Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Homophobic ad in Yerevan

It’s been a while since Ksjukh posted this ad picture from Yerevan in Yesoudo, so far my favourite Armenian social networking site. It is an ad for a rap party that says "gays and animals are not allowed".

It became one of the most commented pictures in Yesoudo.

Micha: “They didn't need to write anything, they could simply keep the poster as it is and no gay or any self-respecting pet would go there. Rap party called "Hin Djougha"? With a blond bimbo in US-flag bikini on its poster? No kidding! I don't even dare to imagine what kind of rap they're going to perform”

We also discussed a serious nature of it and lack of legal basis and groups or NGO-s to take the case to the court. There is no anti-discrimination law to include homophobia, sexism etc in Armenia. Only racism is currently punishable.

Blogian now re-posted this picture, and along with pointing out homophobic aspect of it, raises the following question:

“What caught my attention most, though, is not the American-flagized blond nor the homophobic message but the name of the party (rap group?) - Hin Jugha (Old Djulfa). This is the historic Armenian place where Azerbaijan destroyed thousands of stone-crosses in December of 2005. What do homophobia, rap and Old Djulfa have to do with each other?”

I suppose, this is a ‘perfect’ combination for attention seeking bigots and loser-‘promoters’. What can be more eye-catching and attention grabbing than semi-naked blond, vulgar homophobia and false patriotism? Imagine, what sort of crowd would be attracted to that party… Even thinking of it made me nauseous.

Back to Yesoudo, the most hilarious comment in relation to this ad came from my Yesoudo friend Chant, a talented young filmmaker.

Chant: Someone should do graffiti 2 males kissing on that ... here's an idea to inspire you by artist Banksy: http://www.thismoment.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/blog/banksy.jpg

Monday, 29 October 2007

Woman President for Armenia?

I was thinking about upcoming Armenian presidential elections. What strikes me though, apart from many other things, that there is no single woman candidate among potential hopefuls on the horizon. This is in sharp contrast with the recent developments in the world of international politics. Germany elected Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton may become the US’s first female President, Benazir Bhutto is back to Pakistan... And yesterday Cristina Kirchner became the first woman President in Argentina. Example of Argentina is especially relevant to us. Argentina is (was?) famous for its macho culture.

I never was a supporter of choosing someone based on gender. Abilities should be the factor! But may be we lived too long under almost total male dominance in Armenian politics and government. May be woman President will bring those essential qualities which are lacking in our male candidates. May be she will be able to ease the tensions in our society and act as a consolidating power. May be woman President will transform Armenian society into more tolerant and inclusive one. And may be if women gain power in our neighbouring countries too, they will be able to solve the problems in a way only women know and bring long awaited peace to the region.

Just one request, if I may. Please, save us from Alvard Petrosyan, who once infamously told Aravot newspaper that as a “normal” woman she is afraid of homosexuals, calling them “enemies” of women.

Recent developments in Armenia related to the establishment of the Women’s Resource Centre, and the latest example of regional cooperation of women organisations in the South Caucasus, as reported by Lara in Life in Armenia, are encouraging.

Here is a call for future woman President for Armenia!

Greece about to deport gay man back to Iran

Just received this from a gay rights group in Greece.

TO: The European Parliament, European Political Parties, Humanitarian Organizations, International Press


Dear Sir/Madam,

We are writing to draw your attention to the case of a 40-year-old gay Iranian man, identified here as Alex, who is about to be expelled from Greece and deported back to Iran. As is well known and documented, gay people in Iran are subjected to persecution and severe punishment, including execution. If Alex returns to Iran, Greece will be committing a serious miscarriage of justice and a gross violation of human rights.

Alex (his real name and identity are known to our organization) used to live a fully respected life in Iran. He is a member of a rich Iranian family and used to have a respectful job in Iran. In 1999 he was visited at his workplace by an ex-schoolmate who knew Alex was gay and who was probably a member of the government party. After that visit, Alex was arrested by the religion police and kept in the Jankal jail at the Iranian town of Rast for 45 days.

Alex was tortured at Jankal. He was beaten systematically with lashing straps in his back and kidneys and afterwards was put in water in order to not develop ecchymosis and edema. He was beaten several times in the face, losing three teeth as a result. He had his testicles twisted, was submitted to bastinado and had salt poured on his open wounds. He was put twice in mock execution.

After spending forty-five days in jail, his family paid to get him out so that he could attend the funeral of his mother. The police took him to the funeral in women’s clothes. While out of jail, Alex managed to escape. A few days later, he arrived to Greece by way of Turkey in a terrible condition.

He went to the General Administration office of the police and applied for political asylum based on the torture he had been submitted to in Iran. The application was rejected. In 2003, Alex submitted a second application for political asylum stating that he was homosexual and had a relationship with a Greek man, Phoebos (his real name and identity are known to our organization), who also testified that he was Alex’s partner. (Alex and Phoebos are still together today). However, this application was also rejected. (Alex’s file in the Ministry of Public Order is YDT 95/43303; his file in the Asylum Department of the Home Office is 12206/38647).

Now Alex’s case is to be discussed in front of the Supreme Council, which is scheduled to decide for a definitive resolution regarding his status as a refugee on March 11, 2008.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Alex’s deportation to Iran will constitute a violation of the articles 3 and 15 of the International Convention of the Human Rights, co-signed and validated by Greece.

We need your strong support in order to prevent the Greek state from violating the international law and the human rights of a person whose life is in danger because of his sexuality.

We would be more than happy to provide further information on the case.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to your response and immediate action.

Yours sincerely,

The Members of the Greek Homosexual Community (G.H.C.-ΕΟΚ)

Contact: General Secretary of GHC-EOK Marina Galanou

Greek Homosexual Community, EOK
(Member of: ILGA, ILGYO, All Different-all Equal)
Antoniadou 6 str., Athens, Attica, PC 10434, Greece

Tel. (0030)210.8826600 Fax. (0030)210.8826898
Mobile: (0030)6949295041
http://www.gayhomes.net/eok/ & http://www.eok.gr/ info@eok.gr

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Were Spain's two artistic legends secret gay lovers?

Recently, I watched on British TV a documentary about Dali's personal life (I can't remember that film's title) . It was based on various memoirs and letters which exposed yet unknown intimate details about Dali's private life and sexual preferences, particularly his scariness and inability to be engaged in gay sex, and thus replacing it with voyeurism and other types of sexual satisfaction. I always kind of 'knew' about it and did not expect that in relation to Dali it could be considered controversial. Therefore, today's report in The Observer newspaper about a production of film which will depict love affair between Dali and Lorca did not come as a surprise to me, but is fascinating, nevertheless. Will certainly look forward to this film, which will probably be ready for release by 2009. Below are several archive photos of Dali and Lorca, taken from federicogarcialorca.net, and a copy of the article from The Observer.

The Observer
David Smith
October 28, 2007

A new film is to depict a gay love affair between Salvador Dali, the eccentric master of the avant-garde, and his fellow Spaniard Federico Garcia Lorca, the doomed dramatist and poet.

Little Ashes, a UK-Spanish production, is set in the cultural and political tumult of Twenties Madrid and follows the intense friendship of three revolutionary young artists: Dali, Lorca and the Surrealist film maker Luis Bunuel.

Described by its producers as 'racy' and 'sexy', the film will show Dali and Lorca's feelings deepen into a love affair which the sexually repressed artist tries and fails to consummate. As a substitute, Lorca sleeps with a female friend, with Dali present as a voyeur.

The interpretation, by British screenwriter Philippa Goslett, is likely to cause controversy among biographers and historians. Although a physically intimate relationship between the men has long been rumoured, Dali told interviewers more than once that he rejected the homosexual Lorca's attempts to seduce him.

Playing the larger-than-life Dali - painter of ants, spindly-legged elephants and melting pocket watches, creator of the Lobster Telephone and farceur instantly recognisable for his pointed moustache - is an acting Mount Everest. In Little Ashes the part has gone to Robert Pattinson, a 21-year-old London-born actor best known to cinema audiences as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter series. Lorca will be played by the Spanish actor Javier Beltran, while the role of Bunuel is taken by Matthew McNulty, who was in Control, the recent biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. Little Ashes, named after a Dali painting, is directed by Paul Morrison, whose credits include Solomon and Gaenor, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2000.

The film will find Dali, aged 18, arriving in Madrid, where from 1922 he lived in the university hostel, the Residencia de Estudiantes. It was there, as a bizarre exhibitionist diving into Cubism, that he became close to Bunuel and Lorca, who he later described as 'the poetic phenomenon incarnate' and the only person who ever made him jealous. Lorca would go on to write plays including Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba before being murdered, aged 38, by Nationalists during the Spanish civil war.

In typically vivid language, Dali, who married in 1934, denied their relationship ever became physical. He was homosexual, as everyone knows, and madly in love with me,' he said, according to Alain Bosquet's 1969 Conversations with Dali. 'He tried to screw me twice... I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn't homosexual, and I wasn't interested in giving in. Besides, it hurts. So nothing came of it. But I felt awfully flattered vis-à-vis the prestige. Deep down I felt that he was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali's asshole.'

But Goslett defended the movie's portrayal of a love affair between them. 'Having done a huge amount of research, it's clear something happened, no question,' she said. 'When you look at the letters it's clear something more was going on there.

'It began as a friendship, became more intimate and moved to a physical level but Dali found it difficult and couldn't carry on. He said they tried to have sex but it hurt, so they couldn't consummate the relationship. Considering Dali's massive hang-ups, it's not surprising.'

She said their lovemaking was displaced to a third party. 'Lorca slept with a female friend of theirs, which Dali called the ultimate sacrifice. Dali watched it and this was the start of his voyeurism. It was the construction of his mask that we are familiar with now. For me the real tragedy is Dali. He was really haunted by Lorca for the rest of his life and talked about him incessantly - more than his wife, Gala.'

The film was shot mainly in Barcelona on a modest £1.4m budget. There was a sceptical response from Ian Gibson, the Spanish-based biographer of both Dali and Lorca, and now working on a life of Bunuel. 'It depends how you define an affair,' he said. 'He [Dali] was terrified of being touched by anyone, so I don't think Lorca got far.'

Friday, 26 October 2007

European gay rights conference in Vilnius attacked by smoke bombs

*Update 27 October 2007
ILGA-Europe today released a statement saying that smoke bomb attack against gay club Soho, situated next to the conference venue, and where "many conference participants visited that night" was "misleadingly" linked by media to the conference. "While this was indeed a very unpleasant and potentially harmful incident, it appears it has no direct link to our conference and the participants were not targeted. We learned that very similar incidents took place at this club twice prior to the conference and although we do not know exactly the reasons, most locals and the delegates believe the smoke bomb is not linked to our conference." "We have to reassure all readers, that every single person at our conference is well and safe." "We feel sorry that the sensationalism element was switched on by some media and just want to reassure you all that everything is fine here in Vilnius."

I must say that this statement by ILGA-Europe is surprising, to say the least. They were the first to re-publish yesterday BBC report in full without providing any additional commentary. Now apparently they 'retracted' that report and accuse others in "sensationalism." Coincidence of this last attack to the conference and the fact that many delegates were inside the venue provided legitimate basis for BBC and others to link it with the conference. Whether it was linked or not, the fact of attack against the gay venue warranted its widespread coverage by media and condemnation.

In relation to the action organised by 9 protesters (see below), ILGA-Europe states that "The protesters were reasonably peaceful and many of them engaged in conversations with the security guards and even the conference participants. During the coffee break some conference participants equipped with smiles took their organisation’s banners and small rainbow flags and peacefully stood opposite the protesters. There was no confrontation, all were smiling and fascinated by the need of those 9 people to come to protest against the conference. " "Some delegates were wondering how come that the Rainbow Flag public event was banned, but those 9 people were allowed to come and protest outside the hotel. We quickly learned that according to Lithuanian laws on demonstrations there is no need for official permission if there are up to 9 people organising a public event and this made it clear to all of us why there were exactly 9 protesters."

ILGA-Europe reports that during the second day of the annual gay rights conference in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius nine protesters gathered outside the conference venue to protest against "propaganda of homosexuality". Delegates were greeted by "Go Home" posters. Over 200 representatives all over the Europe participate in the annual ILGA-Europe conference in Vilnius.

In the meantime, last night, conference delegates were attacked by smoke bombs. BBC reports that "delegates inside a local bar found it difficult to breathe after the smoke bombs were thrown, but had to stay inside because of safety concerns".

As posted in this blog few days ago, the public event to coincide with the Annual Conference and display a 30 meters long rainbow flag was banned by the Mayor of Vilnius. The Baltic Times reminds that Lithuania, along with neighbouring Poland, is regularly ranked among the most homophobic nations in the European Union.

A press officer for Mayor Juozas Imbrasas told the BBC the public gathering had been banned because of what she said were "safety concerns" due to building works. ILGA-Europe rejected the mayor's decision saying no alternative site had been offered to them and described the ruling as appalling. Executive Director Patricia Prendiville said "It is a positive duty of the city authorities to offer an alternative venue to the applicant and they did not do that.
"There is no doubt that the City of Vilnius used the construction works as a cover. "

Vladimir Simonko from the Lithuanian Gay League said, "There is unfortunately institutional homophobia in Lithuania. A recent survey of MPs revealed the majority of them have a negative attitude towards the gay community. It's hard work for us."

London Mayor Ken Livingston expressed his solidarity with European gays and condemned decision by Vilnius Mayor to ban a public LGBT event for the second time this year. [Earlier this year, in May, the Mayor of Vilnius refused to give permission for the anti-discrimination truck tour to visit Vilnius. It was a part of European Commission initiative All Different - All Equal campaign.] "I applaud the Lithuanian Gay League’s legal action against Vilnius City Council to overturn the ban and I hope that it succeeds."

Amnesty International also condemned attacks and Mayoral ban: "Amnesty International is deeply concerned by yesterday's attacks on the gay community in Vilnius, which saw the mayor ban a rally and a smoke bomb attack on a conference, and has called on the Lithuanian authorities to act."

Amnesty International said:

'Sadly these events are not a one off. Lithuania has repeatedly failed to protect and respect the rights of their gay community.

'To persecute people for their sexual orientation is to violate their fundamental human rights.

'Amnesty International calls on the Lithuanian authorities to respect the right to peaceful freedom of assembly for all, the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and to actively promote respect for diversity in their country.

'The Lithuanian authorities also need to offer adequate police protection to the country's gay community.'

*photo by ILGA-Europe

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Azeri contestant in the Mr Gay Europe 2007

To be honest, I am pretty much indifferent to all those Mr/Miss beauty contests, straight or gay. Well, at times it could be fun, but I'd rather watch Little Miss Sunshine instead (highly recommend it!). That's the reason that I did not follow Mr Gay Europe contest, and did not know or care who won it.

However, looking for completely irrelevant things, I came across Mr Gay Europe website and did not regret it. WOW, there was a participant from Azerbaijan in the Mr Gay Europe 2007 contest which took place in August in Budapest. He did not win any prize, but the only fact of participation is worth mentioning in this case. It is not Western Europe for you, it's South Caucasus country (predominantly Muslim) we are talking about, where homophobia is very high.

"I am proud to be able to represent Azerbaijan in the Mr. Gay Europe competition," says Sadikh Ragimov, 19, from Baku.

Sadikh Ragimov
Age: 19
Height: 169
City: Baku
Occupation: Student - School of business administration/New Port International University Film Directory/Plato Movie School
Hobbies: Cinema, Comics, Cooking, Drawing/Painting, GLBT activist, Music, Photography, Reading/Writing, Traveling.
Zodiac: Sagittarius

*source of picture and self-info on Sadikh Ragimov - Mr Gay Europe website

I looked at the history of this relatively new contest (was hosted for the first time in 2005) and got confirmation that he was the first delegate not only from Azerbaijan but also from South Caucasus to participate in the Mr Gay Europe contest. Believe me, for whatever reason he decided to participate, it was pretty big thing to do. Well done, Sadikh!

For all those who doubt that participation in the Mr Gay contests could be dangerous for life, here is example from EU member Poland related to Mr Gay Europe 2007 Polish contestant (based on news provided by the Mr Gay Europe):

"Even if only 21 proud men was on stage, the presenter referred to 22 men; the Polish Delegate was just before leaving for Budapest attacked and beaten severely in Warsaw, and was not able to take part in the finals. The Polish Delegate was however on the minds of the other 21 and was therefore mentioned as one of the group." I just hope that with the newly elected government things will change for better in Poland.

Anyway, for all those interested, Mr Gay Europe 2008 will take place again in Budapest, July 2-6.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Forced Out: LGBT People in Georgia and Azerbaijan

I mentioned earlier in my blog, and it's official now. Reports on LGBT life in Georgia and Azerbaijan have been formally released by ILGA-Europe and COC Netherlands. A truly historic event for gay rights movement in South Caucasus. For the first time ever, a comprehensive report on situation with LGBT people in South Caucasus states have been prepared based on fact-finding mission conducted locally. To my knowledge, similar report on Armenia is ready and will be released soon. Today I am posting formal joint releases by ILGA-Europe and COC Netherlands. I will review these reports later.


Georgia and Azerbaijan must stop discrimination and incitement to hatred and put in place an inclusive anti-discrimination law in line with Council of Europe and EU standards if they aspire to EU membership. This is according to the joint ILGA-Europe and COC Netherlands reports on the position of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in the two South Caucasian countries.

The comprehensive reports are the result of a joint fact-finding mission and reflect the vulnerable social and legal situation of LGBT people. They also reflect the position of national authorities and international organisations. Finally, the reports give a particular focus to lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people and give examples of human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The reports seek to raise awareness of European and international organisations, put pressure for positive change on national governments and encourage donors to support LGBT organising in these countries.

Patricia Prendiville, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said:

“The reports illustrate the vulnerable position of LGBT communities and the systematic nature of human rights violations against them. This situation runs against Georgia and Azerbaijan’s obligations under the European Convention for Human Rights and against European Union laws and values these countries have to respect if they aspire to EU membership in the future”.

Frank van Dalen, President of COC Netherlands, said:

“Upon completion of the fact-finding mission to South Caucasus, COC Netherlands with ILGA-Europe and other partners has started a five-year project aimed at strengthening LGBT movements in the Newly Independent States and prevention of HIV/AIDS in this community. First results give very positive hopes: where there has been hardly any movement before now there are strong, registered NGOs advocating for human rights and social equality and providing a range of services for the community”.


A high level of hostility towards same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities prevails in virtually every aspect of Georgian society. Many believe them to be a disease, some see them as a sin, others as a perversion. Human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are opposed by some prominent human rights defenders and other high-level figures. Stigmatisation is so pervasive that most LGBT people are forced out of communities, deprived of any chance to openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity, and suffer from discrimination and hate crimes. And yet they are forced to come out and organise into associations and groups if they want to be able to stand up for who they are.

This joint ILGA-Europe and COC report is the first of its kind to be published about same-sex relationships and LGBT people in Georgia. It explores identities, common human rights violations, the landscape of LGBT organising, health and HIV/AIDS, and relevant legal aspects. It also provides recommendations to the Georgian government, donors, LGBT activists and international organisations.

Full report on Georgia is available here


Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not invisible in the predominantly Muslim Azerbaijani society. Tens of transgender sex workers go into the main street of the capital city Baku every night, prominent showbiz figures barely hide their sexual orientation, mass media gives more space every day to the subject of sexual orientation and gender identities. And yet one should not be misled by this relative visibility: there is a price of estrangement from family, bullying, social exclusion, discrimination, blackmailing and hate crimes attached to it.

This joint ILGA-Europe and COC report is the first of its kind to be published about same-sex relationships and LGBT people in Azerbaijan. It explores identities, common human rights violations, the landscape of LGBT organising, health and HIV/AIDS, and relevant legal aspects. It also provides recommendations to the Azerbaijani government, donors, LGBT activists and international organisations.

Full report on Azerbaijan is available here

European gay activists gather for annual conference in Vilnius amid controversy

ILGA-Europe [European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association] members gather for annual conference in Vilnius, but their public event is banned by Mayor

On 25-28 October 2007, almost 200 delegates from all over Europe gather in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius for the 11th ILGA-Europe’s Annual Conference. While the Conference goes ahead, the Rainbow Flag public event planned by the Lithuanian hosts during the conference was banned by the Mayor of Vilnius. A legal challenge of the ban has been already initiated.

ILGA-Europe’s Annual Conference is traditionally an opportunity for ILGA –Europe members to gather together to discuss the organisational priorities, strategies and tactics on advancing equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Europe. The Annual Conference is also ILGA-Europe’s annual general meeting when new board members are elected and various organisational issues and documents are discussed and adopted. During this year’s conference the delegates will discuss ILGA-Europe’s strategic plan for 2008-2011.

During the conference’s workshops, plenary panels and sessions, a variety of subjects will be discussed: addressing the rights of LGBT people at the UN level, mental health needs of LGBT people, inclusion of trans issues in lobbying and advocacy work, reacting to religious right, making trade unions LGBT friendly, developing advocacy strategies, using video in monitoring LGBT human rights abuses, reconciling sexuality and spirituality, and many more topics.

Unfortunately, the public event to coincide with the Annual Conference and display a 30 meters long rainbow flag was once again banned by the Mayor of Vilnius. Instead the Rainbow Flag Reception inside the Conference hotel is taking place. Deborah Lambillotte, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, said:

“We are appalled that an EU member states repeatedly violates the right to a free and peaceful assembly. We are glad that the Lithuanian Gay League has already initiated legal proceedings against the Vilnius City Council which did not authorised the Rainbow Flag event during our conference. We hope that our conference and our presence in Vilnius will attract international attention and pressure on the Mayor of Vilnius. Our message is simple and clear – LGBT people have the same right to express their views and concerns publicly, and as any other citizen of the European Union, to enjoy the rights guaranteed in the Lithuanian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. We feel sorry that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in a similar case does not mean much to the Mayor of Vilnius and that the court rooms will need to be used to get this message to him."

* ILGA-Europe press release

P.S. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are included within the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). Main LGBT-related organisations from these countries are members of ILGA-Europe. Gay activists from all South Caucasus countries will participate in this conference.

Friday, 12 October 2007

AGLA France: Armenian gay rights organisation ceased to exist

Speaking to Unzipped: Gay Armenia blog, Micha Meroujean, Chairman of AGLA France, announced the closure of this prominent Armenian gay rights organisation. Sad news for anyone directly or indirectly related to AGLA France. Sad news for anyone who cares about LGBT rights in Armenia.

It was several years ago, when I googled “gay Armenia” and found AGLA France and GayArmenia.com website run by the Association. AGLA France was the only Diaspora organisation directly connected and involved in Armenia related gay rights issues. As Burma’s detained prominent human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi would say, “Please, use your liberty to promote ours". Of course, ‘liberty’ is very relative notion in this case since although living in much more tolerant French society, Diaspora LGBT Armenians have too had problems arising from conservative traditional Armenian families and communities – not exactly the most gay friendly environment, to say the least. However, I felt kind of secure by the fact that AGLA France exists. It felt like you are a child and you could always rely on your parents, you feel safe that they exist, you feel that you are not alone, you will get support when needed. It was fun place too, a place to meet other LGBT Armenians. "Aglushka", as some would lovingly refer to AGLA France in Russian. Well, it’s time to grow up.

Micha Meroujean: “What's urgent today is to get the Armenian LGBT out of closet!”

Artmika: I assume AGLA France was established for reasons. What were the reasons back then and why you decided to go forward with setting up gay rights organisation within Armenian Diaspora in France?

Micha Meroujean: My personal motivation for founding AGLA France back in 2001 was the widespread homophobia in Armenia. I, myself, fled Armenia in early 90s to find "security" in the West. It took me years to get my refugee status in Europe as a gay asylum-seeker. During many years I was indifferent to what was going on in Armenia, until once I stumbled on a news article about hate crimes in Armenia. The article was informing that in 2001 there were seven gays murdered in Armenia without specifying if all the victims were subject to a hate crime. That news shocked me and also has awakened my conscience. I said to myself that something needs to be done to change the situation in Armenia. This is how I started to look for other gay Armenians in Paris in order to establish an LGBT group. When AGLA was finally founded in December 2001, I realized that the Armenian Diaspora and the Parisian community, in particular, was very hostile to us. So we also decided to come out in the community and fight homophobia here as well. And especially to promote public awareness on our issues.

A: So what has changed now? What were the reasons behind the closure of AGLA?

M: I've been the Chairman since the very foundation. Last year, I asked our members to replace me since I was having difficulties to keep the activity going on. Being a leader of an organisation requires lots of time and personal implication on almost daily basis. Sometimes, it's a full time job (LOL). Unfortunately, nobody wanted to take these responsibilities and replace me, so I asked to close the organisation. It was a very difficult decision to take.

A: What would you consider the main accomplishments of AGLA France? Is there anything you are especially proud of?

M: There is nothing to be proud of. Unfortunately, there is lots of work yet to do in terms of LGBT rights in Armenia. We didn't really succeed to create an organisation in Armenia, neither to boost a gay movement. But there are many gays and lesbians who are eager today to make the step and start a group. I'd say the existence of AGLA has definitely changed the way gays were looking at themselves before. I mean the fact that there was Armenian LGBT group, even though in Spiurk (Diaspora), fighting homophobia and pressing the Armenian government, has changed the mindset and encouraged many to a better self-acceptance. The biggest achievement of AGLA is that we were the only Diaspora organisation doing pressure on the Armenian government and authorities in order to defend a minority group. When in 2003-2004 Armenia was caught up by ugly homophobic campaigns orchestrated by the leading political elite, we have used all our connections and networks to put pressure and we went also picketing in front of the Armenian embassy here in Paris. Nothing like that ever happened in Spiurk. AGLA also has co-sponsored the participation of the gays and lesbians from Armenia in the European LGBT network. For example, in 2005 we have invited two gay delegates from Armenia to participate in ILGA-Europe conference. Since then, some young gay people in Armenia now want to establish gay groups, and they take part in the European networks. In France, AGLA has been actively participating in the Armenian community's life. Meeting other associations, organising cultural events, fighting against the "genocide denialism" as well. During 4 years we have marched each 24th of April with Armenian and Rainbow flags. It was important to us that the local community sees gays and lesbians and accepts them. Many Armenian parents are rejecting their gay children here in the community. So we wanted to show to the parents but also to the children that you can be Armenian and gay at the same time and there is nothing to be ashamed of. We had also the support of many progressive local French-Armenian intellectuals. That was also a good point.

[a selection of photos from campaigns, picketing and demonstrations by AGLA France - at the end of the interview]

A: Now the opposite question, I suppose. Was there anything particular you regret you did not push for, you were not able to accomplish?

M: My biggest regret probably is that I didn't succeed to open the gay and lesbian center in Yerevan. But even now, after the closing AGLA, it still remains my dearest and also very personal project. I don't know yet how, but I'll try to help local LGBT people to build their center. There is a huge need for that.

A: Will you keep accessible AGLA France website with all its news, reports, forums etc? I think it will be a great pity to lose it, since it's a part of our history and contains important factual material. And what will happen with GayArmenia.com, AIDS Prevention in Armenia and The Pink webzine which are being run by you?

M: The website (including the AIDS prevention pages and the Pink webzine) will be archived and most probably remain accessible to visitors for at least another year. But the board has decided to remove some photographs and personal information from the existing content. GayArmenia.com will be separated and I'll take the domain name in order to create a community website - meeting place, social network - for the LGBT Armenians around the world. That's my next web project.

A: I know, there has not been yet an official announcement on closure, but what sort of reaction, if any, you got from within community, from people you worked with?

M: Most of people who heard about the closure of AGLA France have expressed their sadness. For many it was a surprise.

A: Why do you think no one expressed the desire to continue your work?

M: I think the main reason is that being a chairman requires lots of time investment. Another reason I think is that not many are ready to be in a public eye and assume the responsibilities it requires. I still think that the homophobia issue is still critical among Armenians. On the other hand, we have done lots of awareness work and the attitude of the community towards gays is not the same as it was in the beginning. Today it is much easier to be a chairman of AGLA then back in 2001. But still you should have a motivation and some courage to be a leader. Motivation comes first! Looks like we found no motivated people among the LGBT Armenians of France. Sad for us!

A: Any reaction from sister-organisations – GALAS, AGLA NY and so on?

M: As you know, we didn't announce yet officially, so there are no reactions. May be we will get some feedback after this interview is published.

A: You have unique experience and insight of both Armenia's and Diaspora's LGBT life. What are the most urgent and practical steps need to be done to develop gay rights movement in Armenia and Diaspora?

M: I think today Spiurk and Armenia are more connected and interacted than it was 15 years ago. In my view, the urgent actions should be taken in Armenia. The Diaspora Armenians, no matter where they live, they are dependant on the local situation. For example, being gay in France, US or even in Lebanon is much easier than being gay in Armenia. The Diaspora gay Armenians benefit from achievements of local gay movement while in Armenia there isn't any movement. There are some underground activities but no action on the surface. The urgency is to create an atmosphere in Armenia where local gays and lesbians can get together and create their groups. It's not only about activism. Not all gays and lesbians want to do activism; some want just get together and have fun. Even for this objective nothing exists yet. I think if there would be a Gay and Lesbian Center for non-profit organisations, if there would be some magazines, newspapers for LGBT people the situation will start changing. For the time being the whole gay community is in the closet. What's urgent today is to get the Armenian LGBT out of closet!

A: What is next for you, Micha? Any personal or activist plans?

M: As I said, the dearest project would be the opening of the LGBT Center in Yerevan, and my next web project is GayArmenia.com - an online meeting place.

A: And the last question. When can we expect a formal announcement from AGLA France?

M: You can consider this interview as a formal announcement. But our treasure is working now on formalities, paper work. When it's done, we will release a PR and we will also announce that the remaining money, something about 300 euros, will be transferred to the French-Armenian youth organisation "DA Connexion". This was the collective decision voted on September 23, 2007 ;)

A: Many thanks, Micha! Good luck and, please, keep posted on developments.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner to meet with Armenian LGBT representatives

For the first time, gay rights will be on the agenda of European Human Rights chief's visit to Armenia. On 7 October, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, will meet with representatives of We For Civil Equality (WFCE) NGO, the first (and so far the only) LGBT-related NGO in Armenia which was formally registered in July 2006. Mr Hammarberg will hold meetings with a range of Armenian human rights and non-governmental organisations, along with Armenian authorities, including president, prime minister and head of parliament. It's an important opportunity for Armenian LGBT representatives to present the situation with gay rights in Armenia in its broader context and lobby equality and anti-discrimination legislation.

Currently WFCE NGO is working on two main projects:

  • Prevention and Empowerment in the Newly Independent States: Responding to HIV/AIDS amongst Sexual Minorities (2006-2010. Funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Non official name is ARMENIAN RAINBOWS )
  • LGBT Human Rights violation documentation – “Armenian LGBT Human Rights Campaign”, funded by ILGA – Europe (European branch of International Lesbian and Gay Association).

A report on homophobic incidents and hate crimes in Armenia will come out soon. Similar reports, sponsored by ILGA-Europe, have just been released in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

A scope of activities by WFCE includes regular HIV consultation/testing, film screenings and occasional club nights in Yerevan. In collaboration with various international organisations, WFCE is also involved in HIV/AIDS and LGBT-related trainings.

I am pleased to see that WFCE website is now being updated more regularly and gives clearer idea of programmes and activities. However, Armenia and World News sections on its front page remain outdated and are in need of more actual face-lift.

WFCE NGO: Calendar of events for October

October 7

‘We For Civil Equality’ NGO will have a meeting with Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner who is in official visit in Armenia.

October 7-12

President of Moldova's LGBT organisation GenderDoc-M will be in Armenia

October 8

HIV consultation and testing

October 11

Film club

Below is the press release by A1+ on Hammarberg's visit to Armenia:

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, starts on Sunday 7 October a 5-day high-level official visit to Armenia to assess the human rights situation in the country.

At the centre of Mr Hammarberg's agenda there will be a broad range of human rights issues, including the functioning of the judiciary, conditions of detention, prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, minorities' rights, conscientious objectors, rights of refugees, social and economic rights. The visit will also focus on trafficking in human beings and vulnerable groups. Commissioner Hammarberg will visit various police stations, detention centres, shelters and psychiatric institutions in Yerevan and Gyumri.

During the visit, the Commissioner will hold meetings with the highest authorities of the State, including the President, Robert Kotcharian, the Prime-Minister, Serzhe Sargsyan and the Chairman of the Parliament, Tigran Torosyan. He will also meet parliamentarians, the Presidents of the Constitutional Court and the Cassation Court, the Ombudsman, local authorities, the Head of the Armenian Church, as well as representatives of the civil society.

On the afternoon of Thursday 11 October, Mr Hammarberg will hold a press conference to present the first findings (Council of Europe's Office in Yerevan - 10, David Anhagt street).

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Is AIDS stigma diminishing in Yerevan?

Just got a call from close relative who said that someone whom she knew died of AIDS in Yerevan… I might have known him too, although can’t remember for sure. Sad news. But what astonished me was the way she told me about it, without usual scare or hysteria of HIV/AIDS. She did it the way people usually announce tragic news. She, of course, added that this guy was known for his ‘irresponsible’ sexual behaviour. What also astonished me is the fact that everyone around knew that the guy died of AIDS-related complication.

Is this the indication that AIDS stigma is slowly fading away in our society? I wish I could believe it, but it may be just my relative, or just the fact that medical privacy is very relative in Armenia. I can’t help myself but ‘hear’ all those conversations within the crowd gathered for funeral, those comments about his ‘immoral behaviour’, you know, the usual stuff…

On the other hand, people did not turn their back to that family; friends, neighbours and relatives showed up for the ceremony to offer their support and condolences, which is encouraging. But you know, when someone dies we all are ready to ‘show’ our support. What is lacking at times is support to those who are alive…

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

New French anti-AIDS campaign ad - striking!

The human sand-glass (Le sablier humain)

Tagline: "Every 10 seconds, someone dies of AIDS in the world."

Director: Dimitri Daniloff

*French association against AIDS: Sidaction

European Trans People Being Surveyed for Major EU Research Project

Inequalities and discrimination issues across Europe to be highlighted

A Europe-wide survey of people who identify themselves as ‘trans’ – in the widest sense – is being undertaken this month and will be looking at inequalities and discrimination issues in the member states of the European Union.

European citizens who are trans people – including transvestite, transgender, a-gender, poly-gender, transsexual etc., are being invited to take part in the online survey.

Gay men and lesbians are urged to point their trans friends to the survey, which is completely anonymous.

“With this survey we want to get to know more about the situation of trans people – in the broadest possible sense – in Europe,” said Justus Eisfeld, chair of TransGender Europe. “It is extremely important that as many trans people as possible from all over Europe fill in this questionnaire. With the data we collect in this survey, we will finally know a lot more about the situation that trans people live in, and will be able to put a lot more pressure on politicians and other decision makers to do something about the sometimes horrible situations that way too many trans people in Europe live in.”

The results of the project will inform the European Union, together with many other public authorities across Europe, and help them develop new ways of promoting equality.

*via UKGayNews