Thursday 30 April 2009

Beirut: underground gay community and shift in sexual attitudes in Lebanon

Two excellent reports by Worldfocus special correspondent Kristen Gillespie.

In this first video report, she talks about changing sexual attitudes in Lebanon, and in particular Beirut:

"From the Arab world’s first gay rights demonstration to wild parties to a new graphic magazine, sexual attitudes are changing in Beirut. For a country once known more for wars, car bombs and political assasinations, Lebanon is assuming a new identity."

Her second report is about Beirut's undergound gay community:

"It’s Friday night at a bar on a side street in Gemayze.

Two young women sitting at the end of the bar discreetly hold hands. The female DJ wears a T-shirt that reads, “My boyfriend is out of town.” Everyone in the bar is female. In the underground gay community, Friday nights at this particular bar is known to be ladies’ night. The gay scene in Beirut, says one woman while sipping her drink, “is big, but people aren’t open about it. You have to know where to go.”

The woman, 33, lives at home, but her parents don’t know that she is a lesbian. For now, they don’t have to. For younger people looking to date casually, it’s not difficult to meet people, have fun and stay in the closet.

But for homosexual couples looking to have a serious relationship — or children — the choice often boils down to staying in Lebanon and compromising, or moving abroad. I ask if it bothers her that she can’t be “out” with her partner. “What I want is to live with my partner and have a family. But realistically, I wouldn’t be able to have children and give them a good life here.” It upsets her that she would have to leave the country to do that. “We’re not there yet,” she says about Lebanon.

As it gets later, the music gets louder, the drinks keep coming and the narrow bar fills up. Another woman, 32 years old, sees me taking notes and comes over to chat. She echoes the sentiments of the first woman, emphasizing that she will remain in the closet. Her parents ”will never know” about her, even as they pressure her to get married. She is unsure how things will turn out for her.

The bar hosted at least a couple of dozen women that night, most of whom probably live at home with their parents. While Beirut is the most gay-friendly city in the Arab world, it is still a conservative society where gay couples are not socially accepted.

Homosexuals are at the beginning of a struggle for rights in Lebanon. It is one that will set an example for the rest of the Arab world."

Wednesday 29 April 2009

PACE reminds European governments of their obligation to protect human rights defenders. Caucasus region is of particular concern

Strasbourg, 28.04.2009 - The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) today reminded European governments of their “obligation and responsibility” to protect human rights defenders and their work “by providing an enabling environment” and, if necessary, “protection mechanisms to ensure the physical integrity” of those who face specific threats.

The parliamentarians expressed concern about the situation of human rights defenders who are most exposed to attacks and abuses: those fighting against impunity for serious crimes and against corruption, as well as those working on economic, social and cultural rights, on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, as well as for the rights of migrants, national or ethnic minorities.

“Women defenders also face distinct risks and obstacles. In particular, the situation of human rights defenders in the Caucasus region, where some of them face the most violent repression, including killing, abduction, arbitrary arrests and detention, is critical,” they said.

Following the proposals by the rapporteur Holger Haibach (Germany, EPP/CD), the Assembly urged Council of Europe member states to “publicly and firmly support” the activities of human rights defenders and to “guarantee in all circumstances their physical and psychological integrity”. Governments, they said, should establish “humanitarian visa schemes” for those facing imminent danger. Quoting from a recent speech of German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the Assembly, Mr Haibach said that we have not only a right, but a duty to intervene to protect human rights defenders.

The adopted text welcomes the Declaration recently adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which mandates the Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen the role and capacity of his office in order to provide strong and effective protection for human rights defenders and to intervene in threatening situations.

While stressing that the Assembly intends to step up its support for human rights defenders across the continent, the resolution recalls that PACE recently established an annual Human Rights Prize to reward outstanding civil society action in the defence of human rights in Europe.

*source: Council of Europe; emphasis mine

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Gay bars in Tbilisi and Yerevan (opinion)

Peace Corps volunteer John (based in Armenia) travelled to Tbilisi for a vacation and now shares his experiences on his Peace Out blog ("A volunteer's life from the Armenian closet"). Interesting observation and comparisons of gay bars in Tbilisi and Yerevan:

"I also managed to make it to the gay bar with a couple other people and had a great time there. I just discovered a gay friendly bar in Yerevan, but this one in Tbilisi was more open about it and so was a great ton of fun. I tell you, there is no more welcoming environment for a boy than a gay bar in a small country. All the Georgian homos were so happy to see us there, buying us drinks and chatting like there was no tomorrow."

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Serj Tankian and... my Gay Armenia blog

Thank you so much to iddewes!! I am very touched, indeed... You know, I am a big fan of Serj, and happy to hear that he seems nice in real life too… :)

Via iddewes (+ videos):

...I did manage to get in to see Screamers at the Amnesty International centre. I was a bit worried because I'd heard that Serj Tankian would be there and I thought there would be loads and loads of SOAD fans there, and they always overbook there.

Anyway, it actually wasn't too bad. I guess the word didn't get out that much among the SOAD fans, because there were more people there who actually either looked Armenian or older and not necessarily metal fans than people who looked like they were primarily SOAD fans. Did talk to a couple of nice young boys who were SOAD fans though - tried to get them to come along to the Armenian Genocide march on Saturday too...;)

And yeah spoke to a young British Armenian guy too. He said he'd seen the film and that it was more about SOAD than the actual Genocide, recommended a documentary called The Betrayed - if you're reading this Artmika and I bet you are, do you know it? [Unzipped: Gay Armenia - I have not seen that BBC documentary The Betrayed, did few searches, sounds interesting.]

I arrived really early and had to stand outside for a while...there actually wasn't a queue, either. But I saw Serj arrive...and was too shy to say a thing to him!

Well the film was very good, anyway, yes it was quite a bit about SOAD but also about the genocide, I thought there was enough about the genocide as well, and then there was the Q and A with Serj, the filmmaker Carla Garapedian and two people from Amnesty; quite interesting to listen to them too of course. And then I finally did get to meet Serj at the end. I'd been texting Artmika that he was there but I'd been too shy to speak to him or take a photo - Artmika texted back 'forget about shyness, you have to get a photo!!' - ok so in the end my excuse for going up to him was not to say I admired him or anything like that but to tell him about Artmika's Gay Armenia blog! So yeah Artmika he knows about it now! He was very nice and did actually seem quite interested to hear about it and asked if Artmika lived in Armenia, etc.

So that was good too...I'd have been disappointed if he'd turned out to be an arrogant jerk, but he really wasn't like that at all. :)

*photo - via Independentmusic

Sunday 19 April 2009


Spotted this in a bookstore, while glancing at a new issue of Hercules men fashion magazine.

Alla Pugacheva, Vogue Russia, April 09

Spotted: David Gevorkov of Fresh Art at a gay party in Moscow spotted David Gevorkov of Fresh Art studio at a gay party in Moscow, looking cool and hot.
Участник трио Fresh-Art был один, но бросал призывные взгляды из-под очков
I posted earlier that the famous trio of Fresh Art studio (Moscow) is working on Armenia Eurovision 2009 representatives Inga & Anush Arshakyan stage image and performance design. The Fresh Art comprised of 2 Armenians (Alexander Siradeghyan and David Gevorkov, born in Tbilisi) and an Azerbaijani (Aslan Akhmadov, born in Baku).

Saturday 18 April 2009

International Day Against Homophobia in South Caucasus countries?

As of today, there are no reports or indications as to whether or how the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) will be marked by local LGBT groups or other NGOs in Armenia and Georgia.

(On 17 May 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of diseases.)

There is only one brief note posted on ILGA-Europe by anonymous "Gay journalist" in Azerbaijan, which says that IDAHO will be marked in Baku "for the first time this year". Meetings by local NGOs, LGBT-themed presentations and anti-homophobia social ads/billboards will be used, according to that report. No other details are provided.

Friday 17 April 2009

Cocoon – new gay friendly bar in Yerevan

Interestingly, this news was first delivered yesterday via Twitter @ArmenianNews:

“Armenia's first Gay Bar, "Cocoon" - opens in central Yerevan with large crowd.”

I am so not regretting for joining Twitter. Thanks to Onnik for inspiring me to do so :)

Strictly said, this was rather a re-launch than a launch, as it replaced a former techno bar with the same name Cocoon.

Also, Cocoon is not the first gay bar in Armenia. The very first gay bar in Yerevan (and Armenia) was Meline’s.

As far as I understand, it would be more correct to call it a gay friendly bar, rather than a gay bar. In any case, good news for sure. I’ve been told that ambience at Cocoon is cool, and people have good time there. (Cocoon is on Tumanyan street)

Time to update my Armenia Gay Guide. I know, I promised to do it quite some time ago, but could not find time, sorry for that. Now I have even more reasons to do so. Will do it asap.

"Historic moment for LGBT rights in the European Parliament"

European Parliament's Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights welcomes two important reports adopted yesterday by the European Parliament.

The Report on "Rights of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States" calls on Member States to recognize the freedom of movement of all Union citizens (including same-sex partners) without imposing the recognition of same-sex marriages.

The other report drafted by rapporteur Ms. Buitenweg backed the European Commission's Equality Treatment Directive proposal, which will outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, disability, age and religion in social protection and health care, social benefits, education and access to goods and services, including housing. The Parliament also believes the directive should cover multiple discrimination, based on two or more grounds.

"We warmly welcome both reports and thank Ms.Buitenweg and Ms.Valean for the tremendous job they have done," said Michael Cashman, President of the Intergroup. "When extremism is on the rise throughout Europe, we must speak out for those who suffer inequality, harassment and outright discrimination every single day!".

*source: European Parliament's Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights

Thursday 16 April 2009

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Happy bday, Alla!

My all time favourite Russian singer - Alla Pugacheva. You have to know Russian, you have to have ‘history’ with her, to appreciate Alla fully. I remember her as much as I remember myself. I grew up with her. I do not want to think about her latest announcement that she will be quitting the stage within a year, after her farewell tour. It’s way too emotional… I can’t even write properly about her now. One day I probably will. For now: Happy bday, Alla! You are THE one and THE only!! xxx

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Banned: poster with naked members of Russian pop band Na-Na in Minsk

This poster with naked members of well known Russian pop band Na-Na was ‘banned’ for display in Minsk, Belarus, ahead of their concert in May. The organisers eventually found it ‘too naked’. One of the organisers said that “it’s one thing to have posters with naked women, we are used to them, but men…”

Na-Na was popular in 90s. I have not heard of them for ages. But I like what I see ;)

*photo - (via )

Saturday 11 April 2009

Gay icon Cher on her Armenian roots

I remember her first (and the only so far) visit to Yerevan in 1993, few years after the devastating earthquake. She was having a meeting with students at the Yerevan State University, and I was there with a close friend of mine, who was a huge fan of Cher (I like her too). She looked stunning, we were very excited to be able to ask questions, and hang out with her for a while. My friend brought with him an article with Cher's picture on it from a local Azg daily, and he got it signed by Cher. He felt very happy...

Below are extracts from a TV interview to be aired this coming week, via the Armenian Reporter, where Cher speaks of her Armenian heritage, recalls her visit to Yerevan, and revealed her fondness for Armenian food. A real treat for Cher fans, especially her Armenian fans. I hope we will see her again in Yerevan, this time not only for a short visit, but for her concert too.
*** *Cher with Lusine Shahbazyan in an exclusive and intimate interview, which will air for the first time this week on US-Armenia TV. Arman

The year was 1993. Cher boarded "one of those big airplanes that has no seating," a DC-8 cargo ship, to Armenia. "It was such a rickety old plane and they had bolted these little seats in the back for us and given us a canister of oxygen." Because of the wartime power shortage, they had to get to Yerevan before dark, "and we hit the runway as the sun went down."

Cher recalls her trip to Armenia and discusses her Armenian heritage with Lusine Shahbazyan in an intimate and exclusive interview that will air for the first time this week on US-Armenia TV. [...]

The modern-day legend remembers entering a random coffee shop in Yerevan. "All the men were in there," she says. "Some of the men were playing chess, but they didn't have any coffee and they didn't have any tea. But they were just in there. They were playing their chess. They were talking. They were all dressed properly, maybe a little bit of tatters, but so dignified. And it was the first time I thought, I'm an Armenian, I'm proud."

Prompted by Lusine, Cher also speaks of her father, Garabed Sarkisian. He was an immigrant whose parents had survived the Armenian Genocide. He was a farmer, sometimes a truck driver, and a man Cher calls "charismatic, a little shady like a bad boy."

"I don't really look like anyone in my family, except my great grandmother and my father," says Cher, whose parents divorced when she was two. She didn't see her father again until she was 11. "When I was young, every once in a while, my mother would look at me with the strangest look on her face; and then when I saw my father, I realized why. Because we made the same faces, and I'd never seen him. And when I saw him, I realized why."

"I liked him a lot," she says, "but he'd been in prison."

Sarma and kufta
After her parent's reunion, the family would often visit her father's relatives in Fresno. "All of my relatives were living there, in Fresno. A huge family, and my great grandmother never learned to speak English. My grandmother spoke English, but she called women ‘he.' She got [English] a little bit, but she didn't get it great. But they were great. They were really happy to see me, and my grandmother taught me how to make sarma, kufta, and all kinds of things. I really enjoy and love the food. Armenian food is brilliant." [...]

Friday 10 April 2009

Armenian men in drag in downtown Yerevan… to mark Motherhood and Beauty day

Brabion Flora Service continue with its hilarious PR campaigns challenging notions of masculinity in Armenia. First, it was a naked men action to mark Valentine’s day. They announced back then that all men who would come to their flora salon in downtown Yerevan in swimwear or underwear only, would get a free bouquet.

On 7 April, to mark Motherhood and Beauty day (2nd official holiday dedicated to women in Armenia; 1st - 8 March), they had a similar free bouquet promotion, but this time only if men turn up dressed in women's clothes and wigs (necessary condition: mini skirts, high heels and wigs). The result was pretty hilarious and as unprecedented (or more!) as their previous action.

Well done, Brabion! And well done to Armenian men in drag! A truly historic occasion ;)

P.S. We did have drag shows in Yerevan in past, but in bars or clubs, never so public, in daylight.

*Photos – by Kamo Tovmasyan (Kamoblog)

Porn Panic! (The Advocate)

"The recession has dealt knockout blows to the auto and financial industries, and now adult entertainment could be the next to drop to its knees."

*new issue of The Advocate magazine

Turkey: LGBT Pride week and march, Pink Istanbul, homophobia and transphobia

1. LGBT Pride Week in Turkey in June
The 17th Gay Pride Week will take place in Turkey from 22 to 28 June. The Hormone Tomatoes anti-homophobia (anti-transphobia) awards will be presented, and a Gay Pride March will take place in Istanbul.

A survey to find this years recipients for the Hormone Tomatoes awards. is being carried out by the Lambda Istanbul organisation. In previous years, institutions like the Turkish Armed Forces, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) and the Vakit newspaper, as well as individuals from show business, politics, and journalism have been nominated.

2. “Pink Istanbul” event against homophobia and transphobia (Istanbul, 4 April)
The Pink Amsterdam event which was organised previously to draw attention to homophobia and transphobia in Amsterdam and Istanbul came to Istanbul for the first time. There was a conference and a night of music with DJs and musicians.


3. "Attacks and murders in Eskisehir, Bursa and Edirne in Turkey" (statement by LGBTT Rights Platform, a collective of LGBT groups in Turkey)

A transsexual woman was attacked and beaten in Eskisehir. A transsexual woman was found her head cut in Bursa. A man has been killed by his friend on the claim that he asked for sexual intercourse.
(Transgenders in Armenia)

Thursday 9 April 2009

Four stars for US marriage equality flag: Vermont

Few days after Iowa's decision, "Vermont has become the fourth state to legalize gay marriage — and the first to do so with a legislature's vote.

The Legislature voted Tuesday to override Gov. Jim Douglas' veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry. The vote was 23-5 to override in the state Senate and 100-49 to override in the House. Under Vermont law, two-thirds of each chamber had to vote for override.

The vote came nine years after Vermont adopted its first-in-the-nation civil unions law.

It's now the fourth state to permit same-sex marriage. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa are the others. Their approval of gay marriage came from the courts." (source: AP)

Just checked the US marriage equality flag started by New York-based engineer and designer of Armenian origin Carl Tashian. The flag of equal marriage was updated with four stars. No doubts, more to follow...

Monday 6 April 2009

James Russell’s commentary on Charents homoerotic poetry and more

There were stormy discussions in Armenian literary circles following a publication by Inknagir magazine of never before published homoerotic poetry by Armenia’s cultural icon Yeghishe Charents (168 Zham, Azg, Aravot, Zhamanak, What can I say... We are lucky that unpublished poetry by Charents did not reach Soviet style 'Charents specialists', and thanks to James Russell and some others we now have Charents unzipped. (For more background info, read Yeghishe Charents unzipped – nation’s favourite gay poet)

In response to this ‘controversy’, below is a copy of James Russell’s letter to the readers of Inknagir magazine, published here with the kind permission of the author. James Russell is a professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of number of Armenia related works, covering history, religion and literature. He has a special interest in the great Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents.

Dear Friends,

A few years ago a number of scholars of Armenian studies including myself were attacked in the media for our studies of Armenian history. In my own work I have focussed on Armenian pre-Christian religion, mythology, and epic literature over a number of years, studying in particular the Iranian and Zoroastrian components. I undertook this work because it fascinated me, as a rich and ancient facet of Armenian culture. Obviously one's writings in this area are based on primary sources, textual, ethnographic, and archaeological; and to the degree that one has advanced new insights, they are based upon this evidence.

There are scholars with ideological agendas, and every human being ipso facto approaches whatever he perceives with a personal point of view; but the better a scholar is, the more he tries to be objective, or at least to be aware of his own biases and to admit them. In recent weeks I have been attacked by some shadowy organization of Armenian students for calling the proto-Armenians "colonists". But in fact the latter term belongs to the ancient Greek sources, not to me: 'The Armenians are Phrygian colonists who in their language are very like Phrygians". These data are useful in establishing the kinship of Armenian to Thraco-Phrygian and proto-Greek. It is obvious, from my own writings citing later Latin sources, that the carriers of proto-Armenian were migratory settlers, not conquering colonialists in any modern sense. They intermarried with Urarteans and others and Armenian over time became the dominant language of the plateau and remained so for many centuries.

Disagree with my arguments if you wish. Document your discussion as I have done for mine. But as for facts, take your objections to Herodotus, not to me. And do not impute to me an anti-Armenian agenda according to which one is seeking to undermine the immemorial claim of the Armenian nation to its own country. That is just defamatory nonsense. Over a lifetime I have defended the Armenian cause, supported Genocide recognition, and served the Armenian community in myriad ways. I was not obliged to do any of this and indeed many scholars in the field do not contribute this way to the people whose culture is the object of their scholarly endeavors. I do not expect thanks; but I will not tolerate abuse.

Another area of my interest is Armenian literature. I've published a book on Hovhannes Tlkurantsi and numerous articles on St. Grigor Narekatsi, St. Nerses Shnorhali, and other medieval writers. In the modern field I've published books on Bedros Tourian and Derenik Demirjian, and have written many articles and published translations of Siamanto, Daniel Varuzhan, Avetik Isahakyan, Gurgen Mahari, Paruyr Sevak, Zahrad, Mkrtich Hajian, and many others. I think all this is very fine work and of service to the field. Again, I've never sought thanks or recognition for any of it.

At the age of nineteen at Columbia College I began to read Charents. His "Vision of Death" and "The Cats and I" remain amongst the most powerful poems I've ever read, in any language. The translations and discussions of Charents by my friends Raffi Setian and Garig Basmadjian haunt me to this day. As I continued my work on Charents, gradually becoming acquainted with the texts saved from destruction at the time of his arrest, he became a greater and more complex figure than one could ever have imagined. He was both a revolutionary and a Christian mystic, a loving husband and father and a bisexual, a brilliant and responsible editor and a user of narcotics. He was at home in Moscow and Leningrad as in Erevan and Tiflis. A man as large and brilliant, as tragic and grief-stricken as his verses.

Though I have not followed in detail the stormy controversy that has arisen in Armenia following the translation of two of my major articles on Charents into Armenian and their publication in Inknagir, I should think it likely that much as the stress on Iran ignited outrage in connection with my work on Armenian antiquity, in the case of Charents it is the emphasis on his sexuality and his homoerotic verses in particular that displeases critics. To those who think one is distorting the picture or promoting a hidden agenda, I must again insist only that they consider the evidence: Charents' own manuscripts. I have published a number of other manuscript poems of Charents that are not in these two articles, but support the judgements made in them, in a long article intended for the Weitenberg Festschrift and printed also in my volume of opera minora, "Armenian and Iranian Studies" (Cambridge, MA, 2004). The book can be read in Erevan libraries and it is easily obtainable from Harvard University Press. In the bundle of papers hidden from the Soviet secret police during the Great Terror, Charents included a note begging the finder of his poems to publish them all, despite their content-- in this he was presumably alluding to the taboo topic of homosexuality. So I have not only followed the texts but fulfilled the dying request of their author. If you have a problem with the topic, take it up with the poet's ghost, not with me.

Some years ago I visited the Prado museum in Madrid, and ended up spending all three days of my stay in that city in the Goya rooms. One of his more haunting works illustrates the adage, "The sleep of reason creates monsters." It is a tantalizingly ambiguous warning, since it can mean either that when reason is absent the monsters rush in, or else that reason itself dreams them up. Double-edged swords cut with both edges: in the case of Armenian civil life today, Goya's adage is true either way. Communism was nothing if not coldly rational, yet its insistence upon its own logical inevitability and veracity created the monsters of ideologically-based scholarship and the violent suppression of contrary evidence and unorthodox ideas. Totalitarianism shaped the intellectual habits of the Armenian SSR and that doctrinaire approach is still present. And the other way, too: as the materialistic, reason-based, atheistic Communist system receded from the Soviet Union, in rushed religious bigotry, chauvinistic nationalism, and the other monsters, not of rationality, but of irrationality. So that if once Charents was promoted, mendaciously, as a Communist true believer and nothing else, now he has to be a heterosexual, nationalist Christian and nothing else. No man, certainly not a creative one, is one thing and nothing else, if only because we are never things to start with. We change, we argue with ourselves, we contradict, we live. As a creative artist as well as a scholar, I'm very, very observant of life as indefinable, and various, and larger than me. I have given most of my life to Armenian studies, and have been blessed with extraordinary teachers-- Nina Garsoian, Mary Boyce. But I am more than the writer of a page or the holder of a Harvard professorial chair. I'm a man with feelings and passions and sorrows, and a free citizen of the United States. If a kind of civil discourse does not enter Armenian life and that life shake itself free of the hatred and violence that have come to disfigure it, then I will walk away from it, and from you. But with volumes of Charents and Narek in my backpack.

Be well, and blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem to you all.

James Russell

Friday 3 April 2009

Another US state - Iowa, clears the way for gay marriage

Breaking news

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – The Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Friday finding that the state's same-sex marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples, making Iowa the third state where marriage is legal. [...]

Des Moines attorney Dennis Johnson, who argued on behalf of the gay and lesbian couples, said "this is a great day for civil rights in Iowa." [...]

Court rules dictate that the decision will take about 21 days to be considered final, and a request for a rehearing could be filed within that period. That means it will be at least several weeks before gay and lesbian couples can seek marriage licenses.

But Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said the county attorney's office will not ask for a rehearing, meaning the court's decision should take effect after that three-week period. [...]

Richard Socarides, an attorney and former senior adviser on gay rights to President Clinton, said the ruling carries extra significance coming from Iowa.

"It's a big win because, coming from Iowa, it represents the mainstreaming of gay marriage. And it shows that despite attempts stop gay marriage through right wing ballot initiatives, like in California, the courts will continue to support the case for equal rights for gays," he said.

Georgia: new issue of Me magazine focuses on global LGBT movement

New, 10th issue of Georgian LGBT "Me" magazine (published by Inclusive Foundation) is out now. It focuses on “history and reality of global LGBT movement”, in particular reflecting recent developments in the US with Obama’s inauguration and the release of Milk film. It also contains news and commentary on local developments in Georgia, including a review of the HIV/AIDS situation in Georgia with updated trends.

According to the Georgian Centre for Infectious Pathologies, AIDS and Clinical Immunology, there are 1,825 cases of HIV infection in Georgia as of 12 December 2008. Of this number, 1,372 are men and 453 are women. Most infected people are between the ages of 29 and 35 years. A total of 402 people have died of AIDS in Georgia. 487 patients are currently undergoing treatment. The following is the distribution of likely transmission ways among HIV/AIDS cases registered in Georgia, as determined through patient interviews: 59.5 per cent are injecting drug users (have shared unsterilized needles with other users); 33.4 per cent were infected through heterosexual contact; 2.7 per cent contracted the virus through homosexual contact (men having sex with men); 2.4 per cent were infected by their mother (either in uterus or from breastfeeding); 0.6 per cent contracted HIV through blood infusions; 1.4 per cent - cause of infection undetermined.

As Georgia aspires closer ties with the EU, the magazine features interviews with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency director Morten Kjaerum.

ME: It is a very difficult time for Georgia right now and this is discussed a lot on the European level. We feel that social phobias are becoming more severe in this situation. Do you think that external threats can be an excuse for undermining the rights of social minorities? When a country is at war, is it time for a break in defending the rights of LGBT people?
Thomas Hammarberg: In fact, in a situation of crisis with the security of a nation and in an economic crisis, it is even more important to continue watching the treatment of minorities and those who traditionally tend to be discriminated against. Because in the crisis situation there is a risk that certain groups of society will be scapegoated. So I would say the opposite – it is important to remain on watch both on the national level as well as by international agencies to ensure that scapegoating or discrimination does not take place. Security concerns and economic crisis is not a justification for discrimination.
You may download current issue of the magazine by clicking here. Previous issues of the magazine are accessible at the following link.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Forced Out: Report on LGBT people in Armenia

This "Forced Out" Armenia related report is based on a joint fact-finding mission by European and Dutch gay rights groups in January 2006, although, as far as I understand, it briefly touches some recent developments too. It follows similar reports on Georgia and Azerbaijan.

I have not yet read the report, just got it via email. It seems to me a very important account on the situation with LGBT people and rights in Armenia, the first of its kind. Will certainly read it over the next coming days, and will aim to present more details and reflections over the coming weeks. In the meantime, below is a press release by ILGA-Europe which contains link to the full report.

Maxim Anmeghichean, ILGA-Europe’s Programmes Director

ILGA-Europe launches its report on the situation of LGBT people in Armenia – the last in a series of reports about human rights of sexual minorities and transgender communities in the South Caucasus.

Although Armenia has signed most of the relevant international and regional agreements, in practice respect for human rights principles is generally weak, and work to make them a reality ‘on the ground’ is limited. As in the other countries of the South Caucasus, this is particularly the case with regard to human rights of LGBT people, who suffer from a high level of hostility, discrimination, social exclusion, hate crimes and violence. Homophobia is deeply rooted in the Armenian society. Stigmatisation is so pervasive that most LGBT people are forced out of communities and deprived of any chance to openly express their sexual orientation or gender identity. And yet they are forced to come out and organise into associations and groups if they want to be able to stand up for who they are.

The report is based on information gathered before, during and after a joint COC – ILGA-Europe fact-finding mission in January 2006 by ILGA-Europe’s Programmes Director Maxim Anmeghichean. During the mission several working methods were used. In addition to interviews, meetings and analysis of available literature, a legal expert was contracted and a questionnaire developed.

The joint ILGA-Europe and COC report is the first of its kind to be published about same-sex relationships and LGBT people in Armenia. It explores identities, common human rights violations, the landscape of LGBT organising, health and HIV/AIDS, and relevant legal aspects. It also provides recommendations to the Armenian government, donors, LGBT activists and international organisations.

The report is available in PDF format on ILGA-Europe website.

Harvey Milk in Armenia - Gyumri rules! Tsayg rules!

WOW! What a fantastic news!! Just read on PINK Armenia that a local Tsayg TV in Armenia’s second largest city Gyumri was showing Milk (Harvey Milk) yesterday and today.

Yesterday I came to Gyumri for 3 days to conduct a training session in the frames of “Global Health Week of Action”. At night I was watching TV and I was so happy that many channels were showing comedy, the best choice for the 1st of April. Suddenly I noticed that “Tsayg” local TV is showing “Harvey Milk”, they also repeated the movie in the afternoon of April 2, I want to remind that this is the channel that in December, 2007 invited me to their live talk show about sexual minorities.

It was my dream to watch this movie, to see the person who struggled for freedom, tolerance and equal rights.

Harvey was a person who was living for his community and never giving up, protecting the rights of people who are the victims of discrimination and intolerance. […]

I learn a lot from Harvey Milk, even all the phrases that he said are in my mind.
Hope one day I can be so strong like him and I can do at least part of his work. I wish one day to stand on the top of the mountain with you and feel the wind of freedom. […]

I was always wondering if this film would be shown in Armenia. To learn that it was shown in Gyumri on a local Tsayg TV… well done! Gyumri rules! Tsyag rules!

Great film, great acting, an inspirational story for all of us.

Thanks to Mamikon of PINK Armenia for making me start my working day with an excellent mood :)

Let’s hope that your dreams (our dreams!!) will come true, Mamikon!!

*photo -

Sweden legalizes gay marriage!!

Sweden became the 7th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. The Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa also allow same-sex marriage. (Civil unions are allowed in more countries.) The new law will take effect on 1 May 2009.

Radio Sweden International (via ILGA Europe): Following a parliamentary vote Wednesday afternoon, MPs voted by a huge majority to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in civil ceremonies. If they want to get married in a church, however, then they will have to find a vicar who will agree to marry them.

Same-sex couples have been able to become civil partners in Sweden since 1995, and the law change doesn’t automatically make them husband and husband or wife and wife, if they want to get married they will have to either have a new ceremony, or send in an application to get the partnership converted into a marriage.

The government was split on the issue with coalition partner the Christian Democrats the only party in the Swedish parliament to oppose the extension of the term ”marriage” to include non-heterosexuals. But in a free vote in parliament 261 MPs voted in favour of the reform, 22 voted no, while 16 abstained.

Religious groups in Sweden are split on the issue. Some Lutheran Church of Sweden vicars have said they will marry same-sex couples, and the church will take a common stand on the issue at a Synod in the Autumn. Roman Catholic, Muslim, and other religions have been much more sceptical to the law change in their comments.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Armenian footballer to Estonian football chief: “Let’s have sex”, well, sort of…

In the run up to today’s World Cup qualifying game between Estonia and Armenia in Tallinn, there was an incident, when Estonian side did not allow Armenian team to train on the main stadium field where the game will take place, citing “technical reasons”. Reportedly, this caused an emotional reaction from the Armenian side. Here is what Estonian Football Association (EJL) president Aivar Pohlak had to say today:

“One of Armenian footballers expressed his desire to have a sexual intercourse with me.”

(“Իսկ հայ ֆուտբոլիստներից մեկը ցանկություն հայտնեց ինձ հետ սեռական հարաբերություն ունենալ”)

I can imagine what was actually said by an Armenian footballer, if this is true. It must have been an Armenian version of “f*ck you”, but it's amusing to see the way it was ‘politely’ put by an Estonian football chief. Could’t stop laughing :)

*photo - via Postimees

Alekper Aliyev: "I defend homosexual romanticism over war romanticism"

I defend homosexual romanticism over war romanticism. It is acceptable when two men kill each other, but is it a sin when they sleep together?

Alekper Aliyev, author of Armenian-Azeri gay love story Artush and Zaur (Hurriyet)

P.S. An extract from the interview with Turkish daily Hurriyet:

The long-standing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region serves the governments of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Aliyev believes. "Both countries scare their citizens by inciting the war again," he said. "Both suffer from corruption and bribery, [their] societies are enslaved. Both are feudal governments. I defend homosexual romanticism over war romanticism. It is acceptable when two men kill each other, but is it a sin when they sleep together?"

Oil and gas, serum for a sick geography

Aliyev is pessimistic about the future of the Caucasus region, saying, "There is no light in the end of the tunnel." He calls the area a "sick geography," adding: "Crude oil and gas are the serum for this patient. When the serum comes to an end, it will show its true colors. The poverty behind the luxurious cars and buildings will be seen then. I want my own county’s natural resources to be exhausted at once. Otherwise, we will continue to become like the Arabs and more authoritarian. Our only escape is the closure of crude oil and gas pipelines for good."

War is the backdrop for Aliyev’s novel, which tells the story of two schoolboys. The author says he chose main characters of that age "because such sexual drives appear at puberty." He said the novel had become a hot issue in Armenia more than in Azerbaijani, especially in the Armenian parliament. Referring to an article published in an Armenian paper, Aliyev said: "The writer said there was no homosexuality in Armenia and that such perversions could be seen only in Azerbaijan. I think such statements make no sense in the 21st century."

Inga and Anush official website launched (Armenia in Eurovision 2009)

This newly launched website of Armenian representatives in Eurovision 2009 - Inga and Anush Arshakyan - incorporates news, pictures, videos, blog, and available in 3 languages - Armenian, Russian, and English.