Wednesday 30 January 2008

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

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

They dislike political games and disregard homosexuals

(title of Aravot article on blogging in Armenia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Armenian citizens among almost 500 married Czech same sex couples

Prague (CTK): The number of registered partnerships between Czech same sex couples reached 487 by the end of last year with homosexual male couples prevailing considerably, according to a poll the results of which were given to CTK by the Sidovsky Management agency today.

Eight of the registered partnerships have ceased to exist and in five cases it were lesbian couples, the poll showed.

The law on registered partnership that allows marriages between gay and lesbian couples has been valid in the Czech Republic since July 2006.

Since then, legal registered partnerships were concluded by 353 homosexual male and 134 female couples.

In 43 cases, one of the partners was a foreigner, especially from Slovakia, but also Azerbaijan, Taiwan, Israel, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Armenia, the Netherlands, the USA and Canada.

Homosexual couples were prosecuted in the former Czechoslovakia until 1961. The law on registered partnership of same sex couples was passed by the Czech Chamber of Deputies in March 2006 when the Chamber overrode President Vaclav Klaus's veto by a narrow majority.

Under the law, same sex couples can officially register their partnership with legal consequences. The partnership, for instance, guarantees its members the right to information about their partner's health, sets the duty to take care for the partner, but does not allow the adoption of children.

Picture of the Day

Sale sign, Soho, London

Thursday 24 January 2008

Gay Armenians in Diaspora: still a taboo

For anyone who wants to get some inside on how it is to be gay Armenian in LA, a home to the one of the largest Armenian communities in Diaspora, I would recommend reading this brief paper by Ani Garibyan (2005), which was prepared as part of her student term project at UCLA.

It is not an in-depth study but rather descriptive one, involving several interviews with LGBT people, members of community and church. However, it’s well written and gives general picture of and some of the challenges faced by Armenian LGBT people in fighting prejudice and discrimination in their local communities, in this case Southern California (US).

It’s not a secret that Armenian society (inside and outside Armenia) is feeling pretty uncomfortable and at times hostile towards the fact that there are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people among us. One of the reactions when they are confronted with the reality is homophobia, another possibility is confusion, minority would be pretty accepting and welcoming. But one of the commonest reactions is… silence.

Very convenient attitude, isn’t it? We frequently think that if we ignore an issue around us, if we ignore existence of something or someone which does not fit into the ‘picture’, we would end up with that ‘picture’, as if it is for real. It may be very convenient but what we would end up with actually, as we do in many other cases too, is mixing the real reality with the reality which suites us.

As Ani Garibyan writes in her brief student paper, which, by the way, one of the rarest works on the state of LGBT Armenians in Diaspora, when confronted with the fact that there are gay and lesbian Armenians in Southern California… you guessed it right: “The community does not speak about it.” So Ani decided to explore the subject further, to see what are the obstacles on the way of acceptance and tolerance towards LGBT people within the Armenian community in California.

There are hundreds of openly gay Armenians in California, there are much more who hide their sexual identity and remain ‘in closet’ because of intolerance. “They are mostly well educated, successful and well rounded people,” as the author notes. One of the main reasons of intolerance towards them is coming from Armenian churches which have strong influence especially in local communities in Diaspora.


Ani Garibyan, “The Unspoken Words: Gay, Lesbian,” Term project for History 111C, UCLA, 2005. <>, accessed [24 January 2008].

Other useful related links:

GALAS - Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society of LA, established in 1998, the biggest and the oldest Armenian LGBT organisation in Diaspora.

Club Nur – gay Middle Eastern Nights in LA, Armenian friendly.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Actor Heath Ledger is found dead

Was watching BBC news and suddenly... shocking breaking news... Heath Ledger is found dead in US... Feel very sad right now... Heath Ledger will always remain in my memory as Ennis Del Mar from “Brokeback Mountain”.

via NY Times:

The actor Heath Ledger was found dead this afternoon in an apartment building at 421 Broome Street in SoHo, according to the New York City police. Mr. Ledger was 28.

At 3:31 p.m., a masseuse arrived at Apartment 5A in the building for an appointment with Mr. Ledger, the police said. The masseuse was let in to the home by a housekeeper, who then knocked on the door of Mr. Ledger’s bedroom. When no one answered, the housekeeper and the masseuse opened the bedroom and found Mr. Ledger unconscious. They shook him, but he did not respond. They immediately called the authorities. The police said they did not suspect foul play and said they found pills near body.

Mr. Ledger, a native of Perth, Australia, won acclaim for his role as a co-star in “Brokeback Mountain”, a 2005 film. The film, based on a short story by Annie Proulx about two cowboys who fall in love, won critical acclaim. Reviewing the film in The New York Times, the critic Stephen Holden wrote, “Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn.”

Monday 21 January 2008

Fighting back tears on stage – a standing ovation to Turkish transsexuals

It’s tough to be gay in Turkey. It’s even tougher to be transsexual there. Discrimination and persecutions are common. Struggle of LGBT people in Turkey to reconcile their sexuality with religious beliefs ads to complexities. But as this report by AFP proves, things are changing in Turkey, as despite widespread homophobia, LGBT people make their presence more visible, and use different platforms to voice their protest against discrimination. Prospect of EU membership helps, indeed. Well worth reading and taking notes on similarities, differences, potential influences and developments in South Caucasus too.

*Turkish transsexual Sera Can puts make up on back stage before her performance in Ankara, 14 January 2008. (AFP)

ANKARA (AFP) - A unique play in an Ankara theatre ended with a standing ovation this week as the little-known actors -- transsexuals and gays raising their voice against discrimination -- fought back their tears on stage.

Their play, "Pink And Grey," put the spotlight on the plight of transsexuals in mainly Muslim Turkey, in the latest initiative of a fledgling but increasingly vocal movement for rights by a community long ostracized and often harassed.

Beaming with pride and excitement, the amateur stars, male-to-female transsexuals Derya Tunc and Sera Can, received congratulations in the boisterous backstage, taking a welcome respite from their actual jobs as sex workers.

"Despite all the discrimination we face, I have no regrets for what I am," Can cheerfully told AFP. "My only regret is having ended up in the prostitution sector."

Almost all transsexuals and transvestites in Turkey make their living as prostitutes. They say they have no other option in a society where homophobia is strong and often accompanied by violence.

Three quarters of Turks say they are "disturbed" by homosexuals, a recent opinion survey showed, although many gays today are recognized as being among the country's most prominent singers and fashion designers.

Notoriously harsh against transsexual prostitutes, police have been accused of arbitrary round-ups, mistreatment, torture and rough "clean-up" operations in several Istanbul neighbourhoods popular with transsexuals.

Activists say police abuse declined in recent years as the homosexual and transgender movement became organised and Turkey's bid to join the European Union made human rights a priority issue.

"Before, the police used violence -- now they only fine us," said Buse Kilickaya, the head of Pembe Hayat, or Pink Life, a newly-founded association that advocates transgender rights and sponsored "Pink and Grey."

She pointed to the ongoing trial of four people over an assault on transvestite and transsexual prostitutes in Ankara's Eryaman suburb in 2006, which left several seriously injured.

The victims were attacked by young men wielding sticks and knives who were allegedly encouraged by local authorities and property developers; their flats were ransacked and they were eventually forced to flee the neighbourhood.

Attorney Senem Doganoglu, a supporter of Pink Life, said transvestites and transsexuals continue to be arbitrarily detained and could end up in a police station simply for showing up in the street.

"I had a case in which one was detained when she went out in the evening to buy bread," Doganoglu said.

Prostitution is not a crime in Turkey, so the police use a law that provides for fines for disturbing public order to pursue transsexual sex workers, she explained.

That the advocacy of conservative values by the governing Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) "is fostering the existing climate of intolerance," she said.

Islam's impact on sexual freedoms, however, has proven to be a tricky issue in secular Turkey, where same-sex relationships and sex change operations are allowed, unlike in many other Muslim countries, and homosexual traditions can be traced back to the palaces of Ottoman sultans.

One of Turkey's best-known gays, prominent fashion designer Cemil Ipekci, made the headlines this month as he praised the AKP, described himself as a "conservative homosexual" and said he would have worn the Islamic headscarf had he been a woman.

And a transgender association in Ankara has called for a special mosque where its members can pray without disturbing the conventional Muslim flock.

"They cannot deny us the right to pray for salvation, can they?" asked group leader Oksan Oztok.

Activists hope discrimination will decrease as they become better organised and more vocal.

"We know things cannot change overnight. But there is progress already and we will continue to fight," Kilickaya said as she and her fellows excitedly discussed the date of the next "Pink and Grey" performance.

Saturday 19 January 2008

I wish I could say "We are all Hrant Dink!"...

Today we mark the 1st anniversary of assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. There was intimate ceremony in London, organised by a number of Armenian organisations and attended by representatives of Kurdish and Turkish communities. For details, see Unzipped

Here I want to re-post one of my very first posts when I started blogging. It's about Hrant Dink. It's current as ever...

Hrant Dink on Turkey-Armenia, family and gay issues

It's a rare interview (in Armenian and French) with Hrant Dink (The Independent named him "Armenian champion in Turkey"), a prominent Turkish-Armenian editor who shot dead on 19 January 2007 in Istanbul for his stance on Armenian genocide and human rights in Turkey. This interview (autumn 2005, Paris) is exceptional, since here, along with Turkey-Armenia relationships, a prominent Armenian spoke out in support of gay rights (an exceptionally rare move in current Armenian reality). When asked, what would be his reaction if his son or daughter came out as gay, Hrant Dink said that he would provide with support:

"You should live your life, If you ever have any problems, I will be beside you, I will support you!"

I wish I could say "We are all Hrant Dink!"...

Thursday 17 January 2008

You and your prostate

knowledge through humour

via Queerty, this humourous take at a very serious matter - prostate cancer, the most common male cancer.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

LGBT magazine in Georgia goes bilingual

Thanks to support from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Me magazine of Georgia's LGBT NGO - Inclusive Foundation, became bilingual (Georgian/English). Until now, only very brief summary for each issue of Me was available in English, which limited its readers to Georgian-speaking only. Me magazine's 6th issue marks new bilingual chapter for this publication. It now aims printing more issues and disseminating not only in Georgia but also abroad.

The following announcement I received from the Inclusive Foundation in Georgia:

beyond what you see

New, fully bilingual issue of "Me" Magazine
Entire content of the issue available also in English

Transformation, a slogan, reflects on main topic of the magazine to expose transgender issues, as well as, underline the change of format to that of international bilingual publication.

What is interesting in this issue?

>>> Pink puddle era that never came
The history of Stonewall Riots

>>> ... But Lithuania is a small country!
ILGA-Europe conference diary from Vilnius. Two smoke bombs and anti-gay demonstration

>>> Transgender activists fighting for equality
Interview with Deborah Lambillotte and Justus Eisfeld

>>> Why do they try to push us back to closet?
The fight for public discourse

>>> Gender is not black and white
Transgender in various cultures and religions

>>> Nobody is perfect!
Transgressive Cinema: Films that violate boundaries

Please visit discussion board for LGBT community

NEW Service for LGBT: online counseling with psychologist and sexologist at

NEW Publication by ILGA-Europe/COC Netherlands
Forced Out: LGBT People in Georgia

The new issue of the magazine is accessible here

Previous issues of the magazine are accessible here"

Paata Sabelashvili, head of Inclusive Foundation, added: "Some people have criticized it because of the health page that medicalizes issue too much, but that reflects on situation in Georgia and countries alike. While interviews with two western European activists balances the attitude."