Thursday, 27 September 2012

Challenges faced by Armenia's LGBT people to be discussed at "Armenians and Progressive Politics" conference in New York

"The Armenians and Progressive Politics" conference focusing on Armenia at 21 (referring to the 21th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union) will be held at Columbia University on 28-29 September 2012. []

For the first time, head of PINK Armenia Mamikon Hovsepyan will participate in the conferences to talk about "LGBT Rights in Armenia – Silenced Reality." He will be on the "Emergence of Social Movements, NGOs, and the Rise of a New Identity Politics" panel. The following is the abstract of his talk (via Armenians and Progressive Politics FB page):

In the shadow of societal and institutional discrimination, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Armenia face tremendous struggles in achieving equality, both at the personal and organizational levels. Although the Armenian government has signed and ratified most of the UN, Council of Europe and OSCE covenants, treaties, and other instruments, including a partnership and cooperation agreement with the European Union, in practice, those commitments have not been met with regard to human rights pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Armenia, homophobia is widespread and deeply ingrained in society. Visibility of the LGBT community is limited. Individuals face discrimination and human rights violations in virtually all spheres of society due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Most seriously, LGBT individuals can be bullied in educational institutions or become victims of psychological and physical abuse while serving in the Armenian army.

Hate crimes and their promotion are supported by the majority of society and politicians, under the pretext of “patriotism” and “Christianity.” As a result, extremist groups of young people and their sponsors have deliberately spread misinformation to disrupt Armenia’s diversity march, considering it a gay parade, and have subjected its participants to violence. This spring, a fascistic group bombed a bar patronized by supporters of diversity and multiculturalism. This talk will examine these profound challenges faced by Armenia’s LGBT community.


artmika said...

While in LA... things turned ugly and scandalous. I was aiming to reflect the developments but was busy back then and forgot afterwards. And when today I came across this post, I realised that an important part of the story is still missing here. To fill the gap, read IANYAN's report on developments: Armenian Progressive Politics Conference Sees Highs, Lows

Following successful presentations in San Francisco and New York, a conference tackling Armenian progressivism and politics on the occasion of the Republic of Armenia’s 21st year of independence took an unexpected stumble in Los Angeles because of what organizers described as a security issue that threatened the well being of one of the panelists.

This claim however is being rebutted by both conference participants and audience members who allege that a small fraction of the political sponsor backpedaled, giving contradictory and confusing statements about security issues, causing other panelists and attendees to walk out and hold their panels at an ad-hoc location nearby.

After reaching Los Angeles on Friday, Oct.5, Armenians and Progressive Politics (APP) conference panelist Mamikon Hovsepyan, an LGBT rights activist and president of Yerevan-based NGO, PINK Armenia, was told that threats were made against him and given private security as a precautionary measure. By Saturday however, the situation had taken an unexpected turn as the panelists said they were told by two members of the host organization, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Western Region, that Hovsepyan would not be allowed to speak. The conference was organized by the ARF Central Committee – Eastern Region and co-sponsored by the Armenian Society of Columbia University and the ARF Western Region.

Given the South Caucasus country’s challenges with LGBT issues and discriminations faced by its gay community, Hovsepyan has been no stranger to resistance. Speaking via Skype to Ianyanmag however, the panelist said that the evening’s circumstances raised suspicions among them as organizers were not able to offer any clear and concrete reasons about the security threat and overall situation.

“The whole thing wasn’t very well explained, it was very secretive, we were not aware of all the details,” said panelist and co-founder of the Women’s Resource Center Lara Aharonian. “They were keeping us in the dark, saying ‘listen to us, we know what’s best for you.’”

Hovsepyan agreed.

“It was not clear for me, one was saying it was for my security, another for their security, I couldn’t understand whose security was the most important,” said Hovsepyan. [...]

artmika said...

Kirk Wallace, programs manager in Yerevan for the Armenian Environmental Network said the group was trying to understand and get to the reason why Hovsepyan would not be allowed to speak, without much success.

“At this point, there were two of them, one of them was saying it was for Mamikon’s safety, the other was saying ‘no it’s not about that, it’s about security in general.’ One of them blamed problems with translations. We asked, ‘Is Mamikon in danger inside?’ They said no. They said ‘We cannot give you details. We had a security issue.’

It became clear to the panelists that the worry about Hovsepyan presenting was in fact an internal issue among a few who were part of the sponsoring organizations, rather than an external issue, they said.

“There were so many inconsistencies and no details of the threat, we believe they wanted to make sure we didn’t get these details,” said Wallace.

In a show of support for Hovsepyan, the other panelists, which included Wallace, Aharonian as well as Arpine Galafyan, president of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in Armenia and Sona Ayvazyan, project director of Transparency International, Armenia, gathered their material and continued their presentations at Mexican restaurant “Los Burritos” down the street. A good portion of the audience followed, said Wallace.

The restaurant accommodated the group, which numbered around 30 people and the presentations continued at the alternative location. A few of the organizers, who the panelists identified as being different from the two ARF members they said did not allow Hovsepyan to speak, stopped by and apologized to the group, inviting them to speak on KPFK 90.7 FM radio station, they said. [...]

artmika said...

[...] Speculation about the underlying reasons for the incident remains high, with some pointing to Hovsepyan’s use of ARF member of Parliament Arstvik Minasyan’s statements and photo in his presentation in New York as a reason for the breakdown in L.A. The member of parliament was accused of encouraging hate crimes against LGBT people during the bombing and defacing of a gay-friendly bar in Yerevan earlier this year. [...]

Hovsepyan’s PINK Armenia, dedicated to promoting sex education as well as fighting against discrimination based on sexual orientation in Armenia was honored by the Hrant Dink Foundation in September for their efforts in the country.

The details surrounding the security issue still remain unclear.