Sunday, 1 March 2015

House of Cards, season 3 explosive storyline against Russia’s anti-gay law

As a a big fan of Netflix’s House of Cards, I could not wait till season 3 is finally on. And when it was finally on, I was so excited, it took me a while till I was able to calm down and actually start watching. And then… I could not stop watching till the very last episode is over. [and yes, now I am in a state of withdrawal, and there is a long wait ahead till season 4]

I am not going to give away any plot details or review the season, you can watch it at your own pace and make up your mind. For the purposes of this brief blog post, I only want to mention that starring in the season 3 is Putin himself, well, his prototype named ‘Petrov’.

Episode 3 is quite something when you see Putin/Petrov’s first appearance, with some other prominent guest stars. It was an entertaining episode, but not powerful.

It’s not until the episode 6 when the storyline became pretty explosive with a powerful statement against Russia’s anti-gay law and against hypocrisy in politics, in general.


Big respects to Netflix and the whole team behind the House of Cards for speaking up.

A must watch.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Valentine’s Day in the streets of Yerevan: How young people define “love”?

On the occasion of Valentine's Day, Armenia-based online Activist Radio conducted a quick survey in the streets of Yerevan to find out young people’s opinion re what is “love” to them in general, and their opinion about same-sex love.

Most opinions about definition of “love” were pretty unremarkable, pathetic, to say the least. The most hilarious for me was someone’s reply that “love” [“սեր” in Armenian] is apparently an abbreviation [“սերը հապավում ա”] meaning: “սրտի երջանիկ րոպեներ” :))

Unsurprisingly, as soon as the topic turned to the same-sex love, opinions expressed were mainly negative, with some neutral and supportive ones too.
Վալենտինի օրվա կապակցությամբ Երևանի փողոցներում հարցում անցկացրեցինք անցորդներից, թե ի՞նչ է սերը նրանց համար և ինչպե՞ս են վերաբերվում նույնասեռական սիրուն: Պարզվում է, ըստ մեր համաքաղաքացիներից ոմանց կարծիքի, սերը դադարում է լինել բարձր, վեհ, բառերով չնկարագրվող զգացմունք, երբ այն ուղղված է նույն սեռի անձին: Մնացածն առանց մեկանբանության:

Video summary: The impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia

Great job by PINK Armenia to prepare this bi-lingual video summary re: The impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia

The video is in Armenian ["ԼԳԲՏ էմիգրացիայի ազդեցությունը Հայաստանի տնտեսական ցուցանիշների վրա"], with English subtitles (for subtitles - click on Subtitles/CC). Highly recommended.

 


For background info, read: Research: The impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia

Monday, 9 February 2015

“Yerevan Gay” - new Armenian LGBT blog

It’s been a while since I last introduced new Armenian LGBT blog. Always glad to see gay Armenians blogging, adding their voice to the online conversation that eventually transcends to the offline world.

Yerevan Gay started couple of months ago, towards the end of 2014. I do not know who is the author of this blog or project, but based on first impression and exchange of comments on Twitter, seems someone who is passionate with what s/he is doing.


Blog contains a gallery section (poster-like pics with messages of equality, tolerance, no hate… from YerevanGay’s Instagram page). Also included is Yerevan guide with several suggestions of places to go. And of course the main page with blog posts (mixture of Armenian and English language postings).


“About” section describes this blog as a “new project for people from all over the world who are from LGBT community (and for those who in any way support LGBT people) to gather and help the LGBT communities in Armenia to have equal rights and to protest against homophobia and intolerance. The main goal is to be able to reach to the people via internet to show the voice of the tolerance and equality.”

Pretty commendable aims. Good luck, Yerevan Gay, and welcome to the blogosphere.

*pictures - via YerevanGay's Instagram page

Saturday, 31 January 2015

(IN)2VALUABLE photo exhibit and contest by PINK Armenia tackles intolerance and discrimination

On 21 December 2014, (IN)2VALUABLE exhibition took place in “Nerkay Arts Management and Creativity Center” organised by PINK Armenia. The exhibition - based on submissions for the photo contest of the same name - aimed at drawing attention to the problems of discrimination and intolerance in our society, with the entries reflecting concepts of tolerance and anti-discrimination.

All photo entries were initially posted on Facebook, and the following three entries have been awarded in different categories:

  • The most liked photo on Facebook: “All Different, All Equal” by Harutyun Krikyan 
  • Jury selection: “My Sport” by Artur Karoyan 
  • INVALUABLE photo: “Love” by Ani Tadevosyan

The last two entries were selected by a jury, including both PINK Armenia board members and a professional photographer.

I am glad that along with the three entries above, my favourite entry, submitted by Peghq -“We Are All Humans” (see below), have also been selected to be used for promotional materials of PINK Armenia, such as postcards and informational materials. Congrats !!



Friday, 30 January 2015

“We Are Among You” campaign by LGBT group in Azerbaijan

Via Gay.az, the aim of “We Are Among You” campaign by Azeri group Nefes LGBT (“Free LGBT”) is to send a message to the public in this largely homophobic country that LGBT people are an integral part of the Azerbaijani society.

As part of the campaign, LGBT activists posted stickers “before you, a lesbian [or gay/bi/trans person] sat [or stood] here” in various parts of the capital Baku.
Как говорят организаторы, цель компании - показать общественности, что ЛГБТ являются неотъемлемой частью азербайджанского общества.

По словам общественной организации «Свободные ЛГБТ» (Nefes LGBT), общество ошибочно полагает, что представители ЛГБТ никогда не жили в Азербайджане и появились в результате изменения образа жизни после обретения Азербайджаном независимости, в результате активной интеграции в Европу.

«Мы, как и гетеросексуалы, являемся неотъемлемой частью азербайджанского общества. Мы не больны, и наравне с гетеросексуалами активно участвуем в общественной жизни страны». С этой целью в различных частях столицы ЛГБТ активистами были расклеены стикеры «До тебя тут сидел гей», «До тебя тут сидела лесбиянка».

*screenshot - via Nefes LGBT Facebook group

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Human Rights Watch "World Report 2015": reflections on LGBT rights in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

Brief reflections of different aspects re LGBT rights in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan by Human Rights Watch within their annual World Report 2015 released today.

Armenia

Minority Rights
Local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists reported that LGBT people continue to face discrimination, harassment, and physical violence. Hate speech against LGBT people, including by public officials, remains a serious issue. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not included in anti-discrimination or hate speech laws, limiting legal recourse for many crimes against LGBT people.

Iravunq newspaper published several online articles calling for LGBT people and organizations working to protect them to be excluded from public life and for their families to shun them. A May 17 article included a “blacklist” of 60 people with links to their social media pages. Several people named in the article requested a retraction, but the paper refused. Sixteen people filed lawsuits for damage to honor and dignity, but a court rejected their claims in October.

Key International Actors
The PACE fact-finding mission report noted the improved political climate and progress toward Armenia’s fulfilment of its Council of Europe (CoE) membership obligations but also highlighted serious shortcomings, including the lack of judicial independence, abuses in the military, domestic violence, and hostility toward religious minorities and LGBT people.

Georgia

Anti-Discrimination and Minority Rights 
In May, parliament adopted an anti-discrimination bill that provides for protection against discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Some criticized the bill for lacking efficient implementation mechanisms, including means for imposing financial penalties for perpetrators. The bill put the Ombudsman’s Office in charge of overseeing anti-discrimination measures.

In February, the constitutional court in Georgia struck down a 13-year-old ban on homosexual men being blood donors.

Azerbaijan

Human Rights Defenders
Isa Shahmarly, former chair of the Free (Azad) LGBT group, hanged himself with a rainbow flag in his Baku apartment in late January 2014, writing in a note that Azerbaijan society was “not for him.”

PACE delegates: Armenian authorities fail to condemn incitement to hatred against LGBT people

Below is a statement [Written declaration No. 584 | Doc. 13690 | 28 January 2015] by 22 delegates of the PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe):

[For background: Tabloid of hate: virulent homophobia awarded by Armenia president’s state medal and stamped by court’s approval]

On 17 May 2014 the Armenian newspaper ‘Iravunk’ published an article on its website entitled “They serve the interests of international homo-addiction [sic] lobbying: the blacklist of the country’s and nation’s enemies”. It attacked “homosexual lobbyists” for trying to “aggressively enforce their moral dogma on our country”. Demanding “zero tolerance”, it identified 60 people, calling for them to be ostracised, denied employment and access to the media, and excluded from participation “in the upbringing of younger generations”.

The chair of the ‘Iravunk’ board, Hayk Babukhanyan, is an MP for Armenia’s governing political faction, the Republican Party.

The authorities have failed to condemn this incitement to hatred and discrimination. On the contrary, on 25 October Mr Babukhanyan was awarded a medal of honour by the President of Armenia. A law suit against “Iravunk” for defamation was dismissed six days later.

We call upon:

• Armenia’s delegates to this Assembly, particularly those from the Republican Party, to impress upon colleagues the need to refrain from incitement to hatred and discrimination;

• The Armenian authorities to condemn such incitement unreservedly and to put in place measures to implement the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on combating discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ms Petra De SUTTER, Belgium, SOC

Ms Boriana ÅBERG, Sweden, EPP/CD

Mr Claude ADAM, Luxembourg, SOC

Mr Paride ANDREOLI, San Marino, SOC

Mr Gerardo GIOVAGNOLI, San Marino, SOC

Mr Jonas GUNNARSSON, Sweden, SOC

Ms Monica HAIDER, Sweden, SOC

Ms Eva-Lena JANSSON, Sweden, SOC

Ms Lotta JOHNSSON FORNARVE, Sweden, UEL

Mr Pierre-Yves LE BORGN', France, SOC

Mr Philippe MAHOUX, Belgium, SOC

Ms Marit MAIJ, Netherlands, SOC

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC

Mr Michael McNAMARA, Ireland, SOC

Ms Ana Catarina MENDONÇA, Portugal, SOC

Ms Marie-Claude MORIN, Canada

Ms Melita MULIĆ, Croatia, SOC

Mr Michele NICOLETTI, Italy, SOC

Ms Carina OHLSSON, Sweden, SOC

Ms Maria de Belém ROSEIRA, Portugal, SOC

Ms Deborah SCHEMBRI, Malta, SOC

Ms Tineke STRIK, Netherlands, SOC

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Research: The impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia

I am not an economist and I did not conduct a detailed analysis of this report, so I cannot judge re quality or precision of the estimates, but I praise this first attempt at putting numeric values and reflecting the impact of LGBT emigration on Armenia's economy. Of course, as report stresses, particularly in countries with widespread homophobia where LGBT people conceal their sexual orientation, any research on LGBT related issues has its limitations. However, despite these limitations, such research provides us with an invaluable insight into the issues faced and may help at refining the research methodology.

Below I present a summary prepared by PINK Armenia. For the report in full, please follow this link.


“Public information and Need of Knowledge” and “Socioscope” Societal Research and Consultancy Center NGOs prepared a report about the LGBT emigration impact on economic indicators of Armenia. The purpose of the project was to study the impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia during 2011-2013 as a result of discrimination against the LGBT community and to reflect those changes in a long-term perspective.

The calculations made by this study demonstrate that, for a citizen of Armenia of average demographics who emigrated during the years 2011-2013, a minimum of the equivalent of $3,545 was spent on education. According to approximate estimates, 5,891 citizens of Armenia emigrated due to discrimination during the years 2011-2013, which implies that society has lost around $21 million in one go only in terms of educational investment toward LGBT emigrants. As for income not received, the calculations reveal that, in the year following emigration during 2011-2013, Armenia did not receive $88,365,000 across three years and for all LGBT emigrants. This is the loss following only one year after emigration, but that loss is prevalent in reality in all the years until the emigrant reaches retirement age.

Budget revenues for all three years taken together – 2011-2013 – could have been more by $20 million had the LGBT individuals who left due to discrimination remained. As a result of the emigration of 5,891 LGBT individuals, the state budget will lose around $2 billion in revenue, at purchasing power as of January 1, 2014, over the course of more than the following 36 years (until retirement).And as a result of LGBT emigration in the following twelve years, from 2014 to 2025, Gross domestic product (GDP) will have a loss of $3 billion at purchasing power as of January 1, 2014, adjusted for Purchasing power parity (PPP), while the budget will lose $370 million at purchasing power as of January 1, 2014.

The full report consists of sociological study and economic assessment. Read the full report with all its findings here.
***
*This chart is from the study Monitoring of Human Rights Violations of LGBT PeopleArmenia conducted by PINK Armenia during September-October 2012.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Positive representation of gay people on Russian TV - Физика или Химия

Browsing YouTube, I accidentally came across this Russian TV series Физика или Химия [Physics or Chemistry]. It’s a Russian adaptation of original Spanish TV series Física o Química.

I watched only one episode - therefore I cannot reflect the whole series - but was struck by positive, away from cliché, representation of gay people on Russian TV. So many aspects of it were done so good, including the choice of characters, relationships with friends, coming out, parents’ reaction...



This could have been a textbook example of how media should portray LGBT people, especially in countries where homophobia is very high and there is big gap and lack in education on matters of sexuality and gender identity. And what is even more important, that the series are based in a high school setting in Moscow, raising important youth relevant issues.

Unfortunately, there was only 1 season produced and shown on Russian CTC TV channel in 2011, and, of course, considering the subsequent developments in Russia, where homophobia elevated to the state level by the so called gay propaganda laws and other examples of intolerance, you will unlikely to see anything similar in the near future.

It's a big shame that country with such a great intellectual and cultural potential to champion diversity, equality, acceptance within post-Soviet space and beyond, instead turned into an epitome of intolerance and homophobia.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Tabloid of hate: virulent homophobia awarded by Armenia president’s state medal and stamped by court’s approval

I’d like to start this pretty depressing post on a somehow lighter note, with a joke (AM), posted on Facebook for this occasion by user A.N.:
- Բարև ձեզ։ Բեղիկներով պահպանակ ունե՞ք։
- Ունենք, բայց էսօր գնացել ա մեդալ ստանալու։
In an article “They serve the interests of international homosexual lobby: the blacklist of country’s and nation’s enemies”, Iravunk tabloid listed 60 individuals with the links to their Facebook pages, calling them “zombies”, “traitors” and more.
"On 17th of May, 2014, the editor-in-chief of “Iravunk” newspaper Hovhannes Galajyan published an article on the newspaper’s website titled “They serve the interests of international homosexual lobbying: the blacklist of country’s and nation’s enemies.” In the article, the author presents a “blacklist” containing Facebook hyperlinks of 60 people, makes offensive statements addressed to those persons and calls for “Ordinary people to stop communicating with the lobbyist on the internet, as well as in real life, not to greet them, not to help them with any issues, not to engage in any business relations with them; state officials not to hire those lobbyists for public service jobs, and if they already work there, to fire them under any convenient pretext.” For employers to do the same and for the co-owners of media companies, so those lobbyists won’t be given any chance to make an influence on public opinion and also for “the heads of educational institutions, so they won’t let the lobbyists to participate in the upbringing of younger generations.” […]
On 30th of May, 2014, several citizens whose names appeared in the “blacklist” have sent a letter to the president of the editorial board of Iravunk, Haik Babukhanyan, and the editor-in-chief Hovhannes Galajyan, where they pointed out that the article contains insults, and also requested them to deny the information written in the article. This request was denied and in 03.06.2014 another article was published titled as “And they still dare to request a denial?” in which Iravunk continued to insult and give inaccurate information. In particular, such expressions as “this creature,” “filthy biography” and more were aimed at those who requested denial of the untrue information."
A statement posted by PINK Armenia reads:
“Today the court rejected the case of 16 individuals against Iravunk newspaper. Earlier the Armenian newspaper Iravunk published a ‘blacklist’ of Armenians connected to the LGBT community that it claimed to be enemies of the nation.

Few days ago this homophobic paper’s founding editor and two other workers received Medal of Honor from the president of RA. The president of National Assembly of RA also congratulated the founding editor of the newspaper, who is a MP and a member of Republican Fraction as well.

We believe that high level support of official reflected on the decision of the Court and this shows once more that hate speech and homophobia is highly supported by the high level officials of Armenia, and this creates atmosphere of impunity, gives floor for hate crime and fascism in the country.”
Courts in Armenia are not independent, rarely making decisions that contravene ruling regime’s position. Not only court rejected the lawsuit on the basis of “freedom of expression” (how 'noble' of them!) but obliged citizens to make payments in favour of Iravunk paper to compensate their expenses. Activists will pursue available legal channels to appeal the court’s verdict and, depending on circumstances, may reach the European court of human rights too.

Epress.am reports from the courtroom: “After the judge read the verdict nearly ten people began clapping in favor of the decision. Among them was “Iravunk Media” company director, Republican Party faction MP Hayk Babukhanyan (pictured on right), who just last week was awarded the Movses Khorenatsi Medal by President Serzh Sargsyan for the 25th anniversary of the Iravunk paper.”



To remind, this tabloid consistently and systematically publishes articles and other postings full of hate speech and virulent homophobia.

[Hate: Armenian tabloid Iravunk advocates killing of gays]

As I mentioned in past: “As a rule, one hate goes hand in hand with another hate. If you look at Iravunk’s articles, they are not just homophobic, but racist, full of hate to everyone who is different. If you are not gay, you would have still be hated by Galadjyan-like people. For ‘different’ ethnicity, colour of your eyes (skin), music you listen to, films you watch, T-shirt you wear. Anything, really, which is outside of their sad, little and narrow-minded world.”

To sum up: Ruling regime in Armenia turning hate into a state ideology and awarding hatemongers with state awards. Here is a shameful link to the the presidential press-release from the award’s ceremony and picture via president.am.


This picture will be remembered among the most shameful pages of the modern history of Republic of Armenia. Pretty disgusting sight.

And let’s not forget that this story is just part of the growing overall trend. Put this story into a broader perspective of impunity and culture of violence in Armenia supported on a highest state level, like recent re-appointment of Surik Khachatryan (nicknamed “Liska”) - notorious for violent conduct - as governor of Syunik region, and the complete picture is even more depressing.

P.S. This case was picked up by popular international publications buzzfeed (+ here), gaystarnews and more.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

LGBTnews.am (“Ծիածանագույն նորություններ”): Armenian LGBT news website launched

Recently launched LGBTnews.am Armenian LGBT news website is a welcome addition to Armenian LGBT related online resources.
 LGBTnews.am էլեկտրոնային լրատվական կայքը Նորվեգիայի Թագավորության դեսպանատան ֆինանսական աջակցությամբ իրականացվող ծրագիր է, որի հիմնական նպատակը ԼԳԲՏ համայնքին վերաբերող միջազգային և տեղական տեղեկատվության տարածումն է:

Կայքում առկա են «Հայաստան», «Աշխարհ», «Հարցազրույց», «Վերլուծություն», «Մշակույթ», «Իրավունք», ինչպես նաև այլ բաժիններ:

Կայքի թարմացումներին կարող եք հետևել նաև Facebook և Twitter սոցիալական ցանցերի պաշտոնական էջերում:
As of now, the website is available in Armenian language only, although I was told the English version may be coming soon.

It is nicely designed into rainbow colours and at time of launch contained sections on Armenia, world, interviews, reviews, culture and law. It is still work in progress, so if you have any feedback, you are welcome to leave it via website’s contact or FB page.

As Caucasus Equality News Network pointed out, “It is hoped that the website will be able to provide more accurate and reliable information on LGBT issues to Armenians. Currently very few Armenian news sources are friendly towards the LGBT community and Armenia has a strong culture of homophobic media and press. Another large problem very common in the Armenian media is bias towards LGBT individuals, as well as a lack of accurate information, sometimes purposefully incorrect information.”

LGBTnews.am is sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy.

Website: http://lgbtnews.am
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lgbtnewsarmenia
Twitter: coming soon

Friday, 26 September 2014

Armenia ambassador Vahram Kazhoyan joins UN Free & Equal initiative making stance against homophobia

Big respects to Armenia ambassador Vahram Kazhoyan who publicly supported the United Nation’s Free & Equal initiative by taking stance against homophobia.


*picture via Vahram Kazhoyan’s FB page, re-posted on this blog with permission

The message conveyed by the ambassador is simple and powerful, right to the point: “No to homophobia: Hate is not a family value!”.

He posted this picture made at the UN General Assembly on his FB page.

Free & Equal is a United Nations public education initiative for LGBT rights and equality. For more information about the initiative, see www.unfe.org/en/about

Vahram Kazhoyan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, is currently heading the Department of International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia. He is also Secretary General of the Armenian National Commission for UNESCO, and head of the Inter-Agency Working Group for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. In past (2001-2009), he was Armenia’s ambassador to Greece (and 5 other countries in the region). He was also assigned to country’s permanent mission to the UN in NYC in 1994-1996.

He is known as a loyal diplomat for his country, devoted to human rights, who genuinely wants to make changes for the better. Most importantly, he is a role model, as a person who raised his children with values of equality and respect.

“No to homophobia: Hate is not a family value!”. Indeed, it is not. Love is.

We need more fathers, like Vahram, and more ambassadors, like him.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Opinion: “The reality of gay Armenians and our collective shame”

I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised with the Armenian Chronicles. While it’s their recent LGBT related postings that primarily grabbed my attention, I quickly glanced other pieces too and some contained refreshingly challenging points of view.

Back to the LGBT related postings, the latest piece by Kyle Khandikian follows nicely previously posted by Shant Jaltorossian My Life As a Gay Armenian [x-post on Unzipped: Gay Armenia Armenian Chronicles: "If you are an LGBT Armenian, speak up”], and more specifically explores the very familiar to every Armenian issue of “shame”, or “ամոթ”, and how it affects and fuels a “larger system of oppression” in Armenian communities both in Armenia and Diaspora.
***
Selected extracts via the Armenian Chronicles below:


[…] The existence of gay men and women in our community has yet to be fully acknowledged and is a reality that many of us still approach with hostility. Why have we yet to come to terms with this reality? The answer is a difficult one, but one that I believe is closely related to our shared value of shame. 

I’ll never forget the words uttered with remarkable incredulity by one of my peers in high school as I sat on the floor in between the shelves of our school’s bookshop one afternoon. I overheard the tail end of the conversation, but it was all I needed to hear. “Gay Armenians? I’ll kill them.”

Violence is something not uncommon for those who identify as LGBTQ, but as the arc of morality bends toward justice for many in America, there are pockets of communities where to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer still means to live in constant fear for your life. The Armenian-American community is one such place where the closet door could not be shut tighter or locked up better. In the Republic of Armenia, the situation for LGBTQ people and other minority groups is deplorable to say the least, as noted in an Amnesty International report released last year entitled, “Armenia: No Space For Difference.” But what is striking to me is how a culture of shame still engrosses even the youngest and brightest minds of our communities here in America, and for those who must experience and live with that shame, how it is internalized.

The extent at which homosexuality and socio-cultural deviance is vehemently combated in our communities is exemplified by another personal experience. I had the pleasure of serving as the student body president of my private, Armenian Apostolic high school during my senior year. Every year the student council organizes a spring formal, and as per school policy, students are welcome to brings guests from other schools if they provide a signed note from the other school. When a male student brought back a note for his male cousin who attended another Armenian school and had many mutual friends at our school, homophobia reared its ugly, aggressive head. I was told repeatedly by an administrator that those things were “not natural” and that even though the students were cousins and not romantic partners, the rule was clear: boys do not bring boys to a school dance. This is the same school where “Yes On 8” flyers were distributed in 2008 in support of the California ballot proposition that successfully outlawed marriage equality in the state for five years, and where paper topics on the gay marriage debate were rejected in English language class because, to paraphrase a teacher, “it would anger the church.” There is something to be said about a community that chooses a clear side in a debate it has no interest in participating in. On most things LGBTQ, this community is largely silent.

There is a very false myth surrounding Armenian identity. It is the myth that we, regardless of religious creeds, national identities, political leanings, spoken languages, etc., are all Armenians. The truth, however, is that to deviate from the mainstream in this community means to be shunned and persecuted for not living up to fabricated norms and expectations. Identifying as LGBTQ is one such deviation, arguably the most abhorred by our fiercely patriarchal and heteronormative culture. Armenians are a diverse people, and that diversity does not suddenly end when it comes to sexuality or gender. There is an undeniable taboo surrounding homosexuality, and that taboo is just one part of a larger system of oppression that is fueled, in my opinion, by shame. […]

It pains me to say it, but we are an intolerant people. It is ironic too considering that intolerance has taken its most evil form against us: genocide. Our intolerance for things that are different or unfamiliar, I think, is closely related to the perceived shame it brings to the family and community. Emotion researchers have distinguished shame from other similar emotions like guilt by noting its external orientation; shame typically involves being negatively assessed by others and is most often felt in the presence of others, an important point for gay and lesbian Armenians which I will touch on later. […]

Ask yourself this simple question: how many gay Armenians do you know? The answer for almost all of us should be nearly none, because shame has left no space for them to exist openly. If we recall that shame is an emotion experienced in the presence of others, meaning that those of us who are prone to shame feel it most when we are with the communal group, and that in our culture shame is associated both denotatively and connotatively with words like “dirt,” where else do LGBTQ Armenians have to go but far away from the community? Perhaps I am pessimistic when it comes to this subject; of course there are openly gay Armenians, but none that we hear of. They are not a part of our community or our nation, because our community and nation has singled them out and excluded them as an Other, as gyot-s (faggots). There are no openly gay Armenians in our institutions or in our schools, none that are creating a culture that is welcoming and safe, who are fighting for our youth and shouting the good news from the tops of the iron ladder of hopes: that it is not shameful to be gay and that it will get better and that you can be Armenian and gay at the same time and that those two identities are not antagonistic even though everyone around you is telling you that they are…

I most certainly recognize the unique position diasporan communities hold as culture bearers around the world, especially having attended a school whose purpose was the preservation of the Armenian language and culture. But at what costs will we cling to certain aspects of our culture that no longer serve us, aspect of our culture that curse and destroy us? As diasporans we have the luxury of being able to move in and out of our community. We should not have to, but the option exists. But let it be a sobering reminder for those who continue to force some of us out that for our brothers and sisters living in Armenia and other countries where the closet doors remain firmly shut, that option does not exist. They must live in constant fear for their lives. That is truly shameful. 

I was in Turkey three years ago where I attended Istanbul Pride. To see a gay pride parade in a country that has struggled for almost all of its existence to strike a balance between Western modernity and religious tradition was remarkable in itself, but something else caught my attention, something that was so surprising that I struggled at first to make sense of it. Among the sea of pro-gay signs held by marchers were ones in Armenian! One of the signs was simple and clear: hos enk varjuhvetsek («Հոս ենք վարժուեցէք»), meaning “We are here, get used to it.” It is happening in even the most unlikely places. It is time we let go of our shame.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Armenian Chronicles: "If you are an LGBT Armenian, speak up"

Good to see growing number of LGBT Armenians in Diaspora who speak up and make a stand.

*via Armenian Chronicles

Growing up in an Armenian household was not easy for me...for the obvious reasons. As a gay Armenian man, I often feel that I do not have an outlet to properly express myself. While there are certainly exceptions, the Armenian society at large turns a blind eye to the reality that there are LGBT Armenians all around them.

I often wonder just how many of the Armenians that I have met were gay, but were in hiding. Perhaps due to unrealistic expectations, many LGBT Armenians remain in the closet, mostly to the detriment of their well-being. LGBT Armenians are often reserved and do not make a stand on the matter. I have always been one of those quiet, brooding types – no more.

While I have watched non-Armenian gay friends live happy, fulfilling lives out in the open, I have sat on the sidelines. Why shouldn't I aim for the same sort of life? I, for one, have thus far only come out to cousins and friends, but not the elders. Well, the cat's out of the bag, huh? [...]

While I cannot necessarily speak for the Armenian society at large, I can draw inferences based off the community in the greater Los Angeles area. Many Armenians – the traditional ones, anyway– have ingrained notions of heteronormativity. To them, any deviation from the norm is an aberration and to be denounced. Every Armenian man is expected to marry a nice Armenian woman, whether or not they actually want to. Then, the woman in this relationship is expected to bear grandchildren and be happy about it. This culture propagates a “one size fits all” mentality that everyone will do what their parents did, ad infinitum. [...]

The intersection of Armenian society and LGBT culture is a complicated one. I felt compelled to become more open and true to myself after attending this year's LA Pride, where I came across a booth promoting GALAS – the Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society. It felt good to see fellow gay Armenians speaking freely about who they are. I was doubly proud that day – as a gay man, and as an Armenian. Admittedly, I am not a member of GALAS, but they have inspired me to be more open in my life.

If you are an LGBT Armenian, speak up; we're here to listen. No matter how often your aunt pesters you about “not having a girlfriend” or “settling down and having babies,” know this: you are who you are, and there's no changing that. Take pride in yourself, in your identity, and your heritage. If you are an ally, we thank you. If you are a bigot, I hope that one day you will realize that your words can leave behind irreversible emotional damage. Put aside your petty issues, stop perpetuating hatred, and learn to love your fellow Armenians.

"Red Dress" LGBT-themed Georgian short film



This film is produced by Identoba - Georgian LGBT rights group, based in Tbilisi. Via personal story it reflects events last year when homophobic mob, led by Georgian orthodox church priests, attacked LGBT rights activists in Georgian capital Tbilisi, marking IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia).

*thanks to @Tabagari for the link

Monday, 21 July 2014

Yerevan Diaries: downtown bar with safe sex message


*"Use of condoms is the best method to prevent AIDS and other STDs" - reads this educational message in one of downtown Yerevan bars

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

PACE questions Armenia on LGBT rights. How Socialist International member ARF Dashnaktsutyun fights for equality and gay rights?

Last week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) co-rapporteurs Axel Fischer (Germany, EPP/CD) and Alan Meale (United Kingdom, SOC) were in Armenia on a fact-finding monitoring visit. As PACE website informs , main focus of discussions were “recent political developments, constitutional reform, alternative service, gender equality, religious and sexual minorities as well as Police and justice reform.”

I am very happy to see that finally LGBT rights are on PACE agenda in relation to Armenia.

According to very little information that was publicised, they indeed discussed LGBT rights with the Armenian side, in particular during meetings with political parties represented in the parliament.

In an interview with 1in.am, former ARF Dashnaktsutyun MP Rubik Hakobyan, who now represents opposition Heritage party, could not hide his unease when recalling discussions on the topic. Without explicitly stating his position or elaborating on discussions, he however made it clear where he stands when it comes to equality and human rights for all (not on the side of equality), by immediately referring to ‘traditional values’, importance not to “impose” on Armenia “European values systems and standards”. I never trusted Rubik Hakobyan, and I believe he is a liability for Heritage party. Despite having some questionable members, Heritage party is perhaps the most gay friendly among political parties in Armenia. To remind, back in 2009, they organised roundtable discussion on intolerance, xenophobia and homophobia in Armenia. And in 2012 Heritage party head Raffi Hovhannisyan was the only head of political party who visited firebombed gay friendly DIY bar, in a show of solidarity (read also this reflection)

What was more interesting - raises eyebrows - was a statement by current head of parliamentary
faction of ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Armen Rustamyan. While again avoiding to answer to the question on discussions about gay rights, he made some interesting remarks, worth noting for future reference:
Head of the ARF-D faction Armen Rustamyan (pictured) informed Epress.am that the co-rapporteurs wanted to know about the existence of political prisoners in Armenia and the protection of the rights of LGBT people. […] On the matter of LGBT rights, Rustamyan said that the ARF-D is a member of Socialist International and is guided by the same principles. "Questions about LGBT people can be posed to those political parties that haven't expressed a position. The ARF-D is a member of Socialist International," he said.

(AM) ՀՅԴ խմբակցության ղեկավար Արմեն Ռուստամյանը (լուսանկարում) Epress.am-ին հայտնել է, որ համազեկուցողները ցանկացել են իրենց կարծիքն իմանալ Հայաստանում քաղբանտարկյալների առկայության և նույնասեռականների իրավունքների պաշտպանության վերաբերյալ։ […] Նույնասեռականների իրավունքների մասին հարցին ՀՅԴ-ական պատգամավորը պատասխանել է, որ իրենց կուսակցությունը սոցինտերնի անդամ է և նույն չափորոշիչներով էլ առաջնորդվում է։ «Միասեռականների մասին հարցեր կարող են տալ այն կուսակցություններին, որոնք դիրքորոշում չեն հայտնել։ ՀՅԴ-ն սոցինտերնի անդամ է»,- ասել է Ռոստամյանը…
Seriously, Armen Rustamyan? Are you saying that Armenia’s ARF Dashnaktsutyun is guided by the Socialist International’s principles about LGBT rights? To recall: MPs of ARF Dashnaktsutyun party bail out neo-nazi attacker of DIY bar. Dashnak MP Artsvik Minasyan supports arson attack, effectively encouraging terrorism in Armenia (see also links in the comments section of that post). These MPs were never reprimanded, they never ever apologised for their disgraceful behaviour and remain in high ranking positions within the Armenian branch of the party.

Now let’s check the Socialist International's principles re LGBT rights. Principles, that according to ARF Dashnaktsutyun party parliamentary head Armen Rustamyan, they are guided with. Here we are: Ethical charter of the Socialist International
“To respect and reinforce the fundamental human rights, be they individual rights (respect of private life, freedom of thought, belief, education, sexual orientation and right to equal treatment etc.), social rights (freedom of trade unions, right to strike, social protection etc.) or political rights (freedom of association, universal vote). 
To foster gender equality in every area of private and public life, including within our parties, in decision-making positions in all fields and at all levels. 
To fight against all forms of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, language, religion, philosophical or political beliefs. 
To fight against all ultra nationalist, fundamentalist, xenophobic and racist trends and to refrain from all forms of political alliance or co-operation, at any level, with any political party inciting or trying to inflame prejudices, ethnic or racial hatred.” Adopted in 27-29 October 2003 at the XXII Congress of the Socialist International, São Paulo.
If we follow these principles that all members of the Socialist International must adhere to, ARF Dashnaktsutyun (supposedly) respects and reinforces the fundamental human rights, including based on sexual orientation, and fights against all forms of discrimination, including based on gender and sexual orientation. I am not even going into the part of fighting “against all ultra nationalist… trends” etc.etc. Basically, it’s the best party ever. We just did not know.

Make a note of this reference, and challenge ARF Dashnaktsutyun party’s stance on LGBT rights in Armenia, in accordance with the principles of the Socialist International.

*picture - via Epress.am

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Opera Australia drops Georgian singer Tamar Iveri following virulent homophobia exposé

I devote this post to Armenian pop stars or other personalities, especially the ones in or around showbiz. I did hope that after Eurovision homophobia fiasco, they would learn the lesson. Well, some probably did. But definitely not all. I will come back to the latest example from Armenia in an upcoming post.

In an era of online communications, words have no expiry date and may hunt you down at any time. Of course, anyone can make mistakes, do or say something totally unacceptable, hurtful, and then genuinely apologise for the wrongs and try making amends. I am all for giving a second chance but only if I believe you are genuine in your actions and intentions, or at least I see some real efforts. If this is the case, people will forgive you. But at times the ‘apology’ is so fake that makes things even worse.

Just weeks ahead of her Opera Australia performance, Georgian opera singer Tamar Iveri was exposed as a homophobe. And it was particularly virulent type of homophobia, disgusting beyond words.
Georgian soprano causes outrage for describing LGBT people as "faecal matter”Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri, scheduled to sing Desdemona in Otello for Opera Australia in July and Tosca later this year in Melbourne, has been roundly condemned for an open letter she wrote to the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in May last year. In the lengthy diatribe, originally posted on her Facebook page, she describes LGBT people as “deviants” and suggests that homosexuality is part of the “faecal mass” being foisted on Georgia by the West. 
Iveri’s outburst came on the back of a rally organised by LGBT activists and other Georgian citzens to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) in the city of Tbilisi. According to reports, tens of thousands of Orthodox Christian activists attacked the participants some of whom, it is claimed, narrowly escaped death. Iveri, however, lambasted the Georgian President for condemning the violence writing that she was “proud of the fact how Georgian society spat at the parade”.

The letter, which contains frequent references to bodily waste, sexual practices and Western moral corruption makes for difficult reading. Backing those who attacked the parade, Iveri says that “often, in certain cases, it is necessary to break jaws in order to be appreciated as a nation” and maintaining that the perpetrators of the violence were “Georgian youth of pure blood, still unspoiled by you [President Mikheil Saakashvili]”.
After outrage that the letter had caused, Tamar deleted it from her FB page, but it had already been translated by LGBT activists in Tbilisi and distributed online. Back then, this incident did not reach world headlines, with only Paris Opera cancelling her performance, formally due to “health condition” but many believe the real reason was the letter that was passed to the Director of the Paris Opera.

A year on, this exposé caused online storm in social networks and media headlines in The Guardian and The Independent with an instant demand to Opera Australia to fire her.

To make things worse, Tamar Iveri released a statement where she alleged that the letter was in fact written by her husband.
“My husband was using my Facebook account at that time and he is a very religious man with a tough attitude towards gay people. He copied my text, changed it considerably and posted it under my name.”
This was the most ridiculous and unbelievable attempt at damage control I have seen. And when she claimed: "He copied my text, changed it considerably and posted it under my name." - what was in her original text, I wonder? I do not expect anything positive.

Opera Australia has since been under mounting pressure and demands from LGBT rights activists, Twitter and FB users, opera lovers and financial sponsors to drop Tamar Iveri. After initial hesitation, Opera Australia released a statement announcing termination of the contract with Georgian opera singer describing views attributed to the singer towards gay people as “unconscionable”. Earlier Brussels Opera dropped her from upcoming production too.

The only right decision. And lesson to others.