When hatemongers from Iravunk tabloid award Public TV in Armenia for "best cultural coverage", and the head of Public TV Aleksan Harutyunyan proudly accepts the 'award' with the handshake, no more words needed to comment, it's #fail.
*** EAST/WEST – Sex & Politics (director Jochen Hick, 2008)
3 years ago... Fresh from Berlin Film Festival… 3 years... That’s how long it took me to write this post, adding and amending bits over this period.
Arman realised he is gay at around 12-13 when he’s got a crush on his PE teacher (“учитель физкультуры”). The realisation that he is gay was like a torture to him, as he knew very well that it was not “accepted”, it was not “normal” in Armenia.
He came to Moscow around 4 years ago (early 2000s) seeking a freer society. Despite all the state level homophobia and violence towards gays, Russian society remained more open re gays, sexuality and sex compared to other post-Soviet states [This was the case during the Soviet Union too.]
[There was another Armenian guy, Sasha – Armenian from Georgia - who was briefly featured in the film too. He came to Russia for the same reasons.]
In fact, it was in Moscow that for the first time Arman came out as gay. But not to all, and surely not to his parents.
I have to say, he is a brave guy by deciding so openly to participate in this film and become one of its main heroes. While watching the film I couldn’t help myself but wonder what would happen if Arman’s parents see the film. Of course, no one expects that this kind of films would go on broad release in Russia and Armenia, but still… Now, 3 years on after the first screening of EAST/WEST – Sex & Politics, I wonder if he is still afraid of telling his parents that he is gay... I wonder if these years (from the time of shooting the film to present days) brought about changes in his life. There surely must be changes. But what kind of changes? I hope for better. Brave guy, in any case…
He is handsome, politically and socially conscious, regular at gym.
He said there is no such term as “homophobia” in Armenian language as this problem is “nonexistent” for Armenian society. However, he mentioned that ironically, if you visit Yerevan, you might get an impression that everyone around is gay, as men walk holding hands in public.
He was once got severely beaten when Russian neo-nazi skinheads made a real bloodshed in front of a gay club in Moscow. They were attacking, beating everyone whom they perceive as gay. Arman said that only a miracle made him stay alive. He also mentioned that in his case the perception of being gay perhaps did not play an important role, but rather his dark, Caucasian looks.
Despite ‘being himself’ in Moscow, he did not seem very happy, complaining that all his encounters end up to be one night stands, or flings... But he did not give up his dream of finding THE man.
On the day of attempts at staging a Gay Pride event in Moscow, which was disrupted by a violence from extreme orthodox religious fanatics and neo-nazi, he got a call from someone inviting him to a party. He was kind of dismayed by this invitation. He said, on one hand, there are people trying to fight for their and our rights and got attacked, on the other hand – that very night, another group of gay people keep partying. I know, it could be an ethical dilemma. I suppose one can’t expect from everyone to fight for rights etc. There are people who just want to enjoy their life, and it is perfectly acceptable and OK for me. But no guesses needed that I would associate myself more with Arman in this case, than with party goers, although - don’t get me wrong - I do like partying too.
Guys like Arman could be good role models for gay Armenian teenagers, and this film should be screened among them. OK, OK. I hear myself. What I just wrote sounds very old fashioned. “Role model”... Still, I use it in its broader sense. Basically, what I wanted to say, I sympathise with guys like Arman.
Russian gays are divided into cliques, Arman said. Well, this is evident in Armenia (and other countries) too, and not just for gays. There are lots of cliques within and across the layers of our society. However, Arman said that he does not belong to any, he is kind of a loner. In this context, good for you, Arman.
‘The worst thing for Russian gays is being ugly and poor.’ [The whole auditorium, myself including, burst into laughing.]
As I mentioned in my earlier post, Serge Avedikian - French Armenian director, actor, writer and producer - made an unforgettable mark on the history of world gay cinema by playing in a very different wartime love story - Nous étions un seul homme (We Were One Man), film by renown French director Philippe Vallois in 1979. [Read“Modern gay classic” French Armenian Serge Avedikian won Palme d'Or 2010 at Cannes]. Serge was recently in Yerevan to participate in Golden Apricot international film festival.
This exclusive interview was first published in October 2004 on the website of the former Armenian gay rights group in France - www.agla.info (no longer exists). Thanks to Micha Meroujean, head of then AGLA France, I can now post it, with accompanied pictures, on Unzipped: Gay Armenia.
This extract - from the original interview in French - was translated using Google Translate. I only slightly edited it.
*Philippe Vallois (left) and Serge Avedikian (right) with former AGLA France
*Philippe Vallois (left) and Serge Avedikian (right)
[Interview and photos by Didier K.]
Exclusive: Interview with Serge Avedikian
AGLA: You are the only actor of Armenian origin who played the role of a homosexual and, to my knowledge, you have never denied this role. What was your perception of homosexuals at the time when you shot "We Were One Man”?
SA: This is the first film I shot as an actor in 1979. I was a young stage actor and I had just done "Avignon", and Philippe Valois had seen pictures of me in an agency. He was not necessarily looking for a gay actor although there were many actors who were gay but not out but everybody knew them.
AGLA: Especially at that time, when homosexuality was not yet decriminalised in France; we had to wait until 1981.
SA: I didn't remember that. Moreover, at the time we were kidding by saying "the guy is from the building". It was sort of a password!
In fact, the director was seeking someone who could have a high sensitivity combined with a slightly wild side, and when we met, it worked instantly.
Philippe Valois did not hide at all that he was gay. He introduced me to his friends, when I went to his home.
I always felt comfortable with gay guys while not being gay myself. I didn’t hide from Philippe the fact that I had homosexual experiences as a youngster. I never rejected those experiences, and never thought of them to be within the confines of normality or abnormality.
I felt totally at ease and loved this project when I read the script, nothing shocked me. "We Were One Man" is not a gay or militant film per se. It is a film about an impossible love story between a “mentally deranged” boy who escaped from a psychiatric hospital and lives in the forest, having encounters with the prostitutes of the village, and a German soldier he captures and with whom he finally accepts his love.
With Philippe we had planned and agreed on intimate scene, but in the end, it was I who staged it in a certain way. Like it or not, it's so complicated to do an intimate scene.... I remember very well the scene when I am lying on the bed, on my belly, and I lifted my shirt to give myself to him, cheerfully showing my ass in a gesture quite natural but shy. Then we filmed the love scene between two of us, then the threesome.
AGLA: Did this role embarrass you in the Armenian community?
SA: If this role would have embarrassed me, I could not do it. In addition, the Armenian community has never talked about this movie. The film which made me known in the community was "The Red Sweater". Right after it "We Were One Man" was released... When the community media outlets were interviewing me about "The Sweater..." I was also speaking of "We Were One Man". And somehow they never asked me questions about it.
I told them: "You know, I made another movie you should go see?"
I must say that by that time there were only few newspapers, like Gamk and Haratch, and that's it. The community was very closed on itself.
I did not talk about it in the community, but my friends have seen and they all liked it.
This film has gone somehow unnoticed by the public, even though some curious minds went to see it thanks to the success of “The Read Sweater”.
AGLA: What is your perception of gay Armenians and do you think that these two words can add up (work together)?
SA: At the time when the film was released, when people were speaking of homosexuality they were speaking of it as of minority. I myself was already in a minority. Yes, I think being gay and Armenian makes a “double” minority, and in the end it could almost make up a majority ! (laughing)
The word "minority" or "marginality" never deranged me, but at the same time I would not like them to be perceived as negative or militant specificity.
When you're part of a specificity, you live in the society by hiding it and that is actually the case for many people, or you live openly and therefore you place yourself in the provocation to the establishment. And that's really not interesting.
In the case of gay Armenians, this becomes a combination of provocations and that could be a double disadvantage in the community.
And I do not see the problem of being gay and Armenian, openly, here, now, in France and claim it as such.
AGLA: We do not believe we are still at the beginning of understanding or acceptance of homosexuality in Armenia. Local gays cannot wait to live their lives, they have few options: hide or leave!
SA: Before us, long ago, Charles Aznavour sang "Like they say …" (Comme ils disent) during his tour in Yerevan. At least I hope he did. And I believe that people who heard it received this song with great emotion even if they were Soviet apparatchiks. Same kind of example, when I screened "We Were One Man" in the Cinematheque of Yerevan, the cinema hall was full, and this is for a film that was never shown on French television. [Unzipped: Gay Armenia: WOW! I didn’t know that the film was screened in Yerevan !!]
Published in October 2004 on www.agla.info
Interview and photos by Didier K.