Tuesday 26 February 2013

Report: young guy committed suicide in Armenia region Kotayq due to “unrequited gay love story”

Reports say (shamshyan.com) that young guy (25 yrs old) committed suicide in Armenia region Kotayq due to unrequited love to another guy (20 yrs old) who he was communicating with via Odnoklassniki social network.

Reports of suicide are sadly not uncommon in Armenia. Normally, we hardly ever know the reason why people commit suicide. Of course, this report is difficult to confirm, and there may be additional factors too but some sources say that it’s true... Interestingly, perhaps this is one of the rarest occasions that not only the alleged reason of suicide was mentioned, but that reason was “unrequited gay love story”.

Very sad...

Sunday 24 February 2013

NIV, the novel: Tel Aviv, Karabakh, four lovers, two centuries

Time for a confession. One of my New Year resolutions was to devote enough time to reading books. Unfortunately, due to work, travel and current events, I keep failing on this. True, people say we make New Year resolutions to fail them, but I really-really want to see this one fulfilled. There are so many intriguing books both on my book shelves and my ipad waiting to be read...

Anyway, here is the first book I will be reading, as soon as I find time, that is. This is a debut novel "NIV" by Israeli author Itamar S.N., published towards the end of 2012, and as far as I am told, touches the gay-themed topics with that of the Armenian Genocide, Karabakh, cross-border love and so on.

Consider this post as a kind of ‘info post’. As soon as I read the book (courtesy of the author), will post my reflections too. In the meantime, if you read the book first, please do share your reflections with me.

The novel comprised of two storylines: one contemporary gay Tel Aviv and the other one in around the time of WWI in Karabakh (1914).

As the author told me: “...while the book deals with issues which appear contemporary, it actually explores the timelessness of the human struggle to forge relationships. Two stories unfold in two different times and at two different locations, finally merging as one, with a touch of the supernatural.

One is the story of a young gay artist in today’s Tel Aviv, who falls in love with the agent in he backdrop of a modern society that still sits in judgment and makes it difficult for them to openly express their affections.

The other story takes place in Karabakh on the brink of WWI where a Muslim young man and a Christian young woman try to honor their commitment to each other in the midst of surrounding bloody events that demonize each in the eyes of the other’s family and community.

These four characters are actually two souls in different incarnations, which in a bright moment meet and recognize their parallel struggles. Their meeting results in the closing of their karmic circle, allowing the present day characters to evolve.”

And here is a description by publishers: “Niv, Erez, Katya and Anush are four young lovers who each experience a sexual awakening that threatens the rigid religious values and social attitudes that surround them. These pressures, the concerns of their families and the course of history itself, mean each must fight for the freedom to find their own way in life and the right to love the one they choose.

In this his first novel, Itamar S.N weaves together parallel stories to reveal tragic secrets and hidden truths. From the rural borderlands of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the time of the First World War, to the buzzing, cosmopolitan art scene of 21st century Tel Aviv, NIV is a story that will intrigue, surprise and inspire.”

I am certainly intrigued with the descriptions and with the Table of Content (!):

  • Tel Aviv August 2011 
  • Karabakh September 1914 
  • Tel Aviv September 2011 
  • Karabakh December 1914 
  • Tel Aviv September 2011 
  • Tel Aviv / Baku December 2011 

*The novel is available in Amazon in paper as well as kindle and bookshops (mostly gay) in Europe and the US.

Saturday 23 February 2013

How homophobia backfired: presidential election challenger Raffi stands up for human rights in Armenia

Here we are. Certain someone (tabloid editor, MP from the ruling Republican party) tried playing homophobia card against Armenia presidential election challenger, head of Heritage party Raffi Hovhannisyan but... shot himself in the foot.

That certain someone was Hayk Babukhanyan, or “babakh” (there are different variations of his nickname). In a press conference, reflecting the outcome of presidential election, this guy claimed those who voted for Raffi are “gays or ignorant” people. That’s around 37% of voters, even if we take official figures. True, there are different versions of the exact wording he used (here and here) but the essence is the same. All was done to play homophobia card against Raffi.

As I said repeatedly in past, although I disagree with Raffi on number of internal and foreign issues, currently he is my favourite Armenian politician (compared to others in public view). I also respect immensely his post-DIY stance, when he came out in support, even though it was obvious this would not be in line with the majority of average voters and in defiance with the prevalent anti-gay hysteria. I will never forget his stance.

Back to “babakh”. His attempt backfired spectacularly and generated backlash against himself on and offline  (examples: here and here) and all over Facebook. Of course, many of the comments were not particularly gay friendly, but it was hilarious to see how this homophobic politician’s statement resulted in a totally unintended consequences against himself. Unsurprisingly, his own party (very small one, supporter of ruling Republican party) issued a statement denying that such claims have been made. Too late, “babakh”. Too late.

But forget “babakh”. He does not deserve much attention. What is the most important aspect in all this story is Raffi’s response to him and people like him.

In an interview with Kenton TV popular “Urvagits” programme, Raffi hit back at attacks on minority groups (from 30.00 mins - see video below):

“All Armenian citizens have the same protection under the Constitution.“

“We need a constitutional state, where everyone's interests and rights are protected, and whoever violates against any group, minority or majority, will answer before the law, including those dear gentlemen”.
 «Բոլոր հայերը, հայաստանցիները Սահմանադրության տակ ունեն միևնույն պաշտպանվածությունը: Եվ ով այդպես խոսում է ուրիշների մասին, իմ կարծիքով մեծ խնդիրներ ունի որպես հայ մարդ, որպես հայաստանցի:

 Մեզ պետք չէ կեղծ ազգայնականություն, ո՛չ էլ կեղծ ազատականություն: Մեզ պետք է սահմանադրական պետություն, որտեղ բոլորի շահերը, իրավունքները պաշտպանված են: Եվ ով ձեռք բարձրացնի որևէ խմբի նկատմամբ՝ փոքրամասնություն թե մեծամասնություն, ինքը պատասխան կտա օրենքի առջև, այդ թվում այդ հարգելի պարոնայք»: 
Raffi is an exceptional politician for Armenia. I may not agree with everything he says but he has guts to stand up for human rights.

Big respects!!

Wednesday 20 February 2013

US ambassador in Armenia celebrates diversity in LGBT inclusive video blog: “Diversity is Strength”

Good to see the US ambassador Heffern stressing the importance of Diversity and devoting to the topic his latest video blog.

He speaks of importance of inclusivity and tolerance to minorities, inclusive religious, LGBT, and gender equality.

“Diversity is a source of our strength.”

“By being more inclusive and embracing differences among us, we all become more united and resilient”.

Referring to the 'American Dream', he speaks of importance of equal opportunities, regardless of race, colour, gender, religion, economic background and sexual preference.

“And tolerance of minorities, including religious and sexual minorities, is not only the right thing to do, it makes everyone stronger”.

He salutes champions of diversity in the US and pledges to continue working with Armenian partners having that same goal in mind.

“Բազմազանությունը ուժի աղբյուր է”, concludes the ambassador in Armenian.

[Video with Armenian subtitles.]

Saturday 16 February 2013

Good news: stateless gay Armenian will be allowed entry back into US

Good news. Finally, after a year of being stuck in a real-life “The Terminal” status, stateless gay Armenian will be allowed entry back into US.  Thanks to UNHCR for following-up this case and assisting Mikhail. And thanks to Global Post for keeping us updated.

This case highlights the lack of legal provisions for stateless people in the US and the need to address this issue asap, and hopefully will help others to regain their human rights.

For more background info, readCNN: Stateless gay Armenian man stuck in American Samoa in real life "The Terminal"

Updates via Global Post:

It’s been more than a year since Mikhail Sebastian became marooned on isolated American Samoa after a vacation gone wrong. Now the gay, stateless man, whose unprecedented situation baffled US immigration authorities and horrified migrant rights advocates, will finally be allowed back home to Los Angeles. Late last week, Sebastian was offered humanitarian parole by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a rare status that allows the 39-year-old back onto the mainland while officials figure out next steps in his strange case. His attorneys believe he could be in California by next week once logistical details are worked out.

Sebastian has been stuck on the Pacific US territory since late 2011, but gained worldwide attention after being profiled by GlobalPost last October. A collection of supporters ranging from university professors to immigration attorneys has since pressed officials to allow his return.

“It’s freedom finally,” Sebastian said by phone from American Samoa this week. “I have lived a nightmare here.”

For many in Washington, the coffee barista and former travel agent has become a potent symbol of the broken US immigration system and a voice for the serious problems facing America’s unknown thousands of stateless people — people with no citizenship whatsoever. Up to now, America’s stateless have been largely ignored by policymakers, despite the fact that they are never able to adjust their status under US immigration law and live their lives in a sort-of permanent legal limbo. “What Mikhail has been able to do was bring the issue of statelessness into the light and humanize it,” said Lindsay Jenkins, an assistant protection officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) US office, which has assisted Sebastian with his case. “This really took a village. It was a great example of how many people are supporting this effort to help the stateless.” [...]

Sebastian became a minor island celebrity of sorts, said La Poasa, a reporter with the island’s KHJ radio who has covered the case. “I think after our last story, people were like ‘oh my gosh, he’s still here,'” Poasa said. “People are sad to see him go, but are definitely happy at the same time. I know I had some drinks with my friends and we cheered for him.” [...]

Last year, UNHCR launched a campaign that advocates hope could prod Congress to include stateless people in much-discussed comprehensive immigration reform. They want stateless people to be given a path to legal status, or at least travel documents that would allow them to travel outside the United States. Previous attempts at legislative reform, however, have failed repeatedly.
That doesn’t discourage Sebastian who harbors dreams of one day being able to travel freely and gain some sort of legal status. He hopes his case and its successful resolution will have implications for other stateless people who live deep in the shadows of American society. “This isn’t just about me,” Sebastian said. “There are so many people unfairly suffering.”

Friday 1 February 2013

Human Rights Watch 2013 report on Armenia highlights discrimination against LGBT people

Below are relevant extracts from the Human Rights Watch 2013 report on Armenia:

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In July, the NGO Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK) Armenia reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people experience employment discrimination, obstacles accessing healthcare, and physical and psychological abuse in the army, in families, and in public.
On May 8, unidentified people threw a homemade bomb at DIY, a Yerevan bar frequented by LGBT and women’s rights activists. Graffiti identified LGBT people as targets. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Eduard Sharmazanov called the attack “right and justified.” Police arrested two suspects who were released pending trial. Unidentified attackers destroyed bar property and made death threats against its owners in three subsequent May incidents. Police were called during each attack but intervened only once.
On May 21 in Yerevan, a group of people threatened violence and shouted homophobic slogans at participants in a march organized by PINK Armenia and the Women’s Resource Center Armenia to celebrate diversity.

Key International Actors

In its May European Neighborhood Policy Progress Report, the European Commission urged Armenia to address corruption, media freedom, low public trust in the judiciary, and inadequate investigation of ill-treatment. It commended the government for strengthening laws on gender equality and health care.
European Union foreign ministers’ conclusions on the South Caucasus adopted in February at the Foreign Affairs council in Brussels highlighted the importance of free and fair elections and further judiciary reforms, political pluralism, freedom of and equal access to media, and protection of human rights defenders.
In his July visit to Yerevan, EU President Herman Van Rompuy welcomed Armenian authorities’ efforts to deliver more competitive and transparent parliamentary elections, but cautioned that February 2013 presidential elections should be more democratic.
Following its July review of Armenia’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the HRC highlighted a host of concerns, including lack of comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation, violence against racial and religious minorities and LGBT people, discrimination and violence against women, lack of accountability for torture, and threats and attacks against rights defenders.
In May, the UN Office in Armenia condemned violence and intolerance based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The EU Delegation to Armenia and the CoE’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance expressed concern over Armenia’s inadequate response to anti-LGBT hate speech and violence.
In a new strategy for Armenia adopted in May, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development stressed the need for “further steps” such as police and judiciary reform and facilitating media pluralism.
Unfortunately, there was no reflection on LGBT rights in Georgia and Azerbaijan related annual reports.