Friday, 31 October 2008

Bizarre discovery in Washington, D.C.

Here is what you may spot in the drawer of a 5-star hotel in Washington, D.C. This may be pretty “routine” here, but for me it was pretty shocking (in a laughing kind of way) to spot “Holy Bible” and “The Book Of Mormon” there. Bizarre! Do not say I did not warn you :)

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Armenia: The Status of Women (government statement)

Just came across this statement on the Status of Women by Armenian official at the UN conference. Although made at the beginning of 2008 (February), it was passed generally unnoticed partly due to the worst ever political crisis (post-presidential election) that Armenia was experiencing back then. However, this statement is still worth considering as a reflection of government's position on the issue, albeit over-optimistic and only partial reflection of the reality.

Statement by Ms. Nouneh Zastoukhova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

UN 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women
Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the 23rd special session of the General Assembly entitled: "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the 21st century". Implementation of strategic objectives and action in critical areas of concern and further actions and initiatives: financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women

(28 February, 2008)

The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia is the main warrant of equality between all its citizens, irrespective of their gender, race, ethnic or social background, language, religion, and political or other views.

There are no legal acts in RA that are discriminatory against women.

Armenia ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1993 and 2006 ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention. The Convention on Political Rights of Women is currently in the process of being ratified by the RA. Within the period of 2004-2006 Armenia ratified a number of Conventions and Protocols of ILO and Council of Europe, which directly or indirectly deal with the issue of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

On December 27, 2007 Armenia submitted to the CEDAW Committee it's third and forth Periodic Reports, covering the period 2002-2008 and providing the information on the legislative and institutional measures taken by the state to improve the situation of women in the society, including through the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and equality between men and women.

In 2003 the Armenian Government approved the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper and adopted the 2004-2010 National Action Plan on Enhancing Women's Status and Empowering Women in Society. Currently the PRSP is being revised to enhance gender related activities in it among others.

To cut down unemployment in the country the State Employment Service undertook a number of actions in 2007, including:
a. providing job for around 3800 unemployed persons, among which 56% were women
b. providing social payments for unemployment
c. organizing training courses for unemployed and persons with disabilities, etc.

As a result of the program on Social support and optimization at schools, more than 1700 unemployed teachers obtained job, and 93% of those were women. In 2008 the salaries of teachers and university professors have been raised by 2 1 %.

In 2008 the Government is planning to increase social payments to around 145000 unemployed (among which 70% are women); to organize paid public works for them (35% are women); as well as to organize vocational trainings for handicapped (40% are women) and for around 1400 unemployed (65% women). The Government partially compensates employees for recruiting unemployed people from vulnerable social groups (45% women), as well as provides financial assistance to unemployed to start entrepreneurship activities (40% women). In comparison with 2007 the Government will increase the budget for those programs by 70% in 2008.

In cooperation with international and foreign organizations and through special state programs in 2002-2006, more than 16 thousand beginning and active entrepreneurs received assistance, 24% women. The results showed that women entrepreneurs are more active in making use of the provided credit, training, consultative and other similar assistance programs.

An important factor of improving the living conditions of women in rural areas is the creation of employment opportunities outside of the agricultural sector, which is provided for by the Strategy for Sustainable Development of Agriculture for the period until 201 5. The Government in cooperation with the international organizations is undertaking certain measures to provide low-interest credit availability, encourage entrepreneurship among women living in rural areas, as well as further promotion of their economic empowerment.

Armenia's Gender Index is relatively high, and the main component keeping it such is the equal involvement of women in education. Armenia currently meets the MDG2 for education.

Although the RA legislation ensures equal political rights for men and women, and the Election Code provides a quota of 15% to women running through the proportional representation lists, instead of the 5% in the past, it should be noted that in practice under-representation of women at the levels of decision-making is still observed. In the National Assembly there are only 11 % are women. Three of them are occupying higher posts: the post of the Vice-chairman of the National Assembly, Chair and Vice-Chair of Standing Committees. We have only one woman-Minister, two Deputy Ministers and one Regional Governor. A more balanced representation of men and women is observed in the mid levels of government.

The law on "Medical care and population medical service" guarantees women and men equal rights to medical care. Furthermore, maternal and child health care are one of the main priorities of the Government's social policy. The Government annual programs guarantee free medical care and service to women from low income groups during their pregnancy, delivery, and emergencies.

One of the main concerns of the Government for women's health and quality health care is the ratio for maternal mortality. Though it dropped in comparison with 90s, but still is too high: 19 per 100 000 live births.

The Government increased the financing for women health care by 65% in 2008 in comparison with 2007. Although the gender situation in Armenia does not feature severe inequalities, there are still challenges, including the improvement of social-economic conditions of more than 300 000 refugees and IDPs (more than half of them are women and children) as a result of unleashed war. These issues require systematic work and concerted efforts.

*source: UN

Azerbaijan: Sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination

Universal Periodic Review, UN Human Rights

Sexual relations between men in Azerbaijan were decriminalized since January 2001 possibly due to it being a pre-requisite for Council Europe membership.[1]

Transgender women who sell sex on the streets are the group which has the highest level of abuse from both law enforcement bodies and society. Gender reassignment surgeries and hormonal therapy are not possible in Azerbaijan which considerably limits transgender women’s access to employment. Organizations working on LGBT issues in Azerbaijan report constant police abuse of transgender sex workers including arbitrary detention, blackmailing, physical and sexual violence. Sex work is not criminalized in Azerbaijan but police frequently conducts raids. In May 2007 28 transgender sex workers aged 18 to 37 were forcibly detained and taken to a police station were they were forcibly tested for STIs and HIV. During the raid they were severely beaten and there were two gun shots made into the air to scare them. The next day they were tried in court for ‘not following police orders’ and sentenced to three days of prison detention. Their parents were not allowed to be in the court during the trial and the NGO representatives had difficulty accessing the detention facility. Personal belongings taken during the raid were not returned to their owners. The case was reported to Azerbaijani Ombudsman’s office but no response was received or action taken.

Transgender women are forced to use self-harm as a means to avoid detention and sometimes agree to cooperate with police by providing phone numbers and personal data of their clients. Police uses this information to blackmail the clients and clients beat the sex workers angry that their ‘secret’ was discovered. NGOs report at least one case of a murder of transgender sex worker in retaliation.

Most lesbian, gay, bisexual and (LGBT) people live with their families because of family pressure and social norm that a child should live with their natal family until they found their own family. Very few LGBT people tell their families about their sexual orientation or gender identity fearing being disowned or forcibly married. Many migrate to the capital city to escape family pressure and control.[2] In case of their sexual orientation or gender identity is revealed by police or by accidental situation, there were cases of violence and kicking out of the house or forced marriage.

Until now there is no place for LGBT people to gather except for the office of an NGO that focuses its work on LGBT issues. Society largely believes that LGBT people are sick and immoral. It would be unsafe to run an LGBT-friendly venue because the general public could use violence against the clients of the venue.

LGBT organizing is very limited. The only LGBT NGO in the country reports that they have to use HIV as a cover-up for their work with LGBT communities and are not able to register officially as an LGBT organization which limits the scope of their work significantly. The staff of the NGO cannot appear in public speaking about LGBT rights due to fear of violence and retaliation. The NGO outreach workers working on HIV prevention who go to parks and clubs where LGBT people gather are constantly harassed by the police. Police also monitors websites which LGBT people use for meeting. There were cases reported of police officers meeting with LGBT people through a personals website and blackmailing them or detaining them.

Some state officials used homophobic attitudes of the society to discredit their political opponents. They use mass media to create more homophobic and transphobic attitudes and associate these attitudes with a particular public person.

- Conduct proper investigations on police blackmailing of the LGBT people, duly punishing those responsible and setting up administrative and legal frameworks to eradicate such practices
- Develop legislation to address family violence and hate crimes against LGBT people
- Develop legal and medical system which would allow transgender people to change their bodies and legal papers in accordance with their gender identity

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Azerbaijan (via GenderStan)

[1] Dennis Van Der Veur ‘Forced Out’, Report on Azerbaijan ILGA-Europe/COC-Netherlands fact-finding mission on LGBT situation in Azerbaijan ILGA-Europe, COC-Netherlands (2007)
[2] ‘Forced Out’ Report and communication with LGBT NGO in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan: Forced HIV testing

Universal Periodic Review, UN Human Rights

Officially there 1010 registered HIV cases in Azerbaijan but NGOs report that there at least ten times more people living with HIV. In 2006 out of 263443 people tested for HIV at least 33000 have not gone through pre-test counseling.[1] Forced testing enforced by law enforcement bodies is common among the key affected populations such as sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men.

Due to high unemployment a lot of men migrate to Russia and Ukraine to find employment. In 2006 10-15% of people living with HIV were infected in Ukraine or Russia and 89% of new HIV cases were men.[2] NGOs report that HIV testing is not available in the rural areas where most of the migrants come from and they have to travel long distances to be tested.

Organizations working with people living with HIV reported that access to ARV therapy was limited and HIV patients had to pay for receiving treatment. The treatment free of charge is guaranteed by 1996 law on ‘Prevention of spread of the diseases caused by AIDS’.

NGOs working in the area of sexual and reproductive rights and HIV prevention often become subject of attacks from the religious and state authorities through media channels. They are blamed for propaganda of sex and prostitution. Information about sexuality for young people is restricted and many feel uncomfortable discussing sexuality matters which makes them vulnerable to HIV.

- Take measures to stop forced testing of key populations affected by HIV/AIDS
- Conduct public campaigns on raising awareness about HIV prevention and testing targeting groups which are affected by HIV, specifically migrants, young people, sex workers and injecting drug users.
- Ensure free treatment for people living with HIV

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Azerbaijan (via GenderStan)

[1] WHO data on HIV situation in Azerbaijan (2008) (accessed 3 September 2008)
[2] WHO Data on HIV situation in Azerbaijan (2008)

Azerbaijan: Sexual violence

Universal Periodic Review, UN Human Rights

International organizations working in Azerbaijan conducted large-scale surveys on the issue of violence. The surveys found that about 30% of women experienced sexual harassment at work.[1] Another survey revealed that the social belief is that women should to quit their job if they experience sexual harassment from their employer or co-worker.[2] Articles 2 and 3 of the existing law on ‘Ensuring gender equality’ (2006) define sexual harassment in detail, article 4 states that sexual harassment is prohibited. Articles 11 and 12 regulate employment situations when sexual harassment has taken place and ban persecution of the person who reported sexual harassment by the employer. Article 12 states that the ‘labor contract of the victim of sexual harassment is discontinued as of the day when the victim applies for it’.[3] The body responsible for dealing with sexual harassment has monitoring nature and reports to the government annually. The existence of the legislation does not ensure protection from sexual harassment because mechanisms of its implementation and unclear and public is largely unaware of its existence.

Sexual harassment also exists within families with survey results indicating that out of 55% of the interviewed women who experienced sexual harassment, for 15% it came from step-father and 9% from father-in-law. The same survey indicated that 10% of the interviewed women were sexually abused with approximately 85% of abused women reporting marital rape.[4] Reportedly 99% of married women interviewed for another reproductive health survey were virgins at marriage and 98% had only one sexual partner.[5]

In case of rape the family usually tries to cover up that it happened and may offer the woman to marry the perpetrator if she is not married. Reporting a rape is also a long and humiliating endeavor in a society which blames the woman for being sexually abused. High level of corruption among law enforcement agencies makes it very difficult to punish the perpetrators.

- Research the situation in Azeri society in relation to sexual harassment
- Take measures to implement the existing legislation provisions
- Conduct public awareness campaigns to address the issue of sexual harassment and existing legal framework to address it
- Include marital rape in legislation and raise public awareness about the issue of consent in sexual relations

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Azerbaijan (via GenderStan)

[1] Survey of Azerbaijan Sociological Association (2001) quoted in Gender Assessment report p.8
[2] Human Development Report p. 71
[3] Text of the Law in Russian available at (accessed 3 September 2008)
[4] Survey of Azerbaijan Sociological Association (2001) quoted in Gender Assessment Report p. 8
[5] Gender Assessment Report p. 15

Azerbaijan: Gender inequality, selective abortion, forced marriages

Universal Periodic Review, UN Human Rights

As a country with strong Islamic traditions, Azerbaijan has strict gender norms and social norms focus on heterosexual-centered and extended family. The family decision-making is focused on the elders of the family who make decisions for all other family members and keep the traditions.

Gender-based restrictions represent one of the key issues in the field of sexual and reproductive rights for both women and men. The society values men over women because ethnicity and family name is passed through men. Many families decide to abort female fetuses. The estimates are that there are 110000 fewer girls in 0-19 year old age category than men. In 0-4 age cohort there are 10% more boys than girls.[1] In 2006 newborn boys made 3 to 1 ration to newborn girls. Medical specialists report that 4 out of 10 women request abortion due to female gender of the fetus.[2] Women who give birth to girls lost their social status and some men may choose to divorce their wife if she is not able to produce male offspring. As many as 23% of respondents interviewed for 2005 Azeri shadow report on CEDAW implementation stated that they aborted their pregnancy because the fetus was female. The law on ‘Protecting Health of the Population’ states that abortion is possible until 12 weeks of pregnancy and under special social conditions abortions are allowed up to 22nd week. Most gender-selective abortions are registered as based on fetus’ defects. About 10% of pregnancies are aborted in the third trimester of pregnancy as medical specialists report.[3]

In the area of sexual and reproductive rights related to marriage the two main issues are forced marriages within extended families sometimes at early age and religious marriages. The issue of marriage within the same extended family has been raised by the government since 1995[4] and yet as many as 37% families as of 2006 continue to arrange marriages between cousins[5] (kindred marriages). Official marriage age is 17 for women and 18 for men. Religious marriages which are socially accepted and practiced only recently started to require official registration by the state.[6] Religious marriages performed earlier leave women without any legal claims in case of divorce, death of the spouse or child support. Traditionally there is also a custom of sighe which is a temporary marriage blessed by the religious authorities which can happen parallel to the officially registered marriage with a different woman[7].

Women are expected to function primarily within a family and single women are perceived as failure by the society after they passed the marriage age (21-23 years).

‘Family honor’ concept prevails in Azeri families which limits women’s mobility, puts them in vulnerable situation if they have sex before marriage or decide to live independently. Families limit their daughters’ access to education to protect ‘family honor’ through not allowing them to enter universities in other cities. Women who travel abroad alone or study abroad may lose the opportunity to get married because they are believed to have had sex outside of marriage when they were away from the family control.[8]

- Investigate the social reasons for gender selective abortion
- Conduct nation-wide educational campaign about gender roles and value of women and girls based
- Work with religious authorities to establish a procedure of registration of religious marriages

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Azerbaijan (via GenderStan)

[1] Azerbaijan National Statistics 2002 LINK quoted in Gender Assessment for USAID/Caucasus/Azerbaijan (2004) p. 14
[2] Human Development Report. Gender Attitudes in Azerbaijan: Trends and Challenges (2007) p. 50
[3] CEDAW Shadow Report (2005) p.17
[4] Gender Assessment Report (2004) p. 7
[5] CEDAW Shadow Report (2005) p.8
[6] Human Development Report 2007 p. 61
[7] Human Development Report 2007 p. 61
[8] Gender Assessment Report p. 7

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

How tall is Serj Sargsyan?

Allegedly, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has a little secret, which was “revealed” on Tuesday by the Italian newspaper La Stampa, as quoted on the front page of It turns out that Sarkozy has ordered the secret insoles for shoes, which allow him to look a 9 cm taller (Sarkozy is 165 cm tall). Photo – via
Apparently, Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev is considered to be the shortest among current world leaders. He is 162 cm tall and was jokingly dubbed “nanopresident”. There is Russian saying though – “Мал, да удал”.

I wonder how tall is Armenia’s Serj Sargsyan? Based on this photo from, he seems around the same height or even shorter than Russia’s Medvedev. Not that I think there is anything wrong with being short, just curious really after reading this Italian/Russian report :)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

I cannot believe - it's snowing in London! Amazing! :)

Quote of The Day (in Armenian)

«Եվ իշխանությանը, եւ հասարակությանը քծնելը հավասարապես զզվելի է: Այսօր իմ ճանաչած բոլոր արվեստագետները քծնում են ժողովրդին»:

Violet Grigoryan, editor of the Inknagir literary magazine


GFest - LGBT Arts Festival

Beldan Sezen (Turkey/Germany/NL) - Possibilities
"This work is part of the Ladyfest Amsterdam exhibition and evolved around the question - plastic surgery, a freedom of possibilities?"

Gena Ivanov (Belarus) - Behind the Web
"The painting is about the feelings of a gay man coming to the UK and trying to fit in within the society. In some ways it is a slightly autobiographical and looks at the rich heritage of folklore and modern art to achieve the desired optimum harmony." (November 2008, London)

Fighting for Muslim women's rights: International Congress on Islamic Feminism

"Some of the world's leading Islamic feminists have been gathered in Barcelona for the third International Congress on Islamic Feminism, to discuss the issues women face in the Muslim world." More...

Sunday, 26 October 2008

UK immigration minister gets a cream pie in the face

This came in response to his plans of more stringent population controls as announced in the national press. We also denounced his attempts to scapegoat immigrants for the ongoing economic and ecological crises.

I have to say - well deserved! :)

Night People Yerevan – new blog

I came across this new blog few days ago. It is connected with the EL style magazine. The author is Yerevan club/party scene photographer Kamo Tovmasyan. Blog is in Armenian (translit).

It’s pretty refreshing to see Armenian club scene blogging. I like Kamo’s style of writing – it’s the way you would talk to your friend, simple, straightforward, with humour. Btw, along with Yerevan club night diary and EL style magazine photo sessions, he posts some personal (other) news/photos and art related info too.

Night People Yerevan blog (NPY blog) is accessible at (or

I guess, we have our first celebrity blogger. :) Welcome to blogosphere, Kamo!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Turkey: 'Gay and group sex approved by court'

This is truly a groundbreaking court decision in Turkey, as reported by Turkish Daily News (via Kaos GL) :

A suspect caught selling films of group and gay sex was judged by an Istanbul court not to have been selling material portraying “unnatural sex” and was sentenced only for sale of illegal pornographic material.

The Turkish Penal Code demands higher penalties for the sale of movies that include “unnatural” intercourse. The court sentenced the suspect on the lesser charge of selling pornographic films in an illegal location.

The verdict referred to the principles of privacy and equality from the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Previous verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe were also noted by the court.

The referenced verdict of European court said, “Even if it shocks or brings discomfort to some members of society, gay intercourse between consenting adults is not criminal.”

In its verdict, the Istanbul court said: “Most European countries have given gay relationships the equivalence of marriage, and in Holland gay marriages were made legal a few years back. In a world of modern societies, it is not possible to say intercourse among members of the same sex is unnatural.”

The verdict also read: “Since the action happens in private places and does not include children it is not criminal. The term ‘unnatural sexual behavior' should be seen from a narrow perspective; otherwise there is the risk of judging every sexual relationship outside of certain limitations unnatural. It is without doubt that the images are eccentric. Although this kind of sexual activity is not common in societies, it is a fact that in every society collective sexual relationships exist.”

Friday, 24 October 2008

Apple joins fight against "Proposition 8" and makes donation to keep same-sex marriage legal in California

No on Prop 8
October 24, 2008

Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees’ same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.

Apple - Hot News

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Enlgish playwright Mark Ravenhill on life and work in Armenia

As I mentioned in my post about MetastaZ gay-themed theatre play in Vanadzor, Armenia, English playwright Mark Ravenhill was in Armenia in October as part of HighFest festival.
Wikipedia: His most famous plays include Shopping and Fucking (first performed in 1996), Some Explicit Polaroids (1999) and Mother Clap's Molly House (2001). He made his acting debut in his monologue Product, at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005. He often writes for the The Guardian arts section.

In 1997, Ravenhill became the literary director of a new writing company, Paines Plough. In 2003, when Nicholas Hytner took over as artistic director of the National Theatre, Ravenhill was brought in as part of his advisory team. In the mid-nineties, Ravenhill was diagnosed as HIV+, his partner of the early 1990s having died with AIDS.
Mark Ravenhill shares his impressions of Armenia and writes about his most recent work there in The Guardian.

I'm in Armenia directing my play. It's going well - even if no one has a clue what I'm saying

More than a decade ago, the statue of Lenin was removed from Republic Square, the heart of the city of Yerevan. Now the square is dominated by a massive water feature. This eye-catching, if rather kitsch, landmark in the new capitalist Armenia spits out great plumes of water in time with the blasts of popular classical music booming out of concealed speakers.

The Armenian people have moved on from their Soviet past. The new cafe society of young couples parading in their Italian clothes is more reminiscent of Milan than Minsk. But there is one legacy of the Soviet past that Yerevan has held on to. The city, with more than 1 million inhabitants, has a tremendous appetite for theatre: there are no fewer than 12 working companies, and an audience that's enthusiastic for all kinds of performance. During the Soviet era, the challenge for Moscow was to balance the introduction of Russian ideas and language with a respect for local culture. Drama was an excellent tool: both Russian and Armenian theatre was supported and promoted by the Soviet state. And the Armenians have preserved this theatrical legacy.

I'm in Yerevan to direct a translation of one of my Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat plays, a 20-minute work called Paradise Lost. I have an impressive Armenian cast. Part of the Soviet legacy is the high standard of actor training. The quality of the acting is astonishing. So, too, is the loyalty countries such as Slovenia, Georgia and Lithuania still show to a Russian idea of theatre: large ensemble companies, actors working together for a lifetime, lengthy rehearsal periods, visionary directors. While all around them everything is being privatised, actors and audiences have held on to a form of theatre that, by the logic of market forces, should have disappeared long ago.

There is a barrier for me to cross: I don't speak any Russian or Armenian, and the cast doesn't have any English. I've been given an interpreter, an enthusiastic - but not exactly fluent - English speaker. And so rehearsals have taken an unusual course. After the briefest of introductions, in which I tried to summarise the play in a single sentence and gave a few key notes for each character, we hit the stage, slowly working through a couple of pages a day. I've found myself standing at the footlights, beating out the tempos for different sections with a book, holding my hand up to indicate the length of pauses, tapping my head to indicate changes of thought or intentions for the characters. I've focused on giving the actors concrete physical moments to play. I've even demonstrated actions - something many British actors would consider an insult to their craft.

The results occasionally look like the kind of coarse acting you can find anywhere in the world. But at other times, this commitment to the physical has produced exciting results that seem more like the theatre I've seen in mainland Europe than the type of work you usually see on British stages.

Some blimpish Brits still insist that theatre from other countries is more physical and visual than ours because they don't have our language, which - so the argument goes - is the richest in the world. I don't buy this. Surely Goethe, Molière and Chekhov couldn't have been inspired to produce the world's greatest plays in impoverished languages? But it is true that British audiences are unusually attuned to the nuances of language: they can smell a hint of irony quicker than theatre-goers anywhere else.

This ear for language is surely the greatest strength, but also the greatest weakness, of the British stage. Perhaps we should think a little less about the words. Here in Armenia, I'm learning to unlock the meaning of a play without understanding a word the actors are saying. It's a fascinating lesson.

*photo - via The Guardian

AFP: Taboo-free Turkish women writers strive to achieve equality

FRANKFURT (AFP - news report and photos) — "Of course Turkish women are stronger than men," says Perihan Magden with a laugh. Like her, many Turkish women writers provoke the wrath of officials with uncompromising works.

"I'm the national bitch anyway in Turkey. I think they just want me to shut up," she told AFP at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Silence obviously does not sit well however with the small woman in her late forties, who was dressed simply in black and had tied her hair up in a quick knot. Asked about freedom of expression, persecution of Armenians and the situation of the Kurdish minority, she launches into animated discourse underscored by lots of gesturing. She also quickly forgets to speak about her book "Two Girls" that has been translated into German, which describes the tumultuous love affairs of two Turkish adolescents.

In Turkey, Magden is as well known for her novels as for her commentary in leftist media. In late 2005, she took up the defence of an imprisoned conscientious objector and was taken to court by the army as a result. Booed by the public during her trial, she was nonetheless acquitted, though several legal procedures are still ongoing. Magden now has trouble hiding lassitude in the face of what she said is chronic harassment. The former communist militant, "I would even say I was Soviet," would like to send her daughter to study in the United States "because in Turkey it can be very claustrophobic."

While Magden has been attacked for her views on military service, novelist Elif Shafak drew unwanted attention for comments made by figures in her books on what Armenians charge is genocide by the Ottoman Empire, a highly disputed subject in Turkey.

Armenia has campaigned for the the recognition of the mass killings of Armenians during World War I as genocide. Turkey rejects the genocide label and argues that 300,000-500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading Russian troops.

Shafak was prosecuted under Turkish law that prohibits "defamation" of the state, but was also cleared of the charges. The academic who was born in France now wants to turn the page. "I am too often assimilated" with the issue, she said in an interview published Thursday by the German magazine Stern. On the other hand, Shafak remains a staunch feminist. "We don't say enough about the history of women. History is always written by men. Religion was written by men," she said.

Another Turkish writer, Fethiye Cetin also takes aim at taboos, raising a fuss in the process.

In her novel "My Grandmother's Book", a best seller in Turkey according to the publisher, the human rights activist searches for Armenian and Christian roots that had long been hidden from her by her own family.

Cetin, also a lawyer who represents the family of Hrant Dink, a journalist of Armenian origin killed last year, tells the story of how her grandmother escaped the early 20th century slaughter. Invited to the stand sponsored by Germany's Green party, she insisted: "You cannot bury the past. It always rises back to the surface!"

"Breaking the gender barrier, women are taking the wheel of Iran's taxis" (Time magazine)

A woman taxi driver waits for a passenger in a women-only taxi service in Tehran on May 4, 2008 (Kaveh Kazemi / Getty Images, via Time magazine)

Read Time's story

Friday, 17 October 2008

Iran announces moratorium on the death penalty for juveniles

New York, October 17, 2008 (press release) - The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) welcomed the announcement this week by the Deputy Attorney General of Iran that judicial authorities would put a moratorium on the death penalty for juveniles. The moratorium will take effect immediately, with plans to seek final parliamentary approval.

"The ban on juvenile execution is an important human rights development for sexual minorities, particularly those perceived to be gay," said IGLHRC executive director Paula Ettelbrick. "All too frequently, young Iranian men have been executed as juveniles after being charged with sodomy and other sexual crimes. This is a positive step toward improving human rights in Iran."

Over the past several years, IGLHRC has documented cases in which juveniles were executed based on allegations including sodomy charges. In July 2005, two teenage boys, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were hanged in public, allegedly for sodomy and rape. Both teenagers were juveniles at the time when the events happened, and one was believed to have been a juvenile at the time of his execution. In December 2007, Iran executed Makvan Mouloodzadeh, a 21-year-old who was accused of committing anal rape (ighab) with other young boys when he was 13 years old. [Unzipped: Gay Armenia: see also here and here]

Historically, Iranian Courts have interpreted Article 49 of the Islamic Penal Code in a way that allows them to impose the death penalty on children. Although Article 49 states that children are not criminally liable, judges often use existing laws to define the age of adulthood as 15 for boys and just 9 for girls. Last June, prominent Iranian lawyer Mr. Mohammad Mostfaii reported that there were close to 100 young people in Iranian jails waiting to be executed for crimes they committed as juveniles.

But this week's announcement by judicial authorities defines juveniles as those under age 18, and says that the maximum penalty for all crimes committed by juveniles is life in prison, which can be reduced to 15 years in jail with parole.

The change comes after significant opposition to the death penalty for minors was voiced in Iran itself. Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has been an outspoken critic of child executions, speaking up against this inhumane practice at national and international forums and representing juvenile defendants in court. Another Iranian group, the Stop Child Execution Campaign, developed an Internet campaign with the goal of ending juvenile execution. In addition, many Iranian women's groups have been active in the campaign against the death penalty because most of those who have been executed for alleged sexual crimes are women.

"This decision is a great victory for human rights activists-both inside and outside Iran-who have spoken out against the state-sanctioned murders of minors," said Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC's Middle East Specialist, "We hope that Iranian authorities will put an end to all forms of capital punishment, especially for same-sex relations and other sexual crimes."

Ex-Chelsea player says he knows 12 top current footballers who are gay but reluctant to come out

Former professional footballer Paul Elliott said he knows 12 top current players who are gay. He said they are reluctant to come out because they fear negative reactions.

Mr Elliott, who now advises the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was speaking at 'Homophobia – Football's Final Taboo' – a forum organised by the Kick It Out campaign and hosted by the Football Association at its Soho Square headquarters last night (16 October 2008).

BBC sports reporter and commentator, Bob Ballard, who chaired the event, criticised the Football Association (FA) and Chelsea for allowing the appointment of Phil Scolari as Chelsea manager. Mr Scolari said he would never have a gay player on his team, which is against the FA's equal treatment rules.

Accusing the FA of double standards, Mr Ballard said that if Scolari had said he would kick out black or Jewish players he would have never been appointed at Chelsea.

Another speaker, gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said: "The Football Association has great equality policies on paper but it often fails to put them into practice. It's time to turn the FA's opposition to anti-gay prejudice into action and give homophobia the boot."

Mr Tatchell outlined a four-point plan of action that he wants the Football Association to adopt.

*Information is provided by Peter Tatchell.

Picture of The Day

This hilarious photo - via reporter-arm - made in one of Armenian villages. Sale tag says that ‘aloch’ (type of fruit, I do not know its exact English equivalent) is good for myocardial infarction and… sex (underlined) :)

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

MetastaZ - gay related theatre play in Vanadzor, Armenia (video)

UPDATE: (11 June 2009) WTF? A bizarre follow-up to my posts on gay-themed theatre play in Vanadzor, Armenia
It’s my personal impression that theatre life in Armenia sees its kind of new revival. And it’s not only classical theatre but alternative one too. Experimental theatre has its regular scheduling at the NPAK or other venues. HighFest festival brings to Armenia cutting edge performances from within the country and abroad, e.g. by English playwright Mark Ravenhill.

But this mainly focuses in capital Yerevan. Therefore, it was even more encouraging to read on PINK Armenia about MetastaZ, theatre play in Vanadzor, Armenia’s 3rd city.
In the end of May the State Dramatic Theatre named after H. Abelyan of Vanadzor opened curtains for the premiere of the performance "MetastaZ (Metastasis)" under same play of Hovhannes Tekgyozyan "Metastasis". […]

From the very beginning it was planned as the audience would be a part of the play: there were 30 chairs black and white colored, like chessboard and they were on the stage. […]

A plead of talented actors was evolved in the play, such as Temur Atchinyan, Alla Darbinyan, Edgar Qocharyan, Hamlet Gyulzadyan and also one of the founders of PINK Armenia, Arthur Haroyan. The casting has been done very carefully. Also Hovsep Mesropyan and Vahe Shahverdyan were in all that action, the author of original sound tracks was the same Arthur Haroyan. […]

The most interesting fact is that a performance based on real facts of two homosexuals was played in the third city of Armenia and not Yerevan.The main goal of the director was not the elucidation of the theme of homosexuality and drugs in general, but the torture of the people, having a pain arisen by treachery. The same can overtake each of us like it happened to the heroes of performance "MetastaZ". […]

The most part of public has been shocked and admired from professional acting and director's work of performance, and some others experienced a shock, proceeding from basic reasons and traditional mentality: " How can it be possible, we are Armenians, not homos?" […]
For the first time, below you can see selected video clips from the MetastaZ. Many thanks to PINK Armenia for providing this material. (video clip No.4 was impossible to upload to the YouTube due to its duration – more than 10 mins – therefore, I uploaded it directly to the ‘Blogger’).

MetastaZ (clip No. 1)

MetastaZ (clip No. 2)

MetastaZ (clip No. 3)

MetastaZ (clip No. 4)

[This video removed upon personal request]

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Veken Gueyikian – new head of New York based Armenian gay rights group

It was confirmed today that Veken Gueyikian was elected as the new president of the Armenian Gay & Lesbian Association of New York (AGLA NY). For the past year he was serving as the vice-president of the Association. Congrats, Veken!

In his letter announcing Veken Gueyikian’s appointment, now former AGLA NY president Christopher Atamian calls for volunteers to contact AGLA NY and be part of the team. He also reaffirmed previously announced but postponed plans to host a spring conference next year on LGBT rights in the Caucasus. Details of the conference are yet to be announced.
Dear AGLA NY Members and friends,

It is my pleasure to welcome Veken Gueyikian as the new President of AGLANY. Veken is an intelligent, energetic and dedicated professional who served as Vice President for the past year, and without whom we could not have accomplished all that we did. We are looking for a few interested and energetic individuals to work with Veken in the coming year as a member of our organization. Please email Veken through this form if you are interested in volunteering.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their support and help over the past two years that I have had the honor of serving as AGLA NY President. [...]

In the coming year, we have many fun and novel events planned, including a winter benefit to raise funds for the organization and a spring conference on LGBT rights in the Caucasus.[...]
As to the present plans of Chris, who will remain a member of the Board of Directors of AGLA NY, he just set up a website with his former classmate Anita Itty - It's a free daily e-mail – “literally a Daily Candy meets The New Yorker”, as they describe it, with the writings on art, architecture, literature, design, film, fashion, music, theatre and food.

It’s good to know that there are Armenian organisations where former president congratulates newly elected one. It is also reassuring that unlike (sadly!) closed down AGLA France, there are people within our NY group willing to take over the job so that the organisation will function and move forward.

I personally know Veken, met him few months ago. Very nice guy, friendly, dedicated, and I am confident he will be a good head of our NY based Armenian gay rights group. His partner Hrag Vartanian, one of my favourite Armenian bloggers, writes extensively about modern/contemporary and street art and current issues at Veken keeps a personal blog too at, along with managing AGLA NY blog. Btw, as I noticed, AGLA NY website and their blog on 'wordpress' are now merged into single domain

Again, my congratulations to Veken!

Monday, 13 October 2008

'Women and Art' workshops at the Women’s Resource Centre, Yerevan, Armenia

The Women’s Resource Centre invites all interested women to take part in the series of workshops on “Art and Personal development”.

This is a unique opportunity for all women, regardless their background to create and express themselves in a very friendly environment. [Topics vary from making drawings to "My space of anarchy" and "My calling". They will be modified depending on preferences of participants.]

The workshops will be conducted at the Centre, weekly by a professional artist.

For registration and more information, please visit Women's Resource Centre on Tuesday the 14th from 16:30.

Women’s Resource Centre
34 Zarubyan st
Yerevan, Armenia
Tel: +37410 51-91-68

New art from China at The Saatchi Gallery in London - 'The Revolution Continues'

Wonderfully weird (or weirdly wonderful). I had no idea that Chinese art could be so exciting. This was a discovery for me. Brilliant exhibition. Highly recommend it.

May I just say how much I missed The Saatchi Gallery. It became one of my favourite places in London when it was opened on the South Bank few years ago. Then, in couple of years, the gallery was closed down due to the problems with the lease of the building or so.

This newly opened space in Chelsea is very nice, love it. It was launched only few days ago, and instantly became one of my old new favourite places in London. My only main thumbs down re new Saatchi gallery is the lack of space for a permanent collection of contemporary art. As far as I understand from conversations with staff members, it will effectively be based on temporary exhibitions; there will be no permanent collection displays, which I loved so much in past. But hey, each 3 months or so, the exhibition will change.

Zhang Huan. Ash Head No. 1. 2007 (Mixed media and ash.)

Zhang Xiaogang. My Dream: Little General. 2005

Zhang Xiaogang. Bloodline. 2005

Zhang Huan. Donkey. 2005 (donkey f**king skyscrapers)

Liu Wei. Indigestion II. 2004-05 ("monumental poo"; "on closer inspection, half digested kernels emerge as hundreds of toy soldiers, spilling forth in an unmistakable sentiment of protest.")

Zhang Hongtu. Long Live Chairman Mao Series #29. 1989 (China's answer to Andy Warhol)

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Angel. 2008 (Life-size sculpture in fibre-reinforced polimer and silica gel.)

Xiang Jing. Your Body. 2005

Zhang Dali. Chinese Offspring. 2003-05 (each sculpture is a representation of a migrant construction worker; each bears a unique tattoo as a "witting commentary on social engineering and population control.")

Wang Guangyi. Materialist's Art. 2006

For more photos from the exhibit, see my Picasa Web Album

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Telegraph: Army's top general makes history by addressing conference on homosexuality

This post is dedicated to the Army chiefs in Armenia

The head of the British Army has made military history by addressing a conference on homosexuality, The Sunday Telegraph reports:

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the general staff, told members of the Army-sponsored Fourth Joint Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Matters that homosexuals were welcome to serve in the Army.

In a speech to the conference in London on Thursday, – the first of its kind by any Army chief – Gen Sir Richard said that respect for gays, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-sexual officers and soldiers was now "a command responsibility" and was vital for "operational effectiveness".

In the speech, he said: "We have made real progress in our understanding of equality and diversity in the military context, and there is a desire to achieve more yet. My recent Equality and Diversity Directive for the Army sets the standard that we must live by, and, importantly, it communicates that standard to everyone in the chain of command.

"Respect for Others", one of the Army's core values, is at the heart of this directive. [...]

Sources close to the general, who is a Christian with deeply held views, said that Gen Dannatt was determined to speak at the conference because he wanted to demonstrate that the modern Army is a tolerant organisation, where people of any sexual orientation can make a valuable contribution.

The source added: "There will be a reaction to this by some in the Army but I think the majority of soldiers will welcome it. Being gay isn't the issue it once was. What matters on the battlefield is how you fight not who you sleep with – it's just not an issue." [...]

*photo - by GETTY, via Telegraph

Ireland: "We're having sex, and enjoying it"

For your Sunday reading

THE Irish are having sex, apparently. This was a revelation of sorts last week, courtesy of the first of TV3's six-part series, How the Irish Have Sex.

Shut Down BMI Airlines Day - 20th October

Via No Borders South Wales, this call "for a sustained campaign against BMI. We call on BMI to no longer take part in the forced deportation of migrants." (one of the latest examples - Azeri gay artist Babi B's deportation via BMI)
Contact BMI and register your disapproval at their role in deporting people back to places they do not wish to go back to, for whatever the reason this may be. Urge BMI to follow the other airlines who have taken an ethical stance and who refuse to carry out any more deportations.

On the 20th October let’s hit BMI with everything we’ve got! Then let’s do this on the 20th of every month until BMI see sense.
In the meantime, The Independent reports that "an important part of the Government's immigration policy has suffered a serious blow after a leading airline announced it would no longer carry failed asylum-seekers who were being forcibly removed from the United Kingdom."
XL Airways, which has a fleet of 24 aircraft, said it was opposed to the policy because it had "sympathy for all dispossessed people in the world".

Last week, The Independent revealed that hundreds of failed asylum-seekers have claimed they have suffered physical and racial abuse during the removal process at the hands of private security guards. [...]

"Our chief executive [Phillip Wyatt] had made it quite clear to all concerned that we will not be operating any further flights of this nature ... We are not neutral on the issue and have sympathy for all dispossessed persons in the world, hence our stance."

A spokesman for the airline told The Independent the Government had been informed of its decision. Other airlines are now expected to make their own objections public.

It is not known how many airlines have contracted to carry failed asylum-seekers but it is estimated that the Government pays out several million pounds each year. Emma Ginn, of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said last night: "It's time airlines rethink what they are doing. Shareholders and customers will be horrified by the reality of what happens to deportees taken for these flights."

The Borders and Immigration Agency, the government body that has responsibility for forced removals, has refused to disclose details, requested under the Freedom of Information Act, about deportation flights. The agency said: "If we were to disclose the information you have requested, this would prejudice the number of airlines willing to contract with the agency on charter operations and could drive up the cost of such operations. In addition, the release of information could damage commercially those airlines who offer this service."

British Airways and Virgin, who were contacted by The Independent, said their aircraft had been used for the purposes of escorted deportations as they were under a legal obligation to return failed asylum-seekers. A Virgin spokesperson said: "That is a matter for the Home Office, who makes immigration policy. We are simply not qualified to make those decisions."

British Airways refused to say how many removals it carried out each year, but said it adopted a policy of permitting one escorted or two unescorted removals per flight : "It is UK law and we comply with it – it's like asking whether we are happy paying income tax."

But a Home Office spokesman said the Borders and Immigration Agency only contracted with airlines willing to operate removal flights. He added: "The agency uses agents/brokers to arrange both charter and scheduled removals. Airline captains have the right to refuse carriage of a passenger and will do so if they feel appropriate for security or commercial reasons."

San Francisco: Class surprises lesbian teacher on wedding day


A group of San Francisco first-graders took an unusual field trip to City Hall on Friday to toss rose petals on their just-married lesbian teacher - putting the public school children at the center of a fierce election battle over the fate of same-sex marriage. [...]

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a friend of a friend, officiated.

A parent came up with the idea for the field trip - a surprise for the teacher on her wedding day.

"She's such a dedicated teacher," said the school's interim director Liz Jaroslow.

But there was a question of justifying the field trip academically. Jaroflow decided she could.

"It really is what we call a teachable moment," Jaroflow said, noting the historic significance of same-sex marriage and related civil rights issues. "I think I'm well within the parameters." More...


Saturday, 11 October 2008

Kiss of The Day

I thought days that gay kiss on British TV could cause complaints from ‘concerned citizens’ are behind us. Apparently, some still consider gay kiss as something X-rated (or R-rated) which should be reserved only for a late night showing if at all. The latest complaints came after BBC broadcasted the episode of its long running soap EastEnders showing gay kiss during its prime time pre-watershed broadcast.

Right to the point BBC’s response (love this):

"EastEnders aims to reflect real life, and this means including and telling stories about characters from many different backgrounds, faiths, religions and sexualities.

We approach our portrayal of homosexual relationships in the same way as we do heterosexual relationships.

In this instance, Christian [gay character in EastEnders] is enjoying the first flush of romance and we've shown him being affectionate with his new boyfriend in the same way any couple would."

*photo via Towleroad

Gay marriage: Good (Connecticut, US) and Bad (Portugal) news

Good news: Connecticut's Supreme Court has overturned a ban on same-sex marriages, making it the third US state to legalise such unions. Earlier, California legalises gay marriage. The only other state where it's legal is Massachusetts.
The court ruled that the law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples was unconstitutional as it discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. Gay marriage was legalised in California earlier this year and in Massachusetts in 2003. Connecticut already permits same-sex civil unions.
Unfortunately, the fate of California's historic gay marriage ruling is under the threat now, facing re-ban by a put forward "Proposition 8" to be voted in November.

Bad news: Portuguese parliament says no to gay marriage. No surprise here considering pretty conservative mentality dominant there under the strong influence of the Catholic church. This is despite the announced "Portugal's process of modernization".

Friday, 10 October 2008

Lovers’ park opens in Yerevan

'Park connected with the arts'

Official opening will be on 17 October. It’s a former Pushkin park on Baghramyan Avenue, in downtown Yerevan. (For details of the fascinating history of Lovers’ park, click here)

Reconstruction works at Lovers’ park started in 2005, sponsored by Boghossian Foundation*, in collaboration with the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund. The design for the reconstruction of the new Lovers’ Park has been created by Pierre Rambach, a well known landscape architect based in Switzerland. “Japanese traditional landscaping has been a major source of inspiration for the Lover’s Park Landscaping and Design Project.”

*The Boghossian Foundation is headed by Jean Boghossian, based in Belgium and Albert Boghossian, based in Switzerland. For numerous years the Foundation has carried out large scale works both in Armenia (especially in the Shirak region) and Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2000 the Boghossian family established the annual “President of the Republic of Armenia Prize” aimed at encouraging the best specialists from different fields.

“This is not merely a reconstruction initiative; it is a renovation project which also insures the sustainable maintenance of the park.” (press release)

“Remodelling and construction works are being carried out on a large scale at the park. The entire area of the park is 1.6 hectares; 1.05 hectares of which will be covered in lawns. Seating in the park includes 300 meters of benching. The park will have two waterfalls, a lake, an amphitheatre with its more than 200 seats, a small open air café, sand paths for those who enjoy exercising and shaded pavilions for table games.”

There is also a promise of high quality sound system in the park. “The park is directly connected with the arts; starting with the stone compositions decorating every corner of the park and ending with the anticipated music festivals. The amphitheatre of the park will host musicians, who will deliver high-quality music to visitors.”

Not unimportant to notice that the park has free public toilets, with disabled access. Another important promise, which let’s hope will get materialised, is that this small cafe will remain the only such venue there, no other restaurants or cafes will be allowed, so that unlike other Yerevan parks this will remain truly a park.

Btw, we already have the first newlyweds of the Lovers’ park. “On October 4, a young newlywed couple asked permission to conduct their wedding photo session in the Park. The administration of the park invited them in. The staff congratulated the newlyweds on their wedding and also for being the first couple to take pictures of their memorable day in Lovers’ Park.”

I wonder, would this new park be an all-inclusive lovers’ park, or the definition of “love” will have its exclusion criteria?

Below is one of the past Public TV reports (in Armenian) on reconstruction works and facilities of the Lovers’ park (quality of the video clip uploaded on YouTube is poor).

*source of photo - Armenpress, via

**Lovers' park websites:

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Study: No proof circumcision cuts gay male HIV risk

(Reuters) - There is not enough evidence to say circumcision protects men from getting the AIDS virus during sex with other men even as studies show it protects them when having sex with women, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

A review of 15 studies involving 53,567 gay and bisexual men in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, India, Taiwan, Peru and the Netherlands failed to show a clear benefit for those who were circumcised, researchers from the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. More...

Nancy Agabian: "Me as her again"

Nancy Abagian's new book Me as her again is out now. There will be various events to mark its launch in LA and NY over October-November 2008. I wish there is one in London or Yerevan too.

This is one of the highly anticipated and talked about books within Armenian literary and LGBT communities. My congratulations to Nancy! Can't wait to get hold of it and start the reading.

"Untangling knots of personal identity and family history, Nancy Agabian deftly weaves a narrative alternately comical and wrenching. Moving between memories of growing up Armenian and American in Walpole, Massachusetts, and her later experiences at Wellesley College, then Hollywood and, finally, Turkey, Agabian offers an illuminating meditation on the sometimes bizarre entanglement of individual desire (sexual and otherwise) in the web of family life and history. At the heart of this unraveling is a grappling with the history of trauma and upheaval experienced by her paternal grandmother, who survived the Armenian Genocide, and the legacy of that wounding experience for Agabian and her extended family."

What’s so refreshing about Agabian’s prose is her marvelously open, daring, and honest inquiry into the self. Our “enfant terrible” — she has yet again managed to capture us with her quirky, brilliant stories.
– Shushan Avagyan, author of Girk-anvernagir; translator of I Want to Live: Poems of Shushanik Kurghinian

My favorite song from Nancy Agabian’s improbably vivid “Guitar Boy” punk rock period a decade ago was the genius anthem “I Don’t Want to be a Victim Anymore.” Though as she noted at the time, when you’re a mousily timid, family-mired, Armenian bisexual artist, not tending toward victimhood isn’t all that easy. But you know what? By the end of this splendidly engrossing memory chronicle, she’s pulled it off. She’s no victim. What she is is funny, smart, generous and wise. And she’s my hero.
—Lawrence Weschler, National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences

(check out Nancy Agabian's new website. You won't regret it.)

As Nancy writes:
"You can also order it from Amazon, but I recommend buying directly from the publisher, Aunt Lute Books. Please give your support to an amazing multicultural, nonprofit women’s press."

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Report: persecution of LGBT people has worsened in Azerbaijan over the last two years

*by Independent Gay Journalist (ILGA-Europe)

During the years of 2007 and 2008 at least 100 cases of human rights violation based on sexual identity have taken place. The independent research, which kept names of interviewees anonymous, revealed that most cases dealt with blackmailing of parents, family members and friends of the people with non-traditional sexual orientation by the police of Azerbaijan. There are also cases of discrimination at work place. There are only few organizations in Baku, which assist people from LBGT community who need consulting on how they should act if police invites them to the police office, if they have been fired from their job, or if they have been evicted from homes by their parents.

On May 13, 2007 a brutal assault of 28 sex workers and representatives of LGBT community took place. All of them were forced to take medical tests on HIV/AIDS without any pre-test or post-test preparation. Within one day all of them were arrested and placed into custody for three days. The arrested ones were forced to walk with their hands in the handcuffs like heavy-crime prisoners accompanied by convoy police from the police department to the building of the court which is about three kilometres away. During this walk process, the prisoners were mocked and humiliated by the policy and people passing by the streets. After three-day imprisonment, prisoners were transferred to venereal disease dispenser hospital. All their personal belongings, including cash, cell phones, clothes, cosmetics, and even wigs were taken away from them when being arrested and were never returned back to them.

The consequences of this arrest still have had their impact up until now. The police has the list of all cell phone numbers reached by those who were arrested and until now whoever phone number was on the list are being invited to the police department and being blackmailed for money. All of those who are being blackmailed are males. In case when victims reject paying money, they are threatened to have their family or relatives informed about him having sexual relationships with other men or transgender persons. Many of the victims are married and have children and since they would be harmed from the information leak, 99% of them pay bribes to the police.

On June 3rd 2008 a young gay man by name Rufat reported that he was contacted by the police and was demanded to pay bribe. Due to hard financial situation, the guy could not pay anything. So, the police called his parents and told them in a very rude manner that their son is gay. After this call, parents evicted their son from home while he had no financial sources, nor any extra clothes. A number of interviews with the victims show that there are many similar cases when freedom of private life and release of personal information rights have been violated.

There are also many cases of discrimination at work place. In January 2008 a lesbian, who worked in the bank was about to be fired. Her photo was found in the Internet. On this photo she was together with another girl and it had comments. The photo was taken during a closed gay party, which took place in Baku. She was accused in immoral behaviour and was told that people with such sexual orientation put the whole staff and the bank to shame and thus, may potentially result in losing customers. The photo was shared among all internal employees of the bank. The girl became a subject of discriminative discussions and mocking by her colleagues. A local human rights organization had to send an official letter to the director of the bank. In the letter, the management of the bank was informed that the party was devoted to struggle against HIV/AIDS and was not related to sexual minorities. After this the girl was left alone, however she was still heavily mocked by her colleagues and discrimination still continues.

There were also many cases of abuse and discrimination in the families where there was coming out of the members. The share of such cases follows the number of cases of police complaints.

The most recent case took place on June 20th, 2008. A 20 year-old guy left his home and moved in to live with his boyfriend. His father belongs to a community of Wahhabism, which is an Islamic radical movement. The guy was a subject of verbal abuse and beatings by his father. The parents were calling and threatening him every day and demanded from him to come back home. On June 20th 2008 his parents came to the university where he is studying and were waiting for him outside while their son was taking final exam. When he came out of the building, his father caught him and started beating him up in front of the other students in the yard of the university. The father hit the back side of the guy’s head and in result his son passed out. His body was covered with blood. He was put into the cab and taken home, where his father started the scandal again and took a knife threatening to kill his own son. However, the mother stopped her husband and the boy is still alive, but he has been under a home arrest since then.

There was a murder of a gay man in August 2007. The victim’s name was Sharif and he was murdered in the apartment which he was renting at that time. The murderer was a policeman who was also a Wahhabi radical. The murderer and the victim met each other in the online personals. They arranged a date and the murderer arrived to Sharif’s apartment with a ready big knife. There were also three friends of Sharif at his apartment at that time. The murderer entered Sharif’s bedroom. According to his friends, within the first minute of the date, Sharif started crying and asking for help. First, the friends did not take it seriously. However, a minute later they realized that it was actually serious. They saw a murderer covered with blood and with a knife in his hands coming out of the bedroom. The guys were shocked. The murderer attacked them and wounded one of them in the heart area, while the others managed to escape. Sharif had 12 deep knife wounds in his chest. He was taken to the hospital, however the doctors rejected to help him and in result Sharif died from excessive lost of blood. The murdered was caught in three days after the murder case. The court process lasted six months. The judge and the prosecutor wanted to soften the sentence, and decided to imprison the murderer for six years only. He was also sent to a mental institution, however doctors there failed to prove the murderer was mentally sick. The lawyer who defended the murderer openly stated in the court sessions that “people like Sharif must be murdered. But it is not a murder, it is a cleansing of the society from such people”. An independent lawyer applied for appeal and achieved her goal - the murderer was sentenced for 13 and half year of imprisonment. However, one should make a conclusion – why the rights of gay and lesbian people in this country should be defended after they have been killed, not before?

In February of 2008, a guy by name Fuad shared that three months ago his car was stolen and he reported to the police. The police found the stolen car and the thief himself. The thief told the police that he met Fuad through online personals and they were in sexual relationships. He also said that he took car keys in Fuad’s home and he did not consider taking anything from “a bottom homosexual” as a crime. As soon as they learned about Fuad’s sexual orientation, police immediately ignored the theft crime and started blackmailing Fuad. They openly requested him to pay bribe, otherwise they would call his parents and tell them everything. Later he obtained a lawyer, who was accompanying him during the visit to the police. When the police saw the lawyer, they immediately stopped blackmailing Fuad.

All these sad stories share the same attitude towards gay and lesbian people in Azerbaijan. Their human rights are not being protected and they suffer severe persecution both by the police and the society itself.

Lesbians and Transgender Men Face Abuse in Kyrgyzstan (Human Rights Watch)

I wonder why gay men and transgender women are not included in this report (although the issue of hate and violence against gay men is mentioned there)? Does this mean that violence against say gay men remains even more under-reported, or that they suffer less abuse in Kyrgyzstan compared with lesbians and transgender men? Or may be the excluded groups are less visible? Or perhaps this is a matter of being able to identify victims who would agree to the interview with the Human Rights Watch? I wish they specified the inclusion criteria in a more robust way.

(Bishkek, October 6, 2008) – Lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men face violent abuse, including rape, in Kyrgyzstan, both in family settings and from strangers on the street, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today. The report calls on the Kyrgyz government to acknowledge the problem and protect the victims, and on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European institutions to step up their response to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Based on detailed interviews, the 49-page report, “These Everyday Humiliations: Violence Against Lesbians, Bisexual Women, and Transgender Men in Kyrgyzstan,” tells of beatings, forced marriages, and physical and psychological abuse faced by lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men. The government refuses to protect them or to confront the atmosphere of prejudice in which the attacks take place. “No one should have to confront brutality or danger because of who they are or whom they love,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “It is time for the government to protect these communities instead of denying they exist.” [...]

Several people interviewed for the report said they had been raped to punish them for not conforming to gender norms, or to “cure” them of their difference. One lesbian told how, when she was 15, her girlfriend’s brothers raped her brutally, saying: “This is your punishment for being this way and hanging around our sister.” Another woman told Human Rights Watch that an acquaintance locked her in a room and allowed several men to rape her. The men promised the acquaintance “that they would help her to ‘cure’ me” of being a lesbian, she said. Pervasive social prejudice in the Central Asian country leaves the victims with little hope of government protection, the report says. The police themselves sometimes abuse lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men. Police have also raided and harassed organizations that defend the basic rights of these groups. [...]

The government has ignored the need to address issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. In some cases, officials have actually endorsed hatred and violence. In 2005, a Ministry of Interior official said of lesbians and gay men at a human rights roundtable: “I would also beat them. Let’s say I walk in a park with my son. And there are two guys walking holding each other’s hands. I would beat them up too.”

While Kyrgyzstan has made efforts to respond to violence against women overall, some groups are still ignored or excluded. Human Rights Watch called on Kyrgyz authorities to improve direct services for lesbians and transgender men; to train state officials in issues of sexual orientation and gender identity; to educate the public about domestic violence and sexual-rights issues, and to create measures for legal identity change to respect and recognize each person’s self-defined gender identity. Human Rights Watch also urged the OSCE to address human rights issues, including discrimination and violence against lesbians and transgender men, in its trainings for police and other programs in Kyrgyzstan. “Programs to stop violence will not work unless they reach everyone who is vulnerable,” Dittrich said. “Europe should not join Kyrgyzstan’s government in turning a blind eye.”

*source: Human Rights Watch

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Nobel Prize in Medicine 2008: split between HIV and cervical cancer research

Well deserved prize. My congratulations!

"for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer"

Harald zur Hausen
1/2 of the prize
German Cancer Research Centre
Heidelberg, Germany (b. 1936). Photo: Magunia/SCANPIX

"for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus"

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
1/4 of the prize
Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit, Virology Department, Institut Pasteur
Paris, France (b. 1947). Photo: L. Dolega/SCANPIX

Luc Montagnier
1/4 of the prize
World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention
Paris, France (b. 1932) . Photo: DKFZ/SCANPIX

*source of info and photos: Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

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