Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Armenia’s Animosity Towards Gays (by Hetq; plus some commentary)

As I promised in my previous post (now updated), as soon as English version of Hetq article is available, I will re-post it in my blog.

As frequently happened in translated versions of original Armenian articles, they are slightly flawed. However, overall, it reads OK. In few cases I put my commentary within [].

Here we are, as published by Hetq (plus some commentary):

[August 6, 2007]

20-year old Ruben (the names of our interviewees have been changed to protect their privacy) is a bartender at the only gay bar in Yerevan and also one of only three men employed as strip dancers in the capital's nightclubs. Ruben has not told his family about the nature of his work, only a few of his friends know. And those few friends are also aware of the fact that Ruben is in love with a boy.

“My parents were suspicious of my sexual orientation during my last years of school, and we had many fights about it at home. Now we don't talk about it anymore; they think I've changed. As for my work, they know that I'm a bartender in a club, but they don't know that it's for gays. The mere mention of the striptease job is out of the question,” said Ruben.

Ruben is a student and future economist. He said that he hardly made any money dancing, because male strip shows were organized very rarely. But he also said that making money was not the biggest problem he faced. His greatest problem has been to overcome the period of dispute with his parents and resigning himself to his current situation.

“When my parents found out, they isolated me. They wouldn't talk to me, kept being hard on me and I was in a very bad state psychologically. I was aggressive and behaved badly – imagine what you would do if the world you lived in did not accept you,” Ruben said.

Mistreatment and intolerance of homosexuals, which often then turns into animosity, are typical in Armenian society. A survey we conducted among 100 people of different ages in the center of Yerevan offered further support to this fact.

According to the results, 53 percent of the respondents felt animosity towards homosexuals, 40 percent were tolerant, 4 percent treated them well, and 3 percent were undecided. When asked, “What would you do if your child were a homosexual?” 73of the respondents said that they would disown the child.

Psychologist Davit Amiryan believes that this attitude in Armenian society is actually typical of all former Soviet countries. “Ignorance and misperceptions about homosexual relations have led to its association in people's minds with perversion, which is why many people don't consider that it has a place in Armenian society,” said the psychologist. He also said that homosexual tendencies could arise at different ages and that it was necessary to have correct information about homosexuality in general in order to understand the homosexual population.

The Armenian Apostolic Church has a categorical position on homosexuality. According to Deacon Suren Nersisyan, the Church views homosexuals as people with an illness and does not allow them to partake of the Communion during mass because they are considered to be in sin. Even if they confess, they are considered to be in a period of repentance and are not given Communion then either (all this, of course, “if the church knows about their homosexual tendencies”). “These people are not unclean, but there is an impurity in them, perhaps even from birth [So we are not "unclean", but there is "impurity" in us, we've been sort of 'contaminated' from birth - I think modern science call it "genetics", which determine 'contamination' with 'being born straight' or 'being born gay'. Apparently, we have very progressive clergy in Armenia, who 'support' 'being born' theory.]. We recently wrote an email to a homosexual and asked him to bring himself closer to God and repent,” said Deacon Suren.

As Deacon Suren Nersisyan explained it, the whole Christian world has a similar position regarding homosexuals. The only exception is the Methodist Church in the USA, which performs same-sex marriages and where 40% of the community, gathered at an assembly held in 2000, had expressed approval for the ordainment of homosexuals.

51-year old Gevorg is a successful businessman. He said that now, in a relationship with a 17-year-old boy, he has had the same feelings that he once had for his wife. Gevorg discovered these tendencies within himself years ago, after living with his wife and children for many years.

“I think gay love is more natural, because we are both of the same sex, we understand each other better and act more naturally. I hope the girls who read this will forgive me for saying so, but they are never completely honest in a relationship,” said Gevorg. [Here is another extreme - I re-read several times both Armenian and English versions of the article and could not get it why would anyone consider gay love as being "more natural" than straight one; or what does it mean that "[girls] are never completely honest in a relationship"? - the only explanation I may suggest is that this is the reflection of the influence of traditional, 'macho' mentality and male superiority in our society which affects gay people too.] He agreed to an interview with us in his apartment where I was, he said, according to him, the first “straight” person to set foot.

He explained that he had always had homosexual tendencies but it all came to the surface when he grew tired of family quarrels and sexual dissatisfaction. Gevorg has not had a legal divorce from his wife, but they no longer live together. He sees his children every week. He said that his youngest probably remained oblivious, but the elder children were beginning to have suspicions about his sexual orientation, because they were close and spent a lot of time together.

“I would like to declare all this openly, because I don't think I am doing anything unusual. But there are issues of family, friends and work - I don't want to lose all that I've gained in business, and I can't confide in my old friends,” said Gevorg, adding that he often had parties at his apartment where they would gather together in small numbers and it would remain their secret.

Just five years ago, homosexuality was considered a criminal offense in Armenia and homosexuals were constantly targeted by the police, who made frequent arrests and demanded large sums of money. The police today no longer arrest homosexuals, but they continue to meet in secret and prefer to conceal their homosexuality.

Gevorg said that there were a few clubs where they can feel free, and that many gays got together outside, but in his opinion, these gatherings were not well-organized, so he and his friends preferred to stay away.

“Many are afraid to even go to clubs, they think they will be recognized as homosexuals. But I say that they can go and see the others for themselves. We have no problems in the clubs. We are also on good terms with lesbians,” said Gevorg.

Gay club bartender Ruben said that there would be 10-15 people in the club on a usual day. When there were parties or other special occasions, there would be 50 or more – there would sometimes not even be standing room. Interestingly, there are no officially registered gay clubs in the country, according to the State Registration Agency. They are not registered separately and usually serve a small clientele.

All the gay people who spoke with us said that the best means they had to interact was the Internet, where many of them had first established relationships. There are 1,764 homosexuals registered on a social network for Armenian gays – 1,306 of them are homosexuals, 342 are bisexual, 94 are lesbians and 22 are transvestites. They usually post notices looking for someone interested in sexual relations and often mention secrecy as a necessary condition.

We tried to contact a few of them through the posts and wrote them emails. They all replied, and an Armenian from the Diaspora, visiting Yerevan for two weeks, agreed to meet. He told us that his friend had been brutally beaten a few years ago while serving in the army, and then moved out of Armenia and in with him after completing his military service.

“I was called a bad word in the street the other day and pretended not to understand Armenian; it was a very unpleasant moment,” said Daron and added that military service was most difficult for Armenian gay men.

Gevorg also spoke about his friends in the army. He talked about how the problems his friend was facing came to an end when he openly declared his homosexuality and everyone, starting with the commanders, was then very careful to avoid any incidents with him so that they would not be held responsible. “The insulting thing was that they had separated his plate and cup from the rest and would not touch it, but would come to him when they wanted to satisfy their sexual urges,” said Gevorg. He also had friends who have not had problems in the army because nobody has known about their homosexuality.

Our interviewees gave different answers to the question “When will our society become tolerant towards homosexuals?”

“The problems faced by homosexuals will not be solved in Armenia anytime soon, because the authorities prefer the attitude currently held by most people,” thought Gevorg.

Ruben said that Armenia was more or less under the influence of Russia, and if Russia – relatively more developed than Armenia – still continued to be intolerant towards homosexuals and prohibit gay parades, then it was much too soon to think about a solution in Armenia. Daron said that the animosity he faced from his peers was very painful, but he did not care much about the intolerance shown by older people.

Psychologist Davit Amiryan thinks that negative feelings towards homosexuals will change years down the line. Meanwhile, he presented the results of a survey, wherein 86.5% of young Armenians said that they refused to live near or work with homosexuals. [Interestingly, according to gay.ru, recent survey showed that 87% of young Azerbaijanis do not consider homosexuality as sin; while 64% of them regarded themselves as religious. However, I was not able to locate the original source of that survey and I am not sure about its methodology and representativeness]

Deacon Suren Nersisyan quoted the Bible to remind us that God punished the Romans for worshipping the created, instead of the Creator. He condemned them to vile passions –those vile passions were their unnatural sexual needs.

Shushan Harutyunyan


Anonymous said...

Really interesting, thanks for posting it in English. :)
i know some gay guys actually don't like women (while others are great friends to us, of course! :) ). Probably the guy in the article is bitter towards his wife and blames all women. Some straight guys are like that too after all!
regards Rhiannon.

Anonymous said...

"Girls are never completely honest in a relationship."

I had to giggle (well, probably it was closer to smirking) when I read this. What about those "macho" Armenian men who consider it normal to have girlfriends on the side? Or are they completely honest about that?

This guy must have a thing against women.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article in English. I cannot believe how our clergy say such things about homosexuals and homosexuality. The God that our clergy is preaching us from the beginning of this nation's christinatiy, the very same God in the Bible itself, is a loving God and who are they (our clergy) to know better than God Himself? This applies not only to the Armenian Apostolic Church, but to all religions alike.

As to the gentleman who is co-habiting with a 17-year old youth in his new gay awakening, he best reserve judgement about himself and men and not generalise things about women.

Anonymous said...

I am going to live and work in Armenia for a few months, and I was wondering if I should be out. Clearly, I should not. Thank you for the article. Too bad the young people are also homophobes.

Armenian- American
Lesbian from the