Wednesday 25 June 2014

PACE questions Armenia on LGBT rights. How Socialist International member ARF Dashnaktsutyun fights for equality and gay rights?

Last week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) co-rapporteurs Axel Fischer (Germany, EPP/CD) and Alan Meale (United Kingdom, SOC) were in Armenia on a fact-finding monitoring visit. As PACE website informs , main focus of discussions were “recent political developments, constitutional reform, alternative service, gender equality, religious and sexual minorities as well as Police and justice reform.”

I am very happy to see that finally LGBT rights are on PACE agenda in relation to Armenia.

According to very little information that was publicised, they indeed discussed LGBT rights with the Armenian side, in particular during meetings with political parties represented in the parliament.

In an interview with, former ARF Dashnaktsutyun MP Rubik Hakobyan, who now represents opposition Heritage party, could not hide his unease when recalling discussions on the topic. Without explicitly stating his position or elaborating on discussions, he however made it clear where he stands when it comes to equality and human rights for all (not on the side of equality), by immediately referring to ‘traditional values’, importance not to “impose” on Armenia “European values systems and standards”. I never trusted Rubik Hakobyan, and I believe he is a liability for Heritage party. Despite having some questionable members, Heritage party is perhaps the most gay friendly among political parties in Armenia. To remind, back in 2009, they organised roundtable discussion on intolerance, xenophobia and homophobia in Armenia. And in 2012 Heritage party head Raffi Hovhannisyan was the only head of political party who visited firebombed gay friendly DIY bar, in a show of solidarity (read also this reflection)

What was more interesting - raises eyebrows - was a statement by current head of parliamentary
faction of ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Armen Rustamyan. While again avoiding to answer to the question on discussions about gay rights, he made some interesting remarks, worth noting for future reference:
Head of the ARF-D faction Armen Rustamyan (pictured) informed that the co-rapporteurs wanted to know about the existence of political prisoners in Armenia and the protection of the rights of LGBT people. […] On the matter of LGBT rights, Rustamyan said that the ARF-D is a member of Socialist International and is guided by the same principles. "Questions about LGBT people can be posed to those political parties that haven't expressed a position. The ARF-D is a member of Socialist International," he said.

(AM) ՀՅԴ խմբակցության ղեկավար Արմեն Ռուստամյանը (լուսանկարում)ին հայտնել է, որ համազեկուցողները ցանկացել են իրենց կարծիքն իմանալ Հայաստանում քաղբանտարկյալների առկայության և նույնասեռականների իրավունքների պաշտպանության վերաբերյալ։ […] Նույնասեռականների իրավունքների մասին հարցին ՀՅԴ-ական պատգամավորը պատասխանել է, որ իրենց կուսակցությունը սոցինտերնի անդամ է և նույն չափորոշիչներով էլ առաջնորդվում է։ «Միասեռականների մասին հարցեր կարող են տալ այն կուսակցություններին, որոնք դիրքորոշում չեն հայտնել։ ՀՅԴ-ն սոցինտերնի անդամ է»,- ասել է Ռոստամյանը…
Seriously, Armen Rustamyan? Are you saying that Armenia’s ARF Dashnaktsutyun is guided by the Socialist International’s principles about LGBT rights? To recall: MPs of ARF Dashnaktsutyun party bail out neo-nazi attacker of DIY bar. Dashnak MP Artsvik Minasyan supports arson attack, effectively encouraging terrorism in Armenia (see also links in the comments section of that post). These MPs were never reprimanded, they never ever apologised for their disgraceful behaviour and remain in high ranking positions within the Armenian branch of the party.

Now let’s check the Socialist International's principles re LGBT rights. Principles, that according to ARF Dashnaktsutyun party parliamentary head Armen Rustamyan, they are guided with. Here we are: Ethical charter of the Socialist International
“To respect and reinforce the fundamental human rights, be they individual rights (respect of private life, freedom of thought, belief, education, sexual orientation and right to equal treatment etc.), social rights (freedom of trade unions, right to strike, social protection etc.) or political rights (freedom of association, universal vote). 
To foster gender equality in every area of private and public life, including within our parties, in decision-making positions in all fields and at all levels. 
To fight against all forms of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, language, religion, philosophical or political beliefs. 
To fight against all ultra nationalist, fundamentalist, xenophobic and racist trends and to refrain from all forms of political alliance or co-operation, at any level, with any political party inciting or trying to inflame prejudices, ethnic or racial hatred.” Adopted in 27-29 October 2003 at the XXII Congress of the Socialist International, São Paulo.
If we follow these principles that all members of the Socialist International must adhere to, ARF Dashnaktsutyun (supposedly) respects and reinforces the fundamental human rights, including based on sexual orientation, and fights against all forms of discrimination, including based on gender and sexual orientation. I am not even going into the part of fighting “against all ultra nationalist… trends” etc.etc. Basically, it’s the best party ever. We just did not know.

Make a note of this reference, and challenge ARF Dashnaktsutyun party’s stance on LGBT rights in Armenia, in accordance with the principles of the Socialist International.

*picture - via

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Opera Australia drops Georgian singer Tamar Iveri following virulent homophobia exposé

I devote this post to Armenian pop stars or other personalities, especially the ones in or around showbiz. I did hope that after Eurovision homophobia fiasco, they would learn the lesson. Well, some probably did. But definitely not all. I will come back to the latest example from Armenia in an upcoming post.

In an era of online communications, words have no expiry date and may hunt you down at any time. Of course, anyone can make mistakes, do or say something totally unacceptable, hurtful, and then genuinely apologise for the wrongs and try making amends. I am all for giving a second chance but only if I believe you are genuine in your actions and intentions, or at least I see some real efforts. If this is the case, people will forgive you. But at times the ‘apology’ is so fake that makes things even worse.

Just weeks ahead of her Opera Australia performance, Georgian opera singer Tamar Iveri was exposed as a homophobe. And it was particularly virulent type of homophobia, disgusting beyond words.
Georgian soprano causes outrage for describing LGBT people as "faecal matter”Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri, scheduled to sing Desdemona in Otello for Opera Australia in July and Tosca later this year in Melbourne, has been roundly condemned for an open letter she wrote to the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in May last year. In the lengthy diatribe, originally posted on her Facebook page, she describes LGBT people as “deviants” and suggests that homosexuality is part of the “faecal mass” being foisted on Georgia by the West. 
Iveri’s outburst came on the back of a rally organised by LGBT activists and other Georgian citzens to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) in the city of Tbilisi. According to reports, tens of thousands of Orthodox Christian activists attacked the participants some of whom, it is claimed, narrowly escaped death. Iveri, however, lambasted the Georgian President for condemning the violence writing that she was “proud of the fact how Georgian society spat at the parade”.

The letter, which contains frequent references to bodily waste, sexual practices and Western moral corruption makes for difficult reading. Backing those who attacked the parade, Iveri says that “often, in certain cases, it is necessary to break jaws in order to be appreciated as a nation” and maintaining that the perpetrators of the violence were “Georgian youth of pure blood, still unspoiled by you [President Mikheil Saakashvili]”.
After outrage that the letter had caused, Tamar deleted it from her FB page, but it had already been translated by LGBT activists in Tbilisi and distributed online. Back then, this incident did not reach world headlines, with only Paris Opera cancelling her performance, formally due to “health condition” but many believe the real reason was the letter that was passed to the Director of the Paris Opera.

A year on, this exposé caused online storm in social networks and media headlines in The Guardian and The Independent with an instant demand to Opera Australia to fire her.

To make things worse, Tamar Iveri released a statement where she alleged that the letter was in fact written by her husband.
“My husband was using my Facebook account at that time and he is a very religious man with a tough attitude towards gay people. He copied my text, changed it considerably and posted it under my name.”
This was the most ridiculous and unbelievable attempt at damage control I have seen. And when she claimed: "He copied my text, changed it considerably and posted it under my name." - what was in her original text, I wonder? I do not expect anything positive.

Opera Australia has since been under mounting pressure and demands from LGBT rights activists, Twitter and FB users, opera lovers and financial sponsors to drop Tamar Iveri. After initial hesitation, Opera Australia released a statement announcing termination of the contract with Georgian opera singer describing views attributed to the singer towards gay people as “unconscionable”. Earlier Brussels Opera dropped her from upcoming production too.

The only right decision. And lesson to others.

Saturday 7 June 2014

The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin: “I do feel I carry the cross of all gay Armenians on my back”

I posted about Armen Ra, US-based Iranian Armenian Theremin virtuoso, drag artist and performer, famous for uniquely brilliant interpretation of the music by prominent Armenian composer Komitas.

Great to know that a feature documentary about his life - When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin won Director’s Choice Award of the Illuminate Film Festival 2014 and it will be screened at 13th Annual San Francisco Documentary Festival in June.

*Armen Ra with producer Matt Huffman, director Robert Nazar Arjoyan, and mother Ruzanna Makarian-Hovanesian, Illuminate Film Festival 2014 (picture via festival's FB page)

*via The Bay Area Reporter 

When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin This hidden gem spotlights the savage wit and rags-to-rags story of the fabulously talented and uncomfortably honest Iranian-born performance artist/former drag diva and now stellar artist/composer Armen Ra. Looking a bit like champion skater Johnny Weir's twin separated at birth, the articulate girly-boy grew up in a prosperous Tehran family of Armenian Christian descent. A well-behaved little boy whom adults grew used to taking to adult functions, the seven-year-old shocked his grownup chaperones one night at the opera when he demanded to be allowed to sit in the royal box.

The 1979 revolution destroyed the boy's cloistered life of high culture and forced his mom to resettle in a shabby Boston apartment. Queer-baited and bullied at school, Ra finally beat up one of his tormentors, getting him kicked out of school and ultimately promoted to the 80s Lower Manhattan club-kids scene. There followed a furious stab at drag-diva stardom, interrupted by bouts of depression and binge-drinking on the verge of suicide.

A miracle at a New York rock club led him to discover the joys of the Theremin. While instant riches did not follow, Ra did get himself a spotlight on a CNN feature in which he was quoted as calling the Theremin his "Maria Callas machine." Eventually he recorded his first album, consisting mostly of music from his Armenian culture, whereupon he made a rude discovery. "And it was received well all over the world with the exception of Armenia. To think I brought the music of the patron saint of Armenia to millions of persons who never have heard it, and to get hate mail and death threats from my own people is disgusting. It makes me ashamed. I'm ashamed for them. Look, I didn't choose to be gay, I didn't choose to be Armenian, it is the way it is. If I could choose, it would be from Spain or Norway. Everyone's happy there! I do feel I carry the cross of all gay Armenians on my back, and that cross is getting heavy. So let's get out of the closet, kids, be visible, fight, that's how you stop prejudice."

He's pretty, witty, sassy, and in-your-face, and if your taste runs to girly-boy provocateurs, then this doc is your cup of tea. (Northern California premiere, Roxie, 6/14, 18)

And a treat from Armen Ra’s Twitter page:

*Armenian divas - Armen Ra with Cher

Thursday 5 June 2014

Groundbreaking Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila rocks London's Scala with their 100th gig

Last night I finally saw this groundbreaking Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila live in London. It was their 100th ever gig, and it was awesome.

I was first introduced to the band a year or so ago by a friend of mine who is a big-big fan of theirs. Since then I keep an eye on Mashrou’ Leila. More I read about them, more I listen to their music, more I like them. But it was not until last night that I saw them live. The gig was in London’s Scala club, popular with students and indie crowd. What a great time I had.

They sing about love, life, important social and human rights issues, including LGBT related. I didn’t feel that I don’t know the language of their songs, because I could feel the music, the rhythms, emotions, sincerity, bravery. It’s as if they played in Armenian or English. Everything was so familiar, so close to my heart, so understandable. I was totally taken away by their music and performance, and left the gig recharged.

Btw, there is Armenian violinist in the band - Haig Papazian. He is currently studying in London at Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Haig was on stage in transparent black top. What a talented cute guy he is. In fact, all of his bandmates are. Brave, intelligent, talented and cute.

They appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine’s Middle East edition.

Below are just few media headlines about the band:
The GuardianMashrou' Leila: the Lebanese band changing the tune of Arab politics
BBCThe band out to occupy Arab pop
ReutersGay Lebanese singer with 'Freddie Mercury' edge fronts band

Hamed Sinno, openly gay vocalist of the band, was on a cover of Tetu, prominent gay magazine in France.

Hamed made into The Independent’s PINK LIST 2013 as one of the most influential international LGBT names:
The lead singer in the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila appeared on the cover of the French gay lifestyle magazine Têtu, and encourages his LGBT fans “to forge for themselves a sense of belonging to the region, in spite of the incredible repressing they have to live through.” 

*FYI: band's FB page; Twitter