Without a clear plan for legislative and policy reform and education, such attacks will continue and the Armenian government will have failed to protect the LGBT community from violence and discrimination.

The law in Armenia fails to provide equal rights to LGBT persons in Armenia (see statement from Amnesty International). Armenian law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in employment, housing, or social benefits, nor does it sanction as hate crimes attacks against LGBT persons. The new government of Armenia has brought hope to many around the world that there will be true reform in the country to address issues of transparency, fairness, and equality. Reforms in the LGBT arena should be part of this promise for a new age. Outdated and false justifications based on “religion”, “culture” and “values” can no longer cover for hatred, violence and intolerance against Armenian LGBT persons.

We call on the Armenian government:

  • to establish an agenda and timetable for legislative reform to grant LGBT persons in Armenia equality under the law;
  • to propose a plan to promote tolerance and respect throughout society for LGBT persons, including through the issuance of public statements and the establishment of a public education program;
  • to issue a statement condemning all attacks against LGBT persons and a commitment to investigating and punishing perpetrators and providing protection for LGBT persons.

We call on Armenian political parties to clearly express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. Every Armenian voter is entitled to know where each party stands on these issues.

We call on international Armenian organizations, including Armenian churches of all denominations, to clearly express their support for such a reform agenda and plan, and to issue their own condemnations of attacks against the LGBT community. Every Armenian around the world who supports these organizations deserves to know where they stand on these issues.

Signatories:

Organizations:

Armenian Progressive Youth NGO (Armenia)

Association Hyestart (Switzerland)

Charjoum (France)

Collectif de Soutien aux Militants Arméniens Jugés à Paris (France)

GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society) (U.S.)

Nor Zartonk (Turkey)

PINK Armenia (Armenia)

Women’s Resource Center (Armenia)

Women’s Support Center (Armenia)

Individuals:

Lena Adishian; Nancy Agabian; Liana Aghajanian; Lara Aharonian; Areg Anjargolyan; Michelle Andonian; Michael Aram; Nora Armani; Sophia Armen; Mika Artyan; Sevag Arzoumanian; Sebouh Aslanian; Anna Astvatsaturian-Turcotte; Dr. Arlene Voski Avakian; Sona Avakian; Manuk Avedikyan; Leslie Ayvazian; Dr. Art Babayants; Miganouche Lucy Baghramian; Sarkis Balkhian; David Barsamian; Anthony J. Barsamian; Nanore Barsoumian; Houri Berberian; Vahe Berberian; Paul Boghossian, FAAAS; Eric Bogosian; Chris Bohjalian; Haig Boyadjian; Deanne Cachoian-Schanz; Hovig Cancioglu; Talar Chahinian; Patricia Constantinian; Sylvia Dakessian; Tad Demir; Andrew Demirjian; Adrineh Der-Boghossian; Silvina Der Meguerditchian; Ani Eblighatian; Lerna Ekmekcioglu; Dahlia Elsayed; Ayda Erbal; Shant Fabricatorian; Linda Ganjian; Lenna Garibian; Houry Geudelekian; Yeriche Gorizian; Rachel Goshgarian; Viken Gueyikian; Dr. Kaiane Habeshian; Maral Habeshian; Avedis Hadjian; Nonny Hogrogian; Mamikon Hovsepyan; Rafi Hovsepyan; Tamar Hovsepian; Arminé Iknadossian; Asthghik Iknatian, MS, CRC, LCPC; Dr. Armine Ishkanian; Rupen Janbazian; Audrey Kalajian; Makrouhi Kalayjian; Ani Kasparian; Nina Katchadourian; Olivia Katrandjian; Nora Kayserian; Nishan Kazazian, AIA; Alice A. Kelikian; Shushan Kerovpyan; Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan; Vivan Kessedjian; Amy L. Keyishian; Harry Keyishian; Michelle Khazaryan; Kyle Khandikian; David Kherdian; Anna Spano Kirkorian; Taline Kochayan; H. Lola Koundakjian; Nancy Kricorian; Susan Kricorian; Anaid Krikorian; Stephanie Kundakjian; Marc Mamigonian; Shahe Mankerian; Christina Maranci; Elodie Mariani; Jeannie Markarian; Armen Marsoobian; Alina Martiros; Maro Matosian; Anna Mehrabyan; Markar Melkonian; Astghik Melkonyan; Sonia Merian; Ara H. Merjian; Takouhie Mgrditchian; Oksana Mirzoyan; Tro Momajian; Mark A. Momjian, Esqu.; Rachel O. Nadjarian; Carolann S. Najarian, MD; Arthur Nersesian; Marc Nichanian; FIlor Nighoghosian; Aline Ohanesian; Dr. Janice Dzovinar Okoomian; Norayr Olgar; Sevana Panosian; Hrag Papazian; Susan Pattie; Natalie Samarjian; Karineh Samkian; Caroline Saradjian; Alex Sardar; Nelli Sargsyan; Aram Saroyan; Judith Saryan; Audrey Selian; Elyse Semerdjian; Anna Shahnazaryan; Lori A. Sinanian; Thomas Stepanian; Vahe Tachjian; Anoush F. Terjanian; Dr. Anita Toutikian; Scout Tufankjian; Anahid Ugurlayan; Hrag Vartanian; Dr. Nicole Vartanian; Armen Voskeridjian, MD; Chaghig Minassian Walker; Raffi Joe Wartanian; Sarah Leah Whitson; Anahid Yahjian; Laura Yardumian; Grigor Yeritsyan; Michael Zadoorian; Laura Zarougian; Lena Zinner, UCSD ‘18

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Hate crime: chasing, beating, stoning, insulting - LGBT activists attacked in Shurnukh village, Syunik region, Armenia


Last night, a mob of around 30 or so people surrounded the private house in Shurnukh village (Syunik region, Armenia) where 9 LGBT activists gathered, and then attacked activists by chasing them along the highway, insulting, beating and stoning them.
Via PINK Armenia FB page:

BREAKING: Today, on the 3rd of August, around 20:00, in Shurnukh village, Syunik region, more than 30 people attacked 9 LGBT activists and beat them. As a result, 2 of them were hospitalized with different corporal injuries. Others 7, who had minor corporal injuries, are currently in the police station. The police arrived to the place of crime around 21:30, more than an hour after the activists have called them. Representatives of PINK Armenia went to Goris. The Ombudsman representatives also went there. We will provide updates if there are any news. 
We are calling upon the police officers of Goris Police firstly to ensure the safety and security of the activists, as well as undertake the appropriate measures to find and prosecute the perpetrators.

UPDATE 23:00 - 7 people, who had minor corporal injuries, are now being taken to hospital for medical check. 

UPDATE - Ombudsman's office told, that they are in contact with law enforcement in Goris. None of them went there. For more updates (AM) - here
Apparently, some of the main attackers knew 2 of the present LGBT activists and insulted them with the hate speech few months ago in Goris too, but police did not act on it back then.
«Մենք բոլորս մտածում էինք, որ չենք ապրի էլ։ Եթե ինչ-որ մեկը ընկներ, այնտեղ էլ կմնար», — Epress.am-ին դեպքի մանրամասները պատմել է տուժած իրավապաշտպան, ակտիվիստ Էլվիրա Մելիքսեթյանը, որն այդ պահին նա գտնվում էր  ոստիկանության ավտոմեքենայում։ Երիտասարդները օգոստոսի 2-ին ժամանել էին իրենց ընկերոջ՝ նույն գյուղի բնակիչ Արամի (անունը փոխված է-խմբ.) տուն։ Այսօր՝ ժամեր առաջ, երիտասարդներին են այցելել երկու տղամարդ։ Նրանք դեռ ամիսներ առաջ Գորիս քաղաքում հարձակվել էին Էլվիրայի և Արամի վրա։ «Այդ ժամանակ ԼԳԲՏ-ի հետ կապված ատելության խոսքեր ասացին։ Բացի դրանից՝ Արամի՝ Թուրքիա այցելելու հետ կապված բաներ ասացին։ Ասել էին՝ դու էն Թուրքիայի շուռնուխեցի՞ն չես», — դեռ այդ ժամանակ Էլվիրան և Արամը դիմել են ոստիկանություն, մի ամբողջ օր այնտեղ էին անցկացրել, սակայն ոչ մի մեղադրյալ չէր գտնվել։ Այսօր` 20:00-ի սահմաններում, այդ մարդիկ նորից այցելել են Էլվիրային և Արամին։ «Կանչեցին Արամին զրույցի։ Մենք իրան ասացինք, որ խոսալու բան չկա, սակայն նա ներխուժել է տուն։ Քֆուր բան տվեց։ Հետո եկան Արամի բարեկամները, նրան դուրս հանեցին, որ հասկանան՝ ինչ է կատարվում։ Այդ ժամանակ շարունակում էին մեզ քֆուր տալ։ Ասում էին՝ դուրս եկեք էստեղից, մի հատ նայեք ձեր տեսքին ու հագածին, ես չեմ ուզում իմ ընտանիքը տեսնի ձեզ։ Ոնց հասկանում էի՝ ողջ գյուղն էր հավաքվել մոտ 40 հոգի, տղամարդիկ և կանայք, դեռահասներ և երեխաներ։ Հետո Արամի ախպոր դաբռոյով, կարծես, մեզ տնից հանեցին։ Մենք ճամպրուկախառը հայտնվեցինք տռասայի վրա։ Այդտեղ դիք էր։ Մեզ դիքից ուղղակի շպռտեցին, սիլաներով, քարերով, մեր երեխեքից երկուսի գլուխը ջարդված ա»։
What kind of dark ages these people live in? Violence became a norm that is not just tolerated but also encouraged by some especially against anyone who is different or perceived LGBT.

Unfortunately, Velvet Revolution government has so far been silent re LGBT discrimination, and this sends a wrong signal that anti-LGBT attacks could be tolerated. They should send a very strong message that no violence, no human rights abuses, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be acceptable in New Armenia.

Instead, no single minister up to now used the wording “LGBT” or “նույնասեռական”, even when responding to LGBT related question. Even human rights ombudsman’s office on their FB page vaguely referred to what happened in Shurnukh as ‘incident in Shurnukh’ without further elaboration as to what this ‘incident’ was about.

Until this situation changes, all those key government messages - spearheaded by PM Nikol Pashinyan - asking Armenians to return to Armenia will remain shallow and unconvincing.

No wonder during a recent town-hall meeting in LA with the minister of Diaspora, GALAS member Nikole Yeghiazarian asked the minister what the new administration’s plans are for making sure LGBT Armenians are safe in Armenia:
“One day I would like to move back to Armenia, but for people like me it is not necessarily safe to move back to Armenia. So my question for you is what will the ministry of diaspora do to make Armenia safe for LGBT Armenians who want to go back and visit and hope to one day live in Armenia?”
Via equality_armenia:

Kudos to @galas_la member Nicole Yeghiazarian @anam0t for asking Armenia’s Minister of Diaspora @mkhitarhayrapetyan what the new administration’s plans are for making sure LGBT Armenians are safe in Armenia.

Although the Minister’s answer was not specific, in essence he said that they’re working towards creating Armenia where “...all human rights are protected”.
You can see this question and answer on this video, starting 1:15:00

Selected comments on Twitter:

Monica Ellena, editor of Chai Khana:
Between 2011 and 2013 alone 5,891 #LGBT people left #Armenia according to data collected by @pinkarmenia. As a mob of 30 people assaulted nine activists it is not surprising the community feels under attack. #HumanRights
Giorgi Gogia, Associate director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch :
Disturbing reports about #hatecrime attack against 9 LGBT activists in #Armenia's Syunik region, several injured. "It seemed that we wouldn't survive," says one of the activists. Prompt & thorough investigation needed!
Maxim Eristavi, jounalist, human rights activist:
Shocked by this barbaric anti-LGBT hate crime in Armenia, brutal even by the country's placing as one of the most homophobic places in Europe. Hold on, guys

Thursday, 2 August 2018

“Թող միշտ պանծա Հայաստան” - Mamikon Hovsepyan of PINK Armenia recipient of Soul of Stonewall award at CSD Pride event in Berlin and Changemaker award by LA based Diaspora Armenian LGBT group GALAS


Stephan Cooper of Queer Amnesty group within the Amnesty International in Germany presented the award during a ceremony at famous Christopher Street Day (CSD) Pride event in Berlin on 28 July. 

Soul of the Stonewall Award 2018 in the telling category Resistance was awarded for the fifth time, with previous recipients coming from Nigeria, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Kenya.


Presenting the award to Mamikon Hovsepyan of PINK Armenia, Stephan mentioned current changes in Armenia [re: Velvet Revolution]. He touched upon history of Armenia, including 1915 Genocide, and even amusingly cited a line of the National Anthem of Armenia (Lass Armenien stehts ehrenvoll sein - Թող միշտ պանծա Հայաստան).

It’s a 3rd award in less than a year that Mamikon received, starting with the Bob Hepple Equality Award 2017 in London.

As Stephan mentioned, for more than a decade Mamikon has been active in the field of human rights – fighting for free and equal Armenia.

Intolerance, lack of justice, families not accepting their LGBT children, homophobic speeches from members of the parliament and representatives of the mayor office - these are just a few examples of what LGBT Armenians routinely face in their daily life, as noted during presentation of the award.

You can see event and Mamikon’s acceptance speech on this video starting around 1:47:00.


As per Stephan, back in 2002 Mamikon went to USA with the initial intention to stay there. But he changed his mind and returned to Armenia with the understanding that he can change his own country only if he himself participates in this change.

No wonder a month ago in LA he received a Changemaker award by the most prominent Armenian Diaspora LGBT group - Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS), that marks its 20th anniversary this year.
Over 180 guests gathered for the  (GALAS) 20th anniversary on June 2nd in Glendale, California. Members of Armenian LGBTQ community were surrounded by friends and family for a special, intimate evening marking two decades of empowering LGBTQ individuals of Armenian descent.
Gevorg Khudyan, member of GALAS, presented the Changemaker Award, and along with his husband Karo Margaryan also donated 12K USD to PINK Armenia for organisation’s office rent and utilities.


In all his acceptance speeches, Mamikon repeatedly states that Armenia has a potential to be one of the best countries where human rights are protected. This is especially true after the Velvet Revolution of April-May 2018, also known as a Revolution of Love and Solidarity.


Says Mamikon Hovsepyan on the occasion of 20th anniversary of GALAS:
“1998, the year when Galas was founded and I was a 16 years old guy struggling with my sexuality in a very conservative city of Armenia – Gyumri. 5 years later I already had the courage to take part in changemaking processes. […] That was the time I started to overcome my fears and since then nothing can stop me to fight against the regime, to protect the community that I belong to, to raise the voice of voiceless, to fight for justice, equality and dignity. […] And today is the best day for all of us to celebrate our achievements, because we are creating the future for Armenia, the future of love and solidarity!”
I am so happy and proud that finally Armenian LGBT activists getting international recognition they deserved. Of course, as frequently the case, such formal recognition comes from the outside of their home country. Here is hoping that eventually the Velvet Revolution, that happened in Armenia with the active participation of LGBT Armenians too, will fully recognise and respect the rights of its citizens. And I am not referring here to medals or awards, but the concept of human rights for all, that was pledged by prime minister Nikol Pashinyan.

*pictures via @Khaghaghordyan and PINK Armenia

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Elton John, friend of Armenia president, vows support for country’s LGBT community while president Armen Sargsyan says he has ‘no relations with that community'

Elton John arrived in Yerevan as part of charitable project by Starkey hearing aids company. It was great to see he is accompanied by husband David Furnish.

*picture via news.am

And it was awesome that in front of Armenia president and media Elton says he/his foundation will support LGBT community in Armenia.



Unfortunately, Armenia president Armen Sargsyan did not live up to expectations when he shrugged off the question of Elton John meeting with LGBT community saying that this question doesn’t relate to him as he has ‘no relations with that community’.

From 4:05 (video below): "Դա ինձ չվերաբերող հարց է որովհետև էտ համայնքի հետ ես որևէ կապ չունեմ բայց Էլթոն Ջոնը հայտնի է ինքը"



To remind, Elton was invited by Armenia president Armen Sargsyan. President refers to Elton as friend (he even used Armenian wording “բարեկամ” - literally “relative” but used to express closeness).

So, Armenia president is only friends with LGBT people if they are foreigners and wealthy. Big fail here, Mr. President.

Until this mentality changes, New Armenia will keep remaining as a dream rather than a reality.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Armenia LGBT activists mark anniversary of anti-gay pogrom in Chechnya

LGBT activists in Yerevan marked the anniversary of anti-gay pogrom in Chechnya with a candlelight vigil on 6 April. Pretty emblematic that this commemoration took place at the “United Cross” statue symbolising the Armenian-Russian friendship.


It was quite a sight seeing the statue surrounded with the rainbow flags and posters reflecting the anti-gay pogrom.


In April 2017, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first reported on state level detentions, arrests, torture and killing of gay people in Chechnya. As per reports, more than 100 gay men were arrested, number of them were killed or remain missing.

“One year after Chechen authorities violently carried out an anti-gay purge in an attempt to “cleanse” Chechnya of gay men, no criminal cases have been opened into the mass detentions and torture by law enforcement. No high-level Russian officials have publicly acknowledged or condemned the violence in the republic, which is part of the Russian Federation.” - Human Rights Watch



*Pictures via PINK Armenia / @mnvartik / @pinkarmenia 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Armenian Haunting - Armenian Genocide themed film featuring LGBTQ character (interview with writer/director Art Arutyunyan)

Writer and director Art Arutyunyan, known to readers of this blog for his gay-themed animated film Adamantine, have written and directed a film that touches on the theme of the Armenian Genocide - 'Armenian Haunting', and it features an LGBTQ character. It is planned for release in March 2018.
“ On the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a young Armenian-American journalist's relatives mysteriously die one by one. Faced with the resistance of her secretive family, she must uncover the truth, but has to rely on the supernatural." (from the official synopsis)
The film combines the historic elements surrounding the Armenian Genocide and the genre of horror and supernatural.

The cast includes actors Vaneh Assadourian, Jay Dersahagian, Aneela Qureshi, Kyle Patrick Darling and Tamara Grigorian.

LGBTQ character Garo, played by Kyle Patrick Darling, is the main character Maro's best friend. Garo is gender fluid and posseses clairvoyant powers which he hides from people around him. Here are images with Garo in the scene.



Art Arutyunyan: “We are not going anywhere, and we will become a stronger voice in Armenian culture” 
- interview with Unzipped: Gay Armenia -


- In your ‘mini-bio’ on IMDb, it was mentioned that you were born and raised in Uzbekistan, then moved to LA to pursue a career in fashion. Could you tell me a little bit more about yourself, your family, your Armenian roots? And your move from being a fashion designer to film director/writer.

Both my parents were born in Armenia and moved to Uzbekistan in 1960-s, where they met. I was born in a small town, which didn't even have a name, but just a number: "Number-6". When I was 5 we moved to the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, then a very diverse city with large Armenian, Korean, Jewish and other Russian-speaking communities. So, I was surrounded by a multitude of cultures. All of my friends and I went to Russian-language schools and colleges. As a child, I traveled to Armenia every summer as both of my parents still had a lot of relatives back home.

I was in High school when USSR collapsed. I got my Bachelors degree in Economics at Tashkent State University, then moved to Los Angeles to study fashion and found a job in the garment industry fairly quickly. The rest of my family followed one by one. I designed clothing for Forever 21, Nordstrom, Target, Kohl's, Macy's, and that was my specialty: affordable fashion. However, there was a point where my love for film kept pulling me away.

While I was still designing, I wrote and produced my very first short film with my now business partner, Armand Petri. And so our partnership began, and now we have "Together Magic Film Group" that consists of 3 divisions: "Reel Nightmare" - horror, supernatural, paranormal; "Together Magic Films" - LGBTQ themed; "Winning Streak" - dramas, comedies and other general public genres.

- Your quote from the same ‘mini-bio’: "It is important for me to develop scripts and concepts that I respond to on an emotional level rather than intellectual”. The topic of the Armenian Genocide must have been quite an emotional for you too. Do you remember any personal stories that your parents or grandparents perhaps told you?

The theme of Armenian Genocide has always been a part of my conversations with my father, who's a very passionate Armenian, perhaps the most passionate. I must admit, I didn't feel connected to the subject up until maybe a couple of years ago, when I was looking for a theme to write about. I started talking to my father about it again, and the stories just poured out of him, and his passion has definitely inspired me. I recorded our conversations and started doing more research.

Even though this is a historic event, I wanted to write about it in more dramatic terms, where the Armenian Genocide is a backdrop to a character, where it puts him or her through the tragedies. So, as of now I have written 2 scripts on the subject: "Armenian Haunting", a paranormal mystery and "Anoush", a drama that follows a young Armenian girl Anoush as she fights for survival in the 1915 Turkey. "Armenian Haunting" is set to be released this year, while "Anoush" is in need of financing. Ideally, I would like to shoot "Anoush" in Armenia with local crew and cast, of course, in Armenian language.

- Any news item, article, let alone the film about the Armenian Genocide are being treated with sensitivity among Armenians both in Armenia and Diaspora. Are you afraid of the reaction you may receive?

"Armenian Haunting" is at its core a paranormal mystery film. On the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, young Armenian American, Maro, finds herself in the midst of a mysterious plague that kills her family one by one. I wanted to make an entertaining and educational film that, hopefully, keeps the audiences interested and at the same time teaches them about the Genocide. I treat the subject with respect, but I do realize that there is a risk of getting unwanted reaction. I am a firm believer that Armenians everywhere deserve to have this story told in as many ways a possible. Same as the theme of Holocaust. Armenian Genocide needs to be told in different ways: dramas, horror, documentaries, historical series on PBS, you name it. It needs to become a strong cultural theme and soon! 

- I always wanted to see a film that will depict a same-sex relationship, love set against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide. I understand your film’s storyline is different but how important for you to have an LGBTQ character in such film?

In "Armenian Haunting", the LGBTQ character, Garo is important not only as he provides Maro with important information, but also as a voice of frustration of the Armenian LGBTQ community. We are frustrated because we are not accepted and understood by our own people. In the film, Garo points out that Maro's family suffers from "Armenicus Mysogynisticus". It is absolutely important for me to represent LGBTQ characters in all kinds of different ways, including Armenian LGBTQ persons. It holds a special place in my heart.

- Do you plan to showcase it in Armenia? As you may be aware, last year the Golden Apricot international film festival based in Yerevan censored 2 Armenian LGBT-themed films. But I believe we should keep challenging it. Do you plan to submit it there? Or any other international and Diaspora film festivals?

"Armenian Haunting" will have Armenian subtitles and I hope to reach Armenians all over the world. And I agree with you, we need to challenge Armenian culture's attitude toward LGBTQ community. We are not going anywhere, and we will become a stronger voice in Armenian culture.

I am not thinking about festivals yet, but it definitely will be on my radar with "Armenian Haunting".

- In an email exchange you were very fond of the actors in the film. How did you know or chose them? I would imagine an indie film like the Armenian Haunting would have a small budget.

"Armenian Haunting" has a minuscule budget, so I had to make sure my script was in good shape before I approached actors. My main goal was to cast as many Armenian actors as possible, due to the subject matter. The lead actress in the film is an absolute gem, Vaneh Assadourian. I felt so lucky to have her on the set every day of the shoot. Vaneh brought that special quality and Armenian flavor to the role of Maro. 

- What is next in your pipeline? Any Armenian LGBTQ-themed storyline?

We are releasing a drama set in Louisiana, "Are You From Dixie?" this year, as well. It was written by my business partner, Armand Petri and I had an honor of directing it. And I am looking for financing for "Anoush" that features an important gay character. 
***
Look forward to watching the film, and will definitely keep an eye on Anoush and more works by Art Arutyunyan.

Few more stills from the Armenian Haunting film.



Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Help PINK Armenia to open LGBT centres outside capital Yerevan - in Vanadzor and Gyumri

Great cause for new year donation to support establishing LGBT community centres in 2 major cities outside Armenia capital Yerevan - Vanadzor and Gyumri.

33K USD will help to establish the centres and to cover running costs for a year. The costs include logistics, rent, refreshments in the centres, services of professional psychologists and lawyers.

PINK will then apply to other programs to sustain the centres beyond the first year. If successful, this could serve as a basis to expand community centres in more places in Armenia.

Donate today and become a part of the change!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Celebrating Armenian activist: Armenia champion of LGBT rights Mamikon Hovsepyan - recipient of Bob Hepple Equality Award 2017 in London


This year’s Award aimed at recognising “someone who has made a unique contribution to promoting equality at their local or national level”.  When the Equal Rights Trust announced opening of nominations  for this year’s Award, they particularly welcomed “nominees who champion the role of equality in the enjoyment of other human rights; those who work to eradicate discrimination comprehensively, on a variety of different grounds; and those who fight intersectional discrimination”.

As per Equal Trust representatives, they received numerous nominations of great candidates from across the globe, but the Trust was unanimous in their decision to choose Mamikon, who was nominated by the Human Rights House Foundation. They were impressed by Mamikon’s championing intersectional approach to equality and human rights in Armenia.
Celebrating Armenian Activist, Mamikon Hovsepyan
We are delighted to celebrate Mamikon Hovsepyan, champion of LGBT rights in Armenia and the wider region and Executive Director of PINK Armenia as our worthy winner. While fighting tirelessly to combat discrimination against LGBT individuals, Mamikon has also been actively involved in initiatives for tackling violence against women. He has consistently advocated for a holistic approach to non-discrimination, and is collaborating with members of Armenia’s Non-Discrimination and Equality Coalition to promote the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in the country. 
Since it was founded, PINK Armenia has been the subject of numerous threats and intimidation; in 2015, 37 NGOs detailed such instances in a joint letter to the President of Armenia and on two occasions safety concerns resulted in PINK Armenia relocating offices. When these challenges have arisen, PINK Armenia has stood tall, continuing to speak out for some of the most marginalised individuals in Armenian society.
So very proud of my dear friend Mamikon. Well deserved, indeed. He is my hero. A true champion of human rights in Armenia and beyond. An inspirational figure.

The Award ceremony was held in London on Wed 4 Oct. Below are few pictures of the day, as well as Mamikon’s acceptance speech in full.

*A moment of receiving Bob Hepple Equality Award

*Acceptance speech

*After the Award ceremony

Mamikon's acceptance speech:

“I want to thank you for being here and showing your support. Thanks to the Equal Rights Trust for initiating this award, for highlighting the work of activists in the world; also thanks to those who recognised my work, and thanks to Human Rights House Foundation for nominating me and for cooperation with me and other prominent human rights defenders in Armenia.

Armenia has such a great potential to become one of the best countries in the world where human rights are protected, where everybody enjoys equality and harmony, where discrimination has no place. Unfortunately, it is not there yet; still the government cannot see the benefits of equality, still the regime terrifies people if they raise social, political or other issues, still the system use oppressions against its citizens.

Human rights defenders, LGBT people, feminists, human rights activists and other minorities are still being called “enemies of nation”. We are being discussed in local media as a threat for nation. 10 years ago it was hard for me to see my picture and name in a newspaper where I was presented as a “danger” but later it became a usual thing for me and I started to take it easy. It is important for me that I am not alone in the fight for justice.

I am proud to work with a group of strong and brave people at PINK Armenia. We know how to escape the troubles, we know how to solve the problems, we know how to make others smile and we know how to make joke or laugh, even when we have a hard time.

I am so proud to have friend who are feminists, environmental activists, people who work on disability issues or HIV issues, and those who simply support different causes focused on equal rights. It is powerful to have allies like them who never leave me alone.

I am touched that’s my work with PINK Armenia has been noticed. It makes us stronger and prouder of the work we do.

This award encourages me in my fight as an activist to continue empowering others to join the frontline and make the world a better place for everyone.

I am sure we can change this world together and make it safer by touching people’s hearts, changing minds and sharing our own stories about acceptance and equality.”
***
Lusine Saghumyan, human rights activist from Armenia, nailed it on Twitter:
This guy is bringing an award to #armenia, but not so many people are going to be proud of him here. I proudly say I AM PROUD OF YOU MAMIK. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Adamantine - gay-themed animated film set in Uzbekistan, directed by Art Arutyunyan

The animation itself is not outstanding, but it’s fun to watch. What caught my attention was the setting and background behind it:
Gay-themed fairytale animation… set in rural Uzbekistan… directed by Armenian-American filmmaker.
Quite a mixture, eh?! Btw, that guy who was turned into a rock in Adamantine looks very Armenian :)) See trailer below.


The official synopsis reads: “In this gay fairytale set in rural Uzbekistan, a young shepherd longs to find his true love; but an evil mountain witch might stand in the way of his happily-ever-after.”

No much information is available about Art Arutyunyan, other than he is a head of production and development at Together Magic Films.

LA-based Together Magic Films produced number of other LGBT-themed films, including trans-themed Funeral, HIV/AIDS-related Undetected and other films, directed and/or produced by Art Arutyunyan (here is a link to his IMDb page).

Says Art Arutyunyan: “We are proud to share LGBT stories that anyone can enjoy.”

His frequent collaborator is a filmmaker Armand Petri (very scarce information about him too, he is mentioned in one article as head of operations at Together Magic Films).

Here you can see few pics of Art Arutyunyan and Armand Petri working on their new film “Are You From Dixie?” (source of pictures)

 *Art Arutyunyan (right), Armand Petri (left)

From Together Magic Films FB page: “Film/TV Content Producer and Distributor. We create and release innovative stories with universal themes, and inclusive casts. Our catalog includes: the hit LGBT comedy series "How It All Began" (2017), the acclaimed HIV AIDS thriller "Undetectable" and the upcoming feature film "Are You From Dixie?," depicting Latino life in the modern-day South.”

Here is their VIMEO page.

If you have Amazon Prime in the UK and US, you can watch some of their films there too.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Censorship in Armenia: Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan marred by censorship of Armenian LGBT-themed films

This was going to be a very different, positive post, about screening of two Armenian LGBT-themed films at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan.

I was pleased to see as part of the Golden Apricot’s (albeit non-competition) programme “Armenians: Internal and External Views” the schedule of 13 July for a feature film Apricot Groves (dir. Pouria Heidary) and groundbreaking documentary film Listen To Me (produced by PINK Armenia).

Here is what I tweeted only a few days ago (4 July) :
Nice. #Armenia #LGBT related feature film Apricot Groves and @pinkarmenia documentary Listen To Me @GAIFFYerevan Int'l Film Fest #Yerevan
On paper there is no censorship in Armenia. In reality this is how it works.

There are so called ‘FB warriors’ or ‘concerned citizens’ and associated trolls on Armenian sector of FB who upon pushing the button by their rulers start an 'outcry' campaign against (frequently but not exclusively) LGBT related issues. You know, full with typical amorality, family/traditional values, ’gay propaganda’ and similar bullshit, with frequent calls to attack, burn, kill LGBT Armenians and human rights activists. This is subsequently presented as a ‘pressure by society’ and voila.


“We want to inform you that ARMENIANS: INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL VIEWS non-competition program is completely cancelled. We apologize for any inconveniences.” (Тhis is what Golden Apricot sent to the filmmakers, whose films were included in the program)

Here is what happened. The Union of Cinematographers in Armenia that was to provide a space for the screening of the films, demanded to remove two Armenian LGBT-themed films from the programme due to an ‘outcry in society’ (= some FB users). According to the director of Golden Apricot Harutyun Khachatryan, they also mentioned… they are in mourning (Rouben Gevorgyants, the ex-director of the Union, passed away on 23 June), and they are not going to screen any movie.
Կինոմիության նոր ղեկավարները՝ նայելով «Ոսկե Ծիրան» կինոփառատոնի ինֆորմացիոն ծրագիրը, որում ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի մասին պատմող երկու ֆիլմ կար, և տեսնելով հասարակական աղմուկը, նշեցին, որ իրենք չեն կարող այն ցուցադրել: Այս մասին այսօր կայացած մամուլի ասուլիսին ժամանակ ասաց «Ոսկե Ծիրան» միջազգային կինոփառատոնի հիմնադիր և գլխավոր տնօրեն Հարություն Խաչատրյանը:
«Մեր գործընկերներից մեկը Կինոմիությունն է, որոնցից մենք դահլիճ չենք վարձում, այլ իրենք այդ ինֆորմացիոն ծրագիրը ցուցադրում են Կինոյի տանը: Մենք պայմանավորվել էինք Ռուբեն Գևորգյանցի հետ, ով վերջերս մահացավ: Ծրագիրը պետք է ցուցադրվեր և հանկարծ պարզվեց, որ բավականին մեծ աղմուկ կա ծրագրի շուրջ հասարակության կողմից: Նոր ղեկավարներն էլ հայտնեցին, որ իրենք այսպիսի սգի չեն կարող նման ծրագիր ցուցադրել»,- ասաց Խաչատրյանը՝ հավելելով, որ իրենք չէին կարող Կինոմիությանը ստիպել, քանի որ դահլիճը չէին վարձում:
As Arsinee Khandjian and Atom Egoyan indicated in their statement, “We have never heard of a program of new films being cancelled to commemorate a cineaste's death as a sign of mourning and respect! This claim seems, therefore, quite preposterous!”

Instead of fighting this decision and finding an alternative venue, “Golden Apricot” has decided to withdraw the whole programme, which included around 40 films covering not only LGBT issues, but also different social issues, the Armenian Genocide, Nagorno Karabakh conflict etc. 

I was told from reliable sources that a well respected venue in downtown Yerevan offered to host the programme but Harutyun Khachatryan declined saying the decision was already made, too late to make changes, blah blah. Excuses.

Pressures to censor works of art, films, freedom of expression can come from different places, be that Soviet style union of cinematographers, president office, Facebook users and so on, but for a festival of Golden Apricot calibre to effectively succumb to that censorship and endorse it, is shameful and scandalous.

Festival that censors films doesn't deserve respect. It deserves boycott.

I hope participants, guests, partners and sponsors of the festival will protest. There can be absolutely no excuses and no justification for censorship whatsoever. No ‘apology’ can be accepted too, only the full restoration of the censored programme.

There is petition in this regard “Stop censorship in Armenia” that you can sign following this link.
The “Golden Apricot” should immediately restore the screening of all films regardless of the format. Otherwise the “Golden Apricot” International Festival should accept that they are the ones who are legitimizing the censorship and changes in the Festival. […]
We are not accepting the apology of the “Golden Apricot” against the censorship: if we do so, that would mean that we are endorsing this and future censorships. We are calling upon the organizers of the “Golden Apricot” to protect the films selected by them, instead of an apology, as well as to restore the whole program and screen all films in another place and to publicly condemn the actions of the Union of Cinematography of Armenia. Only by restoring the program the festival can keep and protect its’ former reputation. 
Says Pouria Heidary, director of Apricot Groves, one of two censored Armenian LGBT themed films:
"We made this film under the supervision of NATIONAL CINEMA CENTER OF ARMENIA a governmental institute that was responsible for cinema co-production with all the foreign countries that want to make a film in Armenia. they took our money and promised to support us. now nobody from that organization answers us, none of your cinemas screen our film and Golden Apricot film festival which is the biggest cinema and cultural event of Armenia does not screen our film which we put our love, our time and our art on it with the massage of love,friendship ,care and love of two neighbor countries. We wonder why these are happening???!!!!! 
My film has been screened in more than 43 festivals 3 of them were A grade film festivals 4 of them were Oscar qualify Film Festival 1 of them were BAFTA qualify film festival, we screened in biggest LGBT film festival in the world we have been the first Armenian film that ever screened in 2 countries in Africa, we won 5 awards under name of Armenia, we showed beautiful Armenia to world and made them hear your language more any other film in the past 15 years and in return all we get is hate.!!!" 
In their statement, Arsinee Khandjian and Atom Egoyan stressed that they are “very concerned about the censorship”:
"Atom Egoyan was President of the Festival for almost ten years and it’s dismaying to see a festival that we both proudly advocated for within the international film community in the name of films and filmmakers that spoke of such urgent human rights issues can be suppressed, especially when these ideas need to be discussed and brought to light."

Monday, 26 June 2017

Armenians march at Toronto Pride

Of course, you can spot Armenians at Gay Pride marches, rallies and parades in any country. But more formal presence so far was noted in LA, San Francisco, NYC and Paris.

Yesterday this small beautiful group of LGBT Armenians in Toronto made history by marching with the Armenian tricolour amidst the sea of rainbow.

This was the first organised Armenian presence at Toronto Pride. Mark this day: 25 June 2017

Pictures below.


Friday, 26 May 2017

History in making: first LGBT-themed scrolling billboards in Armenia capital Yerevan

UPDATE 27 May 2017: Yerevan city hall, i.e. ruling Republican party mayor, ordered removal of LGBT-themed posters from scroller billboards, citing that they were not "authorised" by them. Aside from questionable legality of this claim, by ordering removal of these posters, Yerevan mayor blatantly endorsed discrimination against LGBT people. On the same day, so called "Europe Day" was celebrated in the Armenian capital. Truly, a city hall of shame.

The fact that these social ad posters were on display for 2 days is an achievement in itself by LGBT activists in Armenia. Queering of public spaces continues.
***

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Armenia consistently ranks towards the very bottom of European gay rights league tables. Still, despite all the challenges, local LGBT activists keep on queering the public spaces. The process that moved to yet another level today.

The sight of LGBT-themed social ad posters across three scrollers in downtown Yerevan, around Opera and Swan Lake, is absolutely awesome. They are supposed to stay there for 1 month.

So well done, PINK Armenia. Truly, a history in making.


The messages on posters say:

1.Դու ուզու՞մ ես, որ բոլորը երջանիկ լինեն, ուրեմն մաղթիր մեզ երջանկություն։ [‘Do you want everyone to be happy? Then wish us happiness’]

2.Դուք հանդիպում եք նրանց ամեն օր։ [‘You meet them every day’]

3.Տրանս անձինք մեր հասարակության մասն են։ [‘Trans people are part of our society’]

Related videos were circulated by PINK Armenia as part of IDAHOT week*: 

h

*Videos and posters have been produced by Action Studio and Deem Communication, in cooperation with Public Information and Need of Knowledge NGO (PINK) and the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office, through the EU-funded project “Solidarity Network for LGBTI Individuals in Armenia and Georgia”.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Meanwhile in Yerevan…

Rainbow Pace flag (Italian for peace) in Yerevan. So casual. So epic considering the circumstances.

Pace da tutti i balconi ("peace from every balcony”) Armenian way.



… vs. all the hysteria on Armenian social media surrounding the sight of rainbow flag at the British embassy.

And the saddest protest action I ever witnessed in Armenia (see the priceless picture below, via 168.am/Photolure).


*in front of the British embassy in Yerevan: "stop gay propaganda, we are tired of it" with 3 exclamation marks - you can't make this stuff up. It’s Armenia, baby, the land of gay propaganda, apparently, so very tiring to resist, I feel for you, guys *3 exclamation marks*

Thursday, 18 May 2017

British embassy in Yerevan raised rainbow flag to mark IDAHOT + more news from South Caucasus

For the first time ever, British embassy in Yerevan raised the rainbow flag to mark IDAHOT - the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.


To see the rainbow flag proudly waving in the very heart of Armenia capital, even though by a foreign country, is pretty historic.

Big respects to the UK Embassy in Yerevan. It’s an important act of solidarity with local LGBT activists.

And of course, all the usual suspects on Armenian Facebook and beyond were in a state of total agony at a sight of the rainbow flag.

I hope this will become a tradition and more embassies in Armenia will follow suit.

But more significantly and importantly, I wish THE day will come when I will see the rainbow flag waving openly at local venues, institutions, groups...



Btw, British embassy in Baku has joined embassies around the world in flying the rainbow flag.


In Tbilisi, embassy posted a picture with the British ambassador holding the rainbow flag to accompany their IDAHOT message.


In other important developments from the South Caucasus, brave LGBT activists in Tbilisi managed to hold an IDAHOT rally which reportedly passed without major incidents, although not without reports of physical assault.

Great coverage by OC media here: Queer rights activists mark 17 May in Tbilisi under heavy police presence; Church takes to streets


And awesome PINK Armenia unveiled their calendar of events to mark IDAHOT.

***
In a related development, while not as radical as British, the US embassy in Yerevan changed their Facebook cover photo to the rainbow flag for the occasion (great move!), and posted a message marking IDAHOT.