Friday, 30 November 2007
"Annie Lennox has never been the sort of pop star to use her celebrity to get into fancy shops after hours or create overpriced clothing lines. She's proving yet again she wants to help those less fortunate with her new single "Sing" from her latest album Songs of Mass Destruction. To help raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness, Annie has also released special remixes of her single Sing to help raise funds for the HIV/AIDS organization Treatment Action Campaign.
Annie so rocks! Here is the video for "Sing" with an opening by Nelson Mandela."
She certainly rocks! For more - http://www.myspace.com/annielennoxsing
"SING MY SISTER SING
LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD"
World AIDS Day release of Sing – Saturday 1st December
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Friday, 23 November 2007
Eastern Europe and Central Asia
An estimated 150 000 people [70 000—290 000] people were newly infected with HIV in 2007 bringing the number of people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to 1.6 million [1.2 million-2.1 million] compared to 630 000 [490 000-1.1 million] in 2001, a 150% increase over that time period.
Nearly 90% of newly reported HIV diagnoses in this region in 2006 were from two countries: the Russian Federation (66%) and Ukraine (21%). Elsewhere, the annual numbers of newly reported HIV diagnoses are also rising in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (which now has the largest epidemic in Central Asia). Of the new HIV cases reported in 2006 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for which there was information on the mode of transmission, nearly two thirds (62%) were attributed to injecting drug use and more than one third (37%) were ascribed to unprotected
- South Caucasus
Increasing numbers of new HIV cases are being reported in each of the Caucasian republics. In Georgia, more than half (60%) of the 1156 registered HIV cases to date were reported in the past three years (2004–2006), and the annual number of newly registered HIV infections has risen each year (EuroHIV, 2007).
Similar patterns are evident in Armenia’s smaller epidemic (EuroHIV, 2007), where most reported HIV infections have been among injecting drug users (almost all of them men). HIV prevalence of about 9% was found among injecting drug users, whereas prevalence of less than 2% was found among female sex workers (Armenian National AIDS Foundation, 2006).
Almost half (47%) of all HIV infections documented in Azerbaijan’s relatively recent epidemic were reported in 2005–2006 (EuroHIV,2007). Almost half of the HIV cases registered by 2006 were in the capital, Baku, where 13% of injecting drug users tested HIV-positive in a 2003 survey (WHO, 2006b). In addition, high prevalence of HIV (9%) and other sexually transmitted infections (9% syphilis and 63% chlamydia) has been found among female sex workers, among whom condom use appears to be infrequent (WHO, 2006b).
Full report is available here
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
It was sad to announce the closure of AGLA France a month ago, but it's pretty symbolic that with this interview, there will be an announcement of the re-launch of the website of another prominent Armenian LGBT organisation – Armenian Gay & Lesbian Association of New York (AGLA NY), with exciting and broad agenda.
Today Unzipped: Gay Armenia is speaking to Christopher Atamian, President of AGLA NY, to discuss the changes in the organisation, gay rights and life in Armenia and Diaspora, and a groundbreaking conference on LGBT rights in the Caucasus, which is being organised by AGLA NY. He has been President of AGLA NY for a little over one year (15 months) now.
Before going to the questions, I asked Christopher Atamian to introduce himself, provide with a brief biography. I am glad that Chris agreed. It amazes me how many talented people we have in our community and how little we know about them (if know at all).
I was born in New York City. I attended Harvard University, USC Film School and Columbia Business School. I am a former Fulbright, Gulbenkian and Bronfman Scholar. After working ten years in corporate media, where I was last CMO of BKL Media, I started True Faux Productions two years ago: we produced Trouble in Paradise which won a 2007 Obie (!) and are planning to move it to Off-Broadway and eventually Broadway. I have made three short films that have screened from LA to Armenia and I write for leading publications including The New York Times (This past weekend I had a feature in Arts and Leisure) and The New York Press where I was the Dance Critic for two years. I was recently included in “Forgotten Bread: First Generation Armenian American Authors” and translated Nigoghos Sarafian’s “Vinceni Andaruh” from Western Armenian into English. I have just completed a first novel and I am working on a book called “Deconstructing Ararat: Aesthetization, Diaspora and Identity in Armenian Film” I also started Nor Alik, a leading cultural organization which produces Making an Armenian Difference, a Film, Performance and Lecture series. I am single and live in NYC.
Christopher Atamian: "We need to tell bigots and people who would pretend we don't exist that it’s not all right to ignore us. "
Artmika: This Thursday (15 November) sees the launch of AGLA NY new website. However, my take is that it is not just a revamp of the website, say, making it more functional or changing colours/design, but rather a re-launch of the Association per se with a broader agenda.
Christopher Atamian: That is partly true. We’re lucky to have had five past presidents who kept the flame alive, so to speak. But up until now, we’ve remained mainly a social organization. And although that is one very important function for a gay and lesbian association, it seemed to me that we could do a lot more. So in a short period for time with the help of a committed group of core members, we’ve started a Coming Out Committee; an enhanced web site; a newsletter and all sorts of fun, interesting, upcoming events. I’m most proud of the Conference that we are organizing in 2008 on LGBT Rights in the Caucasus, which will be the first of its kind in the world.
A: AGLA NY has recently changed its status to "non-profit". Could you tell a bit more about it and what would it mean to your members and broader LGBT Armenian community?
C: It simply means that we will be able to raise money and that the moneys raised will be tax-deductible. Hopefully that means that we will be able to build a healthy endowment for the organization and increase the breadth and depth of our programs.
A: Who can become a member of AGLA NY? I noticed you have two membership levels – "friends of AGLA NY" which is free, and "AGLA NY member" for a small fee. What is the difference between these two levels of membership?
C: Like any organization, there are costs for events, meeting spaces, websites and other activities. We wish that weren't the case but it’s a reality for any non-profit organization. As a result, we request that members pay a membership dues to join. But we also recognize that not everyone can afford that nominal fee, so we also offer another level of association with our group. However, only dues paying members may join the executive or vote.
A: What about plans for scholarships for deserving Armenian students which you announced on your website? Who will be eligible for it?
C: We are taking our cue from GALAS LA, though this is something that I have wanted to do from the beginning. We may or may not name the scholarships after one or more gay and lesbian Armenians who have unfortunately passed away. As of now, the plan is just to eventually establish these scholarships. We have to first raise the money and then endow the scholarships. That being said, anyone reading this interview who would like to endow a scholarship should feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
We assume that any member of our community - gay or otherwise - will be able to apply. I am a firm believer in education and can’t stress how important I think it is for Armenians to increase their presence in our nation’s leading educational establishments.
A: For the fifth year now you participated in Gay Pride parade in NY this summer, and you plan to have your own float next year, for the first time. How important is it for you to participate in Pride events in NY? Could you picture similar event in Yerevan, say, in a year, 10 years…?
C: It’s very important. Our presence, no matter how small, sends a message to the general public and to the Armenian community as well. This year we plan to have a float and over 25 people participate. It ‘s going to be quite fabulous.
Yerevan has a long way to go. There are so many problems in Armenia, from poverty to lack of democracy to a looming renewal of conflict with Azerbaijan. But people continue to live and gay people deserve to live open, free lives as well. In this respect - and in others - the Armenian government says one thing and does another.
Like its neighbor the Republic of Turkey - I'm sad to say - it pays lip service to Council of Europe/EU laws, in this case civil rights legislation which guarantees LGBT people equal rights under the constitution. In reality gay people are persecuted there, although a small somewhat "out" group exists. I can’t say that much progress has been made, though to be honest I have not been back to Armenia in 3 years. But reports are not overly positive. We in the Diaspora can put some pressure - not much perhaps - on the government there to respect the laws they are sworn to uphold. And as a persecuted people, it behooves us as Armenians to be models of tolerance.
A: For me, the most important project AGLA NY put forward for the coming year is organization of a conference on LGBT rights in Caucasus. If successful, it would be one of the most significant events for gay rights movement in Armenia and the region. Could you provide more details? Also, is there any date set up for the conference?
C: Yes, we hope it will be a groundbreaking event. We plan to have sponsors and to hold it in a University setting. The Conference will be guided by a committee that is yet to be decided and will include an array of members from the New York-area Armenian and non-Armenian communities. That’s all I can say for now. Details to follow.
[from AGLA NY website (as of 14 November 2007): "AGLA NY is organizing the first-ever conference on LGBT rights. This is a crucial event and a first in the history of Armenia and the surrounding region. As you can imagine, given the persecution that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people face in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Abkhazia, this conference is of vital importance. We will be partnering with leading national and international organizations and bringing as much visibility as possible world-wide to issues of discrimination and human rights in the region. The conference will also draft an open letter to the Presidents of all four republics demanding that they apply EU laws regarding LGBT rights that they already have on the books, and publishing conference findings in the local and Armenian press. We need people to help organize the event, do PR for it and to (wo)man the event. It's a great learning opportunity as well, and as we are now a non-profit organization, we will offer college internship or community credit for our younger volunteers!"]
A: Maybe I am wrong, but my impression is that until now the main focus of AGLA NY was on local issues with LGBT Armenians. However, now you are shifting your attention to broader Armenian and outer community issues. What is behind this shift?
C: Again, up until now, AGLA NY was mainly a social organization and I think that this disappointed certain people. So we are doing all sorts of things now and enlarging both our social events (we’re holding a bang-up fundraiser in 2008) and other events, like the conference. Last year, under my impetus, we also participated with the Armenian Network, the ASA and the AGBU YP’s in the annual Armenian Thanksgiving Dance and donated over $1,000 raised to Fund for Armenian Relief’s efforts to help Armenians who suffered during the Israeli bombings of Lebanon. And why shouldn’t we? We are both Armenian after all and gay, so we should be active in both those aspects of our identities.
A: What was your reaction to the closure of AGLA France announced in this blog a month ago?
C: It’s very sad, but I am not surprised. Our communities are small, so keeping organizations alive is a Herculean task at times. (Also, we have to learn to be more politically active: we can be more active in every respect than we currently are, both in terms of the number of people who participate in Armenian cultural and fundraising activities and in terms of the amount of money we donate to support our organizations.) But I can’t speak specifically to Micha’s particular situation in France. I hope that AGLA France will re-open if possible.
A: I'd like to ask you the same question I asked Micha Meroujean of AGLA France. What are the most urgent and practical steps need to be done to develop gay rights movement in Armenia and Diaspora?
C: To speak out! To be present and in everyone’s faces. We’ve been taught to hide and that is wrong. We need to tell bigots and people who would pretend we don't exist that it’s not all right to ignore us. We have a right to be present, and to be married and to have families if we so choose. And if you look at Armenian cultural production, our people owe a great debt to LGBT people, from Tekeyan and Paradjanov on down to the current generation of writers and artists. In the recent book "Forgotten Bread: First Generation Armenian American Writers," for example, there were three contributors out of 15 who are members of our small AGLA NY Group. That's an amazing statistic, if you think about it.
A: NY is one of the most liberal cities in the world in terms of equality and visibility for gay people. I suppose, for gay Armenians in New York the main problem will come from their 'Armenian' part, rather than New Yorker. How easy is it to be gay Armenian in NY?
C: You know being gay is difficult, period. Everything from marriage laws, to health insurance issues, to the passing on of wealth is made difficult for us. Meeting people is more difficult. Gay people still are discriminated against and my generation - people roughly 35 to 45 - were taught that there was something wrong with them, that being gay was bad, so that there is a high rate of depression, addiction and self-hatred in our communities which makes things very difficult. I think younger people in their 20s have it slightly easier now. But I still think it’s not a cake walk. Look at Matthew Shepard. And you can still get attacked in NYC or called a faggot in the street: not pleasant things.
A: And back to the re-launch. On 15th November you will honor the contribution of past presidents of the Association. How many presidents has AGLA NY had, and are they still connected with the organization? What would be your message to them
C: My message to them is simple: thank you. There are 5 past presidents and myself and I think at least 4 will be present on November 15th, at last count. And yes, three of them still come to meetings on a regular basis. They and other members of the group have become like family to me.
A: Many thanks, Chris! And congratulations to you and to all of us for this new exciting agenda of AGLA NY.
Friday, 9 November 2007
This was designed specifically for British schools but universal in its message.
Thursday, 8 November 2007
The following message I received this morning from a prominent human rights activist in Georgia:
"I am not supporting any political power. However, what happened yesterday was very ugly. State of emergency that is declared now is limiting our basic human rights. I do not get any information. Please sign this petition following the link bellow."
Please sign and distribute the following petition as wide as possible
Below is a full text of the petition. Please, follow the link above and sign it.
Stop abuses by the government of Georgia
The Government of President Saakashvili has revealed its authoritarian nature, ordering SWAT teams to violently curb peaceful protest in streets of Tbilisi.
On November 7, 2007 at approximately 5 am Georgian SWAT teams violently dispelled a peaceful manifestation outside the building of Parliament in Tbilisi. Police used teargas, water, rubber bullets and blunt force clubs against peaceful demonstrations.
Opposition leaders who were engaged in a hunger strike and lying on the street were severely beaten. Koba Davitashvili of People’s Party and singer George Gachechiladze are in hospitals in critical conditions. Others face the risk of prosecution on the charges of treason.
Around 5 p.m., riot police again attacked opposition demonstrators who had gathered some kilometers away from the Parliament.
508 people had sought emergency assistance due to injuries and gas poisoning. Some of them are in critical condition. Georgia’s ombudsman, Sozar Subari, was also attacked by riot police with rubber truncheons. Riot police later raided the private television station, Imedi TV and forced it and the Kavkasia television station to stop broadcasting. Later in the evening, the government declared the state of emergency and suspended a number of legal rights. Electronic and print media was prohibited to cover news stories.
For the moment, members of the Parliamentary Majority and the President have made statements, threatening to arrest those that speak against the clampdown.
The protest rally started on November 2, 2007, when tens of thousands of protestors, led by the 10-party opposition coalition, gathered outside the parliament on Tbilisi’s main street. The protest organizers had informed the government of their intention to gather at the parliament building, as required under Georgian law.
Several thousand protestors continued to demonstrate peacefully for five days outside the parliament. They demanded timely parliamentary elections and reform of the election management body and voting system.
We, undersigned, call on the international community:
1) to interfere urgently in the crisis in Georgia to prevent further casualties and deterioration of situation;
2) to condemn massive violation of human rights by the law enforcement agencies of Georgia;
3) to pressure the Georgian government to stop persecution of opposition members and dissenters;
4) to influence President Mikhail Saakashvili and his government to cancel emergency rule and remove ban from the media;
5) to compel the Georgian government to release all political prisoners.
“Even in a time of crisis, Georgians have a right to protest peacefully without being beaten by the police,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Firing rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators is a complete abuse of the use of force. The government does not have a carte blanche to restrict fundamental freedoms just because it is in crisis.”
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Here is just a small excerpt from this chilling documentary about 'proud' confessions of a father who killed his son:
"I found out he was gay. I killed my son and now I am considered a hero by my friends. I hanged him in my house, in front of his brother to give an example to him and to prevent him from doing the same."
He was charged for murder but soon was released after his lawyer explained why he committed his crime. Apparently, new Iraqi constitution states that a person who commits the crime to restore the honour of the family should be exempt from the prosecution.
This short film entitled "Queer Fear - Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq". After watching it you will understand that "Gay Life" part of the title is pretty much irrelevant here... (thanks UKGayNews for the link)
Read UKGayNews article on how you can help LGBT Iraqis here
Saturday, 3 November 2007
For the first time ever, in Tbilisi gay guy came out in public during a reality TV show. He was immediately expelled from that show. No news then, some would say. That’s how things are in the South Caucasus. True. But the only fact of coming out in public was significant itself. I want to praise this courageous 20 yrs old guy from Tbilisi. His name is Pako Tabatadze. This case received a widespread coverage in media, both local and international. Perhaps, the best coverage in terms of understanding the subject matter and professionalism was by RFE/RL.
“Pako Tabatadze had dreams of stardom. Tabatadze, a 20-year-old dance teacher, was among 12 young Georgians selected to compete in the fourth season of "GeoBar." The popular reality television show, a Swedish import that purports to promote social diversity in a former Soviet republic, features "real-life" characters who live and work together as they vie for the chance to run a fashionable bar. But when Tabatadze came out, his dream ended.”
However, not everything was as straightforward as it may seem. There was a big deal of manipulation involved in this whole story. Manipulation by certain people, producers of that reality show, who played on person’s desire to lead an open life as gay man and stage-managed his actions for their own purposes. Basically, they used him to boost the show’s ratings, and then threw him away.
As perfectly pointed out by RFE/RL reporter, “his sexual orientation [was] apparently too "real" for reality television.”
“He says the show's producers selected him largely because he is gay. But they then turned around and kicked Tabatadze off, telling him that the network had received disapproving calls from the public and the Georgian Orthodox Church following his debut.
"It was the show's producers who told me [to come out] - they told me they would include me in the project if I was going to admit that I was gay," Tabatadze said. "Of course they knew that this was going to cause quite a stir. If they didn't want me, they should not have let me into the project. But if they wanted me, then why did they kick me out?"
“In the course of the show, Tabatadze performed a provocative dance and declared his sexual orientation -- all in keeping, he says, with the producers' efforts to mold his image into that of the stereotypical, effeminate, gay man.
"They gave me new a haircut, shaved one side and put my name on my head," he said. "When I went to shoot the opening clip, I hated the makeup they gave me, and didn't want to be filmed like that. But they said if I didn't want to do it, I could leave."
According to Pako, he intended to come out in another TV show in few weeks. However, producers lured him into doing so in their programme, under their terms. Certainly, Pako was also partly to blame since he ‘allowed’ these manipulations happened. However, do not forget, on the one side of this story is a young, inexperienced, ambitious man who wanted fame, but who also wanted to live his life openly as gay man. An easy target for manipulations. On the other side are show biz producers who make living out of exploiting people’s sensibilities and personal circumstances.
"GeoBar" is a program that should primarily show young people's relationships and their struggle for success from a positive angle," Koba Davarashvili, director of Rustavi2 TV which hosts the show, was quoted as saying by the Georgian English-language daily The Messenger, adding that one person's "social problem" should not be the focus. Can this statement go any more ridiculous – “one person’s social problem”, “positive angle”?! What is so negative with young person’s desire to live his life openly? Director of Rustavi2 TV since was resigned to “return to business”, whatever that means. It’s not clear whether his resignation has anything to do with this case.
Paata Sabelashvili, head of Georgia's only LGBT rights group Inclusive Foundation, says overcoming the public's negative perception of homosexuals is a tremendous challenge. "In this respect, things have always been difficult in Georgia, for it was only seven years ago that homosexuality was decriminalized -- and this has left a significant mark on the public mentality," Sabelashvili said. "On top of this, there is no reliable source of mass information on this issue, and the media are openly homophobic. Hence, society regards homosexuality as limited to [the public's] understanding of it as a disease, crime, debauchery, or sin. These four definitions are predominant in relation to homosexuality." Change “Georgia” to “Armenia”, and you won’t need to change anything else in this statement, except that gay male sex was decriminalised in Armenia two years later, at the end of 2002.
Inclusive foundation in Georgia did a good job in compiling homophobic statements by officials and media monitoring. As I understand, this monitoring is to be continuous.
There are unconfirmed reports about calls from Georgian Orthodox church or government intervened by demanding Pako’s dismissal from the show. There are even speculations that “the Patriarch called President Saakashvili who then contacted the administration of the TV company.”
Pako Tabatadze is considering a legal action against discrimination. If unsuccessful locally, he may consider appeal to European Court in Strasburg. If this case goes to court, it perhaps will be the first case in the South Caucasus when gay man takes a case to a court against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In fact, as I learned, the Inclusive Foundation, LGBT rights NGO in Georgia, forwarded this case to the Ombudsman's office. I understand that Ombudsman’s office is currently studying the case.
Georgia is the only country in the South Caucasus who has specific article in the Labour Code (adopted in 2006) that explicitly outlaws discrimination of employees on the basis of sexual orientation. But who cares what is written in legal documents. What is more important is what Patriarch says. Forget about state/church division. The intrusion of Georgian church into the state affairs and as a ‘nation’s moral guardian’ is increasing to the frightening levels.
Pako says he has openly lived as a gay man for quite some time and has found acceptance among his family and friends. "Now, when walking down the street, I have to hang my head low." As Georgia Today reports “since his debut on Bar 4 [a reality TV show] he is now commonly subjected to abusive comments on the streets of Tbilisi.”
The only ‘encouraging’ fact of this story was that apparently that show biz producer did not think that being out gay will ruin his career, although he probably assumed that it would do quite a big harm to married singer Kerim. But hey, it’s an entertainment field we are talking about, where, as opposed to ordinary world, being gay, to some extent, is considered not so ‘deplorable’, even in Azerbaijan. The same is true for other ex-Soviet countries, including Armenia. We have our famous in/out singers (and not only) too.
Another talked about in various forums case of ‘outing’ was allegedly conspired by students of one of Armenian main universities. A ‘profile’ of the head of university, including his mobile phone number, was posted in one of popular Armenian gay personals sites.
I remember years ago newly established Armenia TV at least twice invited gay Armenians for a talk show. It was quite a step from that TV station, perhaps the fist time when gay issues were publicly discussed in presence of gay person. In one instance it was a guy who covered his face with a mask, for obvious reasons. However, the other guy was not afraid of being there openly and spoke out his life story without any cover. These were THE DAYS when I thought something is going to change in Armenia. And I remember that despite various misunderstandings and occasional homophobia in the audience, it was possible for organisers to create more or less healthy environment there. Unfortunately, early promises for Armenia TV did not live up long, these shows were scrapped (I assume, partly due to some rumours going on back then). Since then, it was pretty much steady downfall for Armenia TV, which became anything but innovative, diverse, and fresh. Interestingly, I do not remember any public outrage back then, there were discussions afterwards, especially among students and younger generation, but nothing particularly hateful that I could recall.
It was important back then and important now to increase gay visibility in a society, to ‘expose’ people to ordinary gay men and women, to educate public so that being gay would eventually become something ordinary, and not only an exclusive for entertainment field. My impression is that our society became less tolerant over the past few years.