Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Aravot newspaper: Routine homophobia on ‘behalf’ of Armenian bloggers

Thanks to the post made by Nazarian, I noticed this article by Aravot daily (in Armenian).

They dislike political games and disregard homosexuals

(title of Aravot article on blogging in Armenia)

What on earth homosexuals have to do with an article on blogging in Armenia, one may wonder. The answer is simple. Journalist Tatev Harutyunyan probably worried that her article on blogging would not attract much attention, so she had to sensationalise it, to spice things up. What else could be more attention grabbing than gay-related headline or homophobic rhetoric? Nothing, apparently.

The whole article was based on mentioning few Armenian blogs within the LiveJournal’s vibrant community and then an interview with blogger Uzogh (aka Ruben Muradyan). And it was from his words she somehow managed to build up that title, although as I understand from Uzogh’s subsequent post, it’s not blogging she was really interested in, but rather who bloggers support for presidential elections in Armenia and… ‘minortities’ as she put it – meaning gays. I am not going to go into the details related to the blogging part of that article, it is full of over-generalisations and mistakes, although I must admit that it’s one of the rare reflections of blogging and bloggers in Armenian media. However, Aravot journalist did not even bother making at least brief research on a subject matter (blogging) she was writing. What I want to do here is to discuss the issue of routine homophobia.

I was not surprised in relation to Aravot newspaper’s periodic ‘masterpieces’. Last spring it published an ill-informed and blatantly homophobic article on gay people in Armenia, ironically rightly stating that gay life is pretty much hidden in our country without even realising (?) that it’s partly because of media attitudes like theirs, that gay men and women prefer remaining ‘in closet’ (“hidden”).

Therefore, my first reaction was disappointment, not with the Aravot but with blogger Uzogh who I thought agreed to be published under that title…

I met Uzogh and couple of other bloggers in Yerevan for pre-New Year drinks. We had very pleasant time together. I still have good memories of our get-together. I did not specifically raise gay related issues there, because I thought it was not the occasion, although the topic came out naturally due to recent protest action by few bloggers, including Uzogh, who protested against Azerbaijani Days in Armenia and handed in soaps to organisers. Uzogh re-assured then that their last ‘soap action’ was not intended to be homophobic. And I believed him, although I would certainly prefer if bloggers use other than soap symbolic for their action, as soap in that context for any local Armenian (as perhaps opposed to foreigners or Diaspora Armenians) instantly associated with negative connotation related to gay people, in a kind of routine, but not always obvious way.

When asked by Aravot journalist what do Armenian bloggers write about “minorities”, implying gays, Uzogh (who was apparently considered in this article as a sort of voice of bloggers) answered: “There are more serious issues we discuss. What do you want us to write about gays [in original Armenian version – normally derogative shortened Russian use of ‘homosexual’ –‘gomik’]?.. how great that they exist? or let’s go beat them?..” So here we are: based on Uzogh’s answer, Aravot journalist concluded that Armenian bloggers “disregard homosexuals”. I wonder how would she categorise me or many other Armenian bloggers who certainly do not fit into that description?

I am glad that Uzogh clarified in his blog (in Russian) that the published version of the interview is over-generalisation and misinterpretation of his words.

However, what concerns me most is the widespread use of derogative references, e.g. Armenian or Russian versions of ‘faggot’ etc, by many Armenian bloggers in LiveJournal community. Some use it because of direct homophobic insults they want to cause; others use these words without specific homophobic connotation, just because they used to, because our everyday language is full of this sort of ‘labels’. Language is funny and at times dangerous thing: flexible, rigid, hiding or exposing. Overall, language is a good proxy of the social state of society, and in this case a proxy indication of the level of homophobia in our society, on very routine level.

Only when people start thinking twice before using derogatory language (like they do now in case of race references), it would mean that at least on formal society level it is not OK to insult people based on their differences.

People who routinely use these derogatory, homophobic references should understand that behind the ‘labels’ are people, like me, you…

Let's go to modern Russia, and here we are, we all - Armenians, or in fact any other Caucasus people, gay or straight, are minorities. There also a widespread use of routine hatred language there, in relation to non Russians, people of Caucasus origin, people who are different, whether in media or in everyday life. It also became an important proxy indicator of the level of racism and intolerance in Russia. We justifiably protest it, and unfortunately witness what are becoming frighteningly routine racist killings.

Intolerance towards one minority group generates intolerance towards other… creating the sort of environment where extreme right-wings, religious fanatics and others find it’s OK to attack foreigners or ethnic minorities, it’s OK to attack gay and lesbians, it’s OK to attack people with different opinions, political opponents, human rights activists, it’s OK to attack journalists…


Ruben Muradyan said...

Dear Mika,
I want to re-state, that I have no any special way to treat homosexual people.
I really felt like an idiot, because there's no special attention to homosexuals in russian-language armenian blogosphere. Again, she wants me to speak on behalf of all, and I always tried to bring this conversation to my personal thoughts and ideas. Anyway this article is what it is, and I'm really sorry if it makes people to feel bad.

artmika said...

Dear Ruben,

I appreciate you comment and clarification. I am sure it was not your personal intention the way this article came out. It’s becoming an unfortunate reality with the Aravot daily which claims to be ‘liberal’ newspaper, but at the same time sticks with blatant homophobia.

And I tried to look at what happened in a broader context of the use of language in our blogosphere, in general, asking my fellow bloggers to be sensitive with it.

Anonymous said...

Hi! :) I'm a bit confused about whether this post was written by you or if it's a translation of the article?

artmika said...

Oh, no, it's not a translation of the article. I wrote this post in reflection to that Armenian-language publication. I consider my post as a kind of open letter to Armenian bloggers especially at LiveJournal, in relation to use of language in posts or comments.