Tuesday 8 December 2015

Armenia ruling Republican party rep to constitutional referendum observer: "Go back to Holland to gay and lesbian parties"

For my general commentary re constitutional referendum in Armenia and its aftermath, read: Defeated in Armenia

This video (along with number of other updates and videos on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere), posted by one of the brave election observers Nairi Hakhverdi (Diasporan Armenian from the Netherland, lives in Armenia for years now) reflects perfectly the overall atmosphere of intimidation and general level of 'conversation' by ruling regime representatives at voting precincts:

"This Republican Party proxy said something along the lines of: "Just watch, it's going to be VERY different in 2017." I turned on the camera and asked him to repeat what he said. What follows is something about going back to Holland and going to gay and lesbian parties. According to him, I've ruined this country. 9/23 #ArmRef15 #ditord"

[Unzipped: Gay Armenia: by "2017", he refers to the parliamentary election that will be conducted according to new constitution]

This Republican Party proxy said something along the lines of: "Just watch, it's going to be VERY different in 2017." I turned on the camera and asked him to repeat what he said. What follows is something about going back to Holland and going to gay and lesbian parties. According to him, I've ruined this country. :) 9/23 #ArmRef15 #ditord
Posted by Nairi Hakhverdi on Monday, 7 December 2015

Friday 4 December 2015

Why ARF Dashnaktsutyun in Armenia suck big time

There are many reasons why Dashnaks in Armenia suck. Here is just one of the reasons. Prominent party member, MP Artsvik Minasyan endorsed in the past fire bombers of gay friendly DIY bar in Yerevan. [you may find his utterly disgraceful remarks here]

Not only he was not reprimanded by ARF in Armenia or abroad but he remained on top positions within ARF Dashnaktsutyun.

Now, as a servant of Armenia ruling regime interests, not only he is out and about campaigning FOR new constitution (as part of Dashnaks’ shameful endorsement of the pro-regime ‘YES’ campaign) but to make his case ‘convincing’ praises anti-gay and anti-human rights provisions in the constitution, as reported by Armenpress:

"He also stated that for the first time the family will be under state protection, which means that the state will struggle against gay families, which foreign powers try to import into Armenia.”

P.S. There are tons of reasons why you should never support proposed by Armenia ruling regime new constitution and say your firm NO #ՈՉ during referendum on 6 December. Here are just few of them.
Of course, considering fraudulent voting record of the ruling regime in Armenia, no doubts they will 'draw' required percentage to prolong their very survival. We should, however, never surrender to the fraud and hate.

Thursday 5 November 2015

US Ambassador and UN office in Armenia in solidarity with LGBT activists amid homophobic hysteria and threats following groundbreaking Rainbow forum

A group of homophobic Putin fans in Armenia announced their plan to stage a protest action on 6 November against US Ambassador’s statement in front of... the EU office in Yerevan. These guys certainly need a geography lesson. Along with many other lessons, of course. Well, at least one of them was recently outed on Facebook as a closeted gay. Some revealing Skype chat screenshots were in circulation in what perhaps the first such exposé in Armenia.

But lets forget about these people, they were mentioned here for entertainment purposes only.

Back to the important matters. Great move and statement by the US ambassador in Armenia. Respects.

[more about groundbreaking Rainbow Armenia Forum: here; more about threats received: here. Unzipped: Gay Armenia will make a separate post on Rainbow Forum.]

*picture - via PINK Armenia

*via US Embassy in Armenia

US Ambassador Meets with PINK NGO Representatives, Expresses Concern about Threats of Violence Issued against Them

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, Jr., visited the offices of the Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK) NGO on Thursday, October 29, 2015.

The group briefed the Ambassador on their recent Rainbow Forum, a gathering organized by PINK earlier this month in Lori, which focused on ways to protect the basic human rights of the members of the Armenian LGBT community.

During his visit, PINK representatives described to Ambassador Mills the very real and extreme threats they’ve received since the forum took place, including death threats made against several of its members. The group recently submitted a formal complaint about the threats to the Armenian Prosecutor General.

The U.S. Embassy is deeply troubled by these threats, and condemns in the strongest possible terms such calls for violence. The U.S. Embassy expects the Armenian authorities to fully investigate these threats and protect the basic human rights of the group’s members and all LGBT residents and minority communities in Armenia.

“I have been in Armenia long enough, and spoken to enough Armenians throughout the country, to know that violence and hatred are not part of Armenian society and values.  I urge Armenians to reject these calls to violence.  Those who would espouse such strong hatred of people simply for being different do not adhere to Armenian values as I have seen them,” Ambassador Mills said.
And another important statement by UN office in Armenia:

The United Nations in Armenia is concerned about the recent manifestations of aggressive homophobia and threats of violence against LGBTI activists particularly in social media, following a recent meeting held by activists.

The threat of violence against any group cannot be tolerated, and all persons should be allowed freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and not be subject to discrimination and intimidation.

We call upon the authorities to investigate and prosecute incidents of harassment and abuse against the LGBTI community, to discourage all hate speech, and to take measures to foster tolerance.

Through its international obligations Armenia has made laudable commitments to non-discrimination and tolerance, and the respect of human rights, including those of the ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.

The United Nations stands ready to support Armenia in these commitments. See also the recent global call of the UN for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.
More international reaction, this time as a statement of concern by Frontline Defenders human rights group:

LGBTI rights defenders and participants in the first Armenian LGBTI forum have been exposed to ongoing harassment and personal threats since the publication of an article about the forum and its participants on 20 October 2015. […]

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern over the harassment against members of PINK Armenia and other LGBTI forum participants, and the personal death threats they are facing on social media and in person, and believes these acts to be an attempt to prevent LGBTI rights defenders from carrying out their peaceful and legitimate advocacy in defence of human rights.

Bayer Healthcare distances itself from homophobic head of the Armenian Association of Young Doctors, avoids making public statement

Following my blog post President of the Armenian Association of Young Doctors calls for anti-gay violence, quite a few activists and concerned citizens both in Armenia and elsewhere contacted Bayer Healthcare to express their concern and outrage with the fact of their sponsorship of the conference co-organised by the Armenian Association of Young Doctors [to remind, the head of this Association is a virulent homophobe Gevorg Grigoryan who wants gays (“fag*ots”) to be burnt].

From my side, apart from sharing the blog post on FB and Twitter, and tweeting @Bayer and @BayerHealthCare, I contacted directly Bayer via their general maildesk contact system, as well as writing an email to the head of media relations Günter Forneck.

Although I did not receive replies from my email communication, I received a message from Bayer Healthcare via Twitter, explaining their position:
Dear Mika, we have seen your Tweets you published earlier this week.

Bayer condemns any behavior that discriminates against particular groups for example on ground of race and ethnic origin, color, nationality, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation.

Bayer does not sponsor the Armenian Association of Young Doctors.

Bayer’s support to the medical conference “Health-related issues of quality of life” in Erevan, 5-7 November 2015, was triggered by its partnership with the Armenian Anti-ageing Medical Association, one of the co-organisers of the conference.

Similar messages were received by others who contacted Bayer Healthcare re this issue.

While I was glad to receive a quick reply from the Bayer Healthcare distancing themselves from the Armenian Association of Young Doctors, and reaffirming their commitment to non-discrimination, I was not happy that these were done via private messages only, i.e. no public statement or press release by Bayer to make their stance firm and public.

My reply to them followed shortly:
Thank you for clarifications about your sponsorship of the conference and for re-affirming your stance against discrimination. I am writing to you on behalf of a group of LGBT activists and allies. I am glad to know that you do not sponsor directly the Armenian Association of Young Doctors. However, your support for the conference, even if via your partnership with the Armenian Anti-aging Medical Association, means that you sponsor an event which include organisation headed by a virulent homophobe. This was covered in social and other media, including the Armenian media outlet Epress.am. The Armenian Association of Young Doctors widely uses the fact of your sponsorship for their PR purposes (example). I would therefore like to ask you to issue a public press release to clarify the situation and your stance. Thank you in advance.

Unfortunately, despite repeated communications and twitter exchanges, I have yet to receive any public statement by Bayer Healthcare.

It is exactly because of such lack of firm stance that homophobes are able to use sponsorship from organisations like Bayer for their PR purposes, by effectively getting rewarded for spreading hate.

As I mentioned in my reply above, support for the conference, even if via partnership with another co-organiser, in the absence of public statement to clarify their stance, means that Bayer Healthcare sponsors an event which is co-organised by a virulent homophobe. As a consequence, many activists now question a non-discrimination commitment by Bayer, while number of young doctors in Armenia are unable to participate in the conference due to virulent homophobia by one of its co-organisers.

This tweet by @hambvart is very telling, indeed:
As young doctor I can't be @ @BayerHealthCare-sponsored conference cause I'm #gay & coorganizer calls 2 burn faggots http://gayarmenia.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/president-of-armenian-association-of.html

Many on Twitter and elsewhere expressed their outrage. Selected examples below:


@unzippedblog @BayerHealthCare really an appalling case of bigotry. Looking forward to read both the blog post and the statement


@unzippedblog @VismundCygnus1 @Bayer @BayerHealthCare This doctor should not only not be rewarded but should lose his license


Young #Armenia|n doctor says "they [#gay|s] should be burnt," must not know about the Hippocratic Oath.


@KarenaAv This is incitement, plain and simple. Surely some law must cover it.

@VismundCygnus1 (here and here):

@GoldenTent @unzippedblog @Bayer @BayerHealthCare yep raises big questions. What if a client unknowingly goes for him for treatment and is a homosexual, wat will he do? Kill d client?! I agree this person cant be a doctor anymore


@VismundCygnus1 @unzippedblog @Bayer @BayerHealthCare I expect Bayer to condemn this & withdraw its support. People are watching.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

President of the Armenian Association of Young Doctors calls for anti-gay violence

Here we are. Gevorg Grigoryan, doctor, urologist, president of the Armenian Association of Young Doctors, and… advocate of anti-gay violence.

Says Gevorg Grigoryan: ‘They [gays] should be burnt.’ There should be total mobilisation to “fight fag*ots”. ‘We should not let them procreate’. Calls for beating, physical violence against gays and ultimately killing, as per Facebook screenshots of his comments (below, in Armenian).

“I will always be the one who will fight against homosexuals” [using derogatory Armenian word to refer to gays], calling LGBT people and their allies “grant seeking animals”, while the organisation he is heading aims at getting grants from international organisations ["- Միջազգային կազմակերպությունների կողմից առաջարված գրանտային ծրագրերի մասնակցություն"].

In a screenshot above, he confirms his anti-gay comments saying he is “proud” that he is against “perverse” people and “does not regret” what he said.

The Armenian Association of Young Doctors he is heading is holding a conference (6-7 November 2015, Yerevan, Armenia) re “health related quality of life”, and the conference is sponsored by number of organisations and pharma companies, including Bayer Healthcare. [other sponsors listed are Unipharm, Prom-Test Laboratories, Recordati]

I want to believe that they are not aware of the views of the president of the organisation they are sponsoring. Well, now they know.

I expect immediate actions from sponsors, and particularly Bayer Healthcare, by distancing themselves from this group, and withdrawing sponsorship.

Ethics Code of Recordati group offers “equal employment opportunities without discriminating on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental handicaps, nationality, faith, politics or trade union membership”.

Bayer specifically stresses that they will not fund “organisations that discriminate on bases of race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation or national origin”.

Time to amend mistakes in relation to this Armenian organisation.

And in future, I call international medical, healthcare organisations, pharma companies, health/medical related groups and individuals in Armenia, Diaspora and elsewhere to boycott this and similar groups.

Not only Gevorg’s comments are in contradiction with all possible ethical and professional norms that any doctor should uphold, but they border with criminal activity as clearly contain hate speech and calls for physical violence.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Lesbian Azeri activists in Baku stage photo-session in front of mosque : “We exist!”

Photos coming from Azerbaijan capital Baku target visibility in a context of LGBT, Islam and secular society.

The photo-session is titled “Z-53”, and as Azeri LGBT activist explained to this blog, this refers to Sura (chapter) from Quran, aya (verse) 53, where it is mentioned: “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves (by singing), do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful”.
“Our society always says that being LGBT is a great sin. Allah cursed them all, but these sentences from Quran show different view of Islam which denies all the dogmas in secular Azerbaijani society”.
Says Gulara Azimzadeh, head of the “Peace for LGBT” organisation:
“The photo-session “Z-53” represents religious, national and legal aspects of Azerbaijani LGBT people’s lives. Those photos are a message and a protest to the unbearable levels of discrimination from the homophobic society towards LGBT people. The fear for our lives derived during the making of “Z-53” did not suppress our demand for freedom of expression. For years our existence has been ignored – today we say “We exist”! Despite all the shaming, humiliations for years, and making us believe we were doing wrong - we accept our homosexual nature, we are not ashamed of who we are! You did not give us the rights to take them away. Do not try to fit everybody under the same figure! It is time to accept us – the people “different” from you.”
Unsurprisingly, as per organisers, this action generated a “huge wave of hatred” towards them, as is always the case whenever LGBT activists in the South Caucasus lower a threshold of visibility by their actions.

Respects to these brave Azeri activists.

*pictures courtesy of "Peace for LGBT"

Sunday 11 October 2015

Tangerine: transgender revenge story, intertwined with Armenian storyline

Tangerine was premiered this week in London as part of the London Film Festival.

Transgender revenge story, raw, realistic, filled with elements of comedy and drama, with Almodovar-like touch, and played by transgender people.

Intertwined with that was a story of a typical Armenian family in LA who moved there from Armenia capital Yerevan. Any Armenian will be able to identify at least partly with that family, whether in reference to their own family, relatives or friends.

Highly recommended. And very relevant to the National Coming Out Day.

And to note that this film was shot using an iPhone !! You would never realise that unless you read about it. Great achievement by director and the whole cast and crew.

Following Q&A, I received a poster of the film and asked director Sean Baker and one of the lead actresses Mya Taylor to sign it for me.

Gay Armenian man from Boston: “What would happen if people of Yerevan knew I was gay?”

On this “National coming out day” I would like to share the thoughts of one gay Armenian man from Boston who came to study in Yerevan and was an intern with PINK Armenia.

And using this occasions, few pics I made of the Arlington Street Church in Boston. [On May 17, 2004, the Arlington Street Church was the site of the first state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in the United States - Wiki]

“Love Is Stronger”. It certainly is.

*Selected extracts below. Re-posted from PINK Armenia (for Armenian version: here).
21 years old Karl Afrikian was born and raised just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, USA to an Armenian father and an American mother. He is a student at Sewanee: The University of the South studying Economics and Russian culture. He first came to Armenia in 2014 to study at the American University of Armenia for a semester, when he was introduced to PINK. He returned to Armenia for summer 2015 to intern with PINK Armenia to help the fight for gay rights.

“[…] I came in to the office [office of PINK Armenia in Yerevan] and remember being in the safest place for LGBT people in the country, which was comforting for a recently out person in a land known for its homophobia. Being from Boston, a hugely gay city, I have experienced very little discrimination firsthand; yet, in Armenia, I was again afraid in this new land, yet my time studying there and meeting fellow queer Armenians reinforced my hope for the community.”

“Right next to my apartment, I saw graffiti on a wall “vomank gay en, tetev tarek” (some people are gay, take it easy) which helped ignite my passion early on for helping the cause. ”
[Read: Armenian version of “Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!” in Yerevan to mark IDAHOT]

“I was shocked to hear of the police ignoring the rights of gay victims of assault, the horrible things Armenians would do to their LGBT brothers, and how public opinion promotes rampant hostility towards gay individuals.”

“I would spend nights sometimes walking on Northern Avenue or at Hraparak at the Dancing Fountains thinking about what would happen had these people knew I was gay. Would they beat me up? Would they kill me? How would my cousins in Armenia react to such a thing?  Being gay is not always something written on your sleeve, thus there was no way they could truly verify any of these possibilities without having me tell them. Although I did not fear being publicly outed at any point, I still had this uneasiness in my heart knowing that these people who could be so nice and friendly to me could possibly become hostile towards me all due to who I love.”

“I was really unsure why this bothered me so much – I was only in Armenia for about two months, my friends queer and straight were all very supportive, and it was not as if I was being persecuted on the streets personally. […] This time, I was aware of the graveness of the situation. Eventually, I came to several realizations about how I was feeling. In Armenia today, my gayness stands against the “traditional values” held so dearly to many of our people. The traditional gender roles in Armenia prescribe that a man must marry a woman and produce children to continue our people.

Even as I came out to my father in America this tradition has held strong, and his major concern was of course having grandchildren, even though today he has learned to accept that I am gay.

Many closeted-gay men in Armenia from what I observed married women to keep their public identity secure and to appease society […]”

Saturday 10 October 2015

#RidewithPride - take a ride on DLR trains in London wrapped in rainbow

So great to have a ride on DLR trains in London tastefully wrapped in rainbow colours, with the indication #RidewithPride. Great example of cross-agency support for LGBT rights - TFL (Transport for London), their LGBT staff network and Barclays bank that sponsored the re-design of selected trains.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Aram + Ashot, Hovul + Ruben - from Armenian grammar book to inscriptions on Berlin wall

Couple of days ago I saw on Twitter this extract from the Armenian grammar book that teaches an example of combining two male names to create a new name, apparently: Aram + Ashot

I thought this was pretty hilarious on so many levels. This instantly reminded me of what I saw on Berlin wall recently: Hovul + Ruben (in Armenian).

Here we are. 'Gay propaganda' all the way from Yerevan to Berlin :))

The Stonewall Inn... Place, where Pride began

The Stonewall Inn, NYC. Always fills me up with emotions. Always takes me back to the time when I was not born yet. Time which would have a lasting impact not only on the history of rights movement "[the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States" and beyond], but as such a very deep personal impact too.

Happy to learn that "In June 2015, the Stonewall Inn received official landmark status from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for its role as the catalyst of the LGBT movement. It is the first landmark in New York City that has been recognized because of its status in LGBT history."

 *Stonewall Place, NYC
*Gay street, NYC

Thursday 23 July 2015

New draft of Armenia Constitution effectively bans same-sex marriage

Armenia’s (current) Constitution in many aspects (not all) is pretty progressive. Of course, having the Constitution full with progressive ideas does not mean that they are being implemented.

Now that Armenia president is moving towards the end of his second (and final) consecutive terms, ruling regime is finding ways to keep him in power even if not directly, and to ensure that Armenia is governed by Republican party in the foreseeable future. And here we are, we have this recently circulated new version of the Constitution to be approved by the parliament and then via national referendum.

Not only this new version of the Constitution is pretty dangerous in terms of turning Armenia into seemingly parliamentary but in reality autocratic country, but it contains further limitations of freedoms and rights, including LGBT related.

While current Constitution is way ahead of many other European constitutions by effectively allowing possibility of same-sex marriage (not that it was implemented, but at least there was no limitation), new draft with subtle changes in wording re-defines marriage as between man and woman.

In its latest newsletter, PINK Armenia circulated translated summary of these limiting provisions. One more reason, why there should be a firm NO to this draft Constitution.
On July 15, a state commission formed by President Serzh Sargsyan on publicized its draft constitutional amendments envisaging Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial head of state not elected by popular vote.

Under the new Constitution, the president of the republic will be elected by an electoral college consisting of National Assembly members and representatives of local government bodies. It is widely believed that President Sargsyan has initiated the reform to be able to stay in power in some other capacity after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.

Lawmakers discussing plans to amend Armenia's constitution back in 2005 expressed broad support for a ban on same-sex marriages. 10 years later we still witness the same intention. The Constitutional amendments refer to changes for the freedom of marriage.

Article 35 of the (current) Constitution of The Republic of Armenia states: Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found a family according to their free will. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and divorce.
Article 34, in contrast, according to the amendments, states: Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry with each other and found a family according to their free will. Thus, the new Constitution is limiting the freedom of marriage to opposite sex, Armenia is to join the countries who have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The draft Constitution is expected to be completed by early August. Subsequently, the draft shall be submitted to the President. If approved, it will be introduced to the National Assembly, and then a Referendum Day will be set.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Armenia president’s administration, ministries respond to LGBT rights letter

While replies from both president’s administration and ministries are vague and do not suggest any commitment by the authorities for tackling discrimination based no sexual orientation and gender identity, what is more important here is that PINK Armenia defied status quo and challenged relevant state bodies re their commitment for LGBT rights and against discrimination. It is the first time I could recall that Armenia president’s administration replies to LGBT rights related formal query.
Via PINK Armenia: “Necessary prerequisites exist in RA legislation to exclude any act of discrimination” - reads a formal reply from the administration of Armenia president in response to letter by PINK Armenia calling Armenian authorities to the call of PINK Armenia to protect LGBT rights.

To mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, PINK Armenia addressed a letter to the Armenia president Serj Sargsyan, several ministries and MPs, with a call to provide in the Republic of Armenia legal provisions for combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to monitor cases of discrimination against LGBT people. The administration of the president noted further that “if there is a need for further legislative regulations, it should be noted that the president of the Republic of Armenia has no right to initiate legislation”.

PINK Armenia also urged president Serj Sargsyan not to award national prizes to individuals and organisations who spread blatant hate speech against LGBT citizens of Armenia and the persons involved in the protection of their rights, to which head of legal department of the president’s staff Grigor Muradyan clarified in the response letter that the person’s worldview is not considered when awarding prizes “if that person does not display any illegal behavior which is to become a subject of assessment of authorities in each specific case”. This part is particularly vague and

Replies were received from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Justice too.

The Ministry of Justice noted that they have conducted a legal study on relevance of having a separate piece of legislation to combat discrimination, where the matters regarding discrimination have been analysed. [Unzipped: Gay Armenia - I wonder what did they conclude?!…]

The Ministry also reminded that in 2010 the Gender Policy Concept Paper was approved and Republic of Armenia Gender Policy Strategic Program for 2011-2015 was confirmed. [Unzipped: Gay Armenia - Unfortunately, these positive gender related initiatives are effectively stopped now, following Russia inspired hysteric anti-EU outburst]

The letter from the Ministry of Health stated that the issue is outside the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health. However, the Ministry of Health is willing to provide assistance if recommendations from relevant bodies are made.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Turkey’s Armenian MP Garo Paylan: I want “new world” founded on equality

We need more MPs like Garo Paylan both in Turkey and Armenia, and beyond. The world, and the world of politics, will be a better place with them.

Highly recommend this interview by Armenian Weekly’s Nanore Barsoumian with the newly elected ethnic Armenian MP of the Turkey parliament from progressive LGBT-friendly HDP party.

*Garo Paylan (Photo: Nanore Barsoumian)

Selected extracts below /emphasis mine/:

“Three weeks after his election into Turkey’s Parliament on the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) list, Garo Paylan spoke to the Armenian Weekly about his path to parliament, and the challenges of being an Armenian in Turkey’s political scene.

During the interview conducted in Istanbul, Paylan also discussed issues that are close to his heart, including the HDP’s politics and commitment to creating what he terms a “new world” founded on equality.”

Says Garo Paylan: “Turkish citizens want the change—so they will vote for whoever speaks the new language for them. We wanted equality, and they heard us. It’s the radical democrats that for the first time are offering equality. We are radical democrats and we have everyone sitting at our table. This is why we have to struggle for LGBT rights, for the Armenians, the Kurds, and the Alevis. We have to offer equality to every identity.

Of course, we had some concerns. For instance, we were concerned that people were not ready to hear about the Armenian Genocide. Yet, we are vocal about the Armenian Genocide. We also support LGBT rights, and equality between men and women—everything that is considered radical about democracy. This is about [creating] a new world.”

“The AKP thought that insulting Armenians will gain them the Muslim votes, but it didn’t work. They tried to spotlight the fact that we had an LGBT candidate, thinking that it would affect the conservative vote, but it didn’t. There were other similar attempts, but they also failed. This is important. Our words won. We trust our words. This is what’s most important.”

Sunday 21 June 2015

US country musician Steve Grand with Armenian flag during EuroPride in Riga

It was a pretty historic event - the EuroPride that took place in Riga on 20 June. Latvia is currently hosting the EU presidency, and this was the first EuroPride in the ex-Soviet state.

However, Latvia has yet lots to do in order to embrace fully human rights for all. According to ILGA-Europe press release:
…the country is on a cross road between embracing the fundamental principles of the European Union and advancing the human rights of LGBTI people or slipping back into the past and mirroring by its eastern neighbours and introducing discriminatory and oppressive laws.

Just yesterday, the Latvian Parliament adopted a change in education law which prescribes ‘constitutional morality education’ to schoolchildren to ensure children are educated in line with the constitutional definition of marriage as union between a man and a woman. In effect such legislative change mirrors the infamous Russian law banning ’gay propaganda’ to minors. On the other hand, Latvia is in the midst of a very lively and positive debate of a gender neutral cohabitation law which is being championed by some mainstream politicians and gaining wider public support.

Moreover, as per ILGA-Europe Rainbow Europe Index, “Latvia has the lowest score among the EU Member States in terms of laws and policies affecting LGBTI people – only 18% equality achieved”.

One of the biggest flags one could spot during the EuroPride held in Riga was our Armenian tricolour.

And it’s great to see popular and pretty hot openly gay US country musician Steve Grand in Riga’s Euro Pride with Armenian flag

Re Steve Grand: “He became an overnight internet celebrity and was acclaimed by some to be the first openly gay male country musician to attract mainstream attention in the United States. The music video of his first hit "All-American Boy" went viral on YouTube in less than a week in July 2013.” (more on Wiki)

And below is a pic with rainbow flag that Steve Grand posted on his Instagram with the following comment: “#EuroPride in #Riga, #Latvia #USEmbassy It is an important time to be here for #pride. Grateful to be a part of the effort to further #equality in this part of the world”

Saturday 20 June 2015

Armenia activists challenge legal system and need your support - #HRArmList

The courts in Armenia legitimise ‘blacklists’. In fact, that’s not the only disappointing thing they do. Like many, I have little respect towards Armenian legal system that is not independent and marred with corruption, and with few exceptions, does what the ruling regime dictates. In the face of such backdrop, it’s even more important and encouraging that some activists, the bravest and the brightest, keep challenging the courts and status quo in Armenia.

And when active citizens challenge homophobia and bigotry of public figures, politicians, showbiz reps, media, they themselves turn into targets of abuse and hate propaganda.

For background to this story, read:

Armenia Eurovision national jury’s Arshakyan sisters re Conchita and LGBT: ‘Mental health patients are repulsive’

Tabloid of hate: virulent homophobia awarded by Armenia president’s state medal and stamped by court’s approval
“Effectively equaling hate speech to the “freedom of speech”, all court instances in the country rejected the collective claim of 16 people. The expressions made by the judges during the court hearings proved that they were biased towards the case, and the facts had very little to do with their judgement. As a result, not only did the claim of the citizens didn’t receive a fair treatment, but they also ended up with a heavy financial burden by the court verdicts. The court obliged the “blacklisted” citizens to reimburse the legal expenses of the very media outlet that promotes hatred and discrimination.”
These activists need your support. I am glad to see that after the first day of sharing this campaign on Twitter and Facebook, 50% of the target was achieved, and at time of writing this post - it reached 75%. Please donate and share: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/activists-fight-for-justice-in-armenia

*Twitter hashtag for this campaign is #HRArmList

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Intro: Armenian Feminist blog

Armenian Feminist blog was created by a group of feminists to raise awareness about women’s rights, gender equality and gender identity.

Its main aim is to reach out to the general public in Armenia, including the most remote areas, by making available important feminist texts in Armenian language.
Even with the vast information flow of the 21st century, there are still certain groups in Armenian society, which remain on the margins. Most often these are women who are cut off from the media and alternative modes of obtaining information about their rights, opportunities, etc.
Of course, it will be the most difficult to reach out to such groups, since if they are cut off from the alternative modes of obtaining information, then they would hardly read blogs.

The good news is that the authors of this blog started getting feedback and contributors from women in Armenian villages too. There is hope, afterwards. And this is a very encouraging sign, indeed.
This situation makes women more vulnerable to sustaining abusive relationships, dysfunctional family relations, abuse of their economic and political rights, etc. Even if these women have access to the media, the lack of coverage on topics that are considered taboo or irrelevant make these women subject to isolation, frustration, lack of acknowledgement. The general attitude of keeping quiet about taboo topics, which make people feel uncomfortable  contributes to the general attitude that there are no problems in society at all.
Along with translations, they make original postings and interviews too.

And the subjects of their posts are quite diverse: from Fem manifesto to domestic violence to problems facing by people with disabilities to the ways of dealing with menstruation among some transgender men.

I personally know the main creators behind this blog. Great bunch of people.

And if you wish to support their efforts, you may donate here.

Sunday 31 May 2015

US Peace Corps book advice for their LGBT volunteers in Armenia

This is an LGBT-related excerpt from a US Peace Corps book on Armenia ["Armenia in Depth: A Peace Corps Publication", 18 September 2014], providing advice to their volunteers. There are some amusing passages there on expected behaviour re both gay men and women.

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Volunteers

“Gay, lesbian and bisexual Volunteers have to practice discretion. Although homosexuals certainly exist in Armenia, homosexuality may be considered immoral by some people. Certain mannerisms considered acceptable in the United States may be viewed with disdain or suspicion by Armenians. Your basic civil liberties may be ignored, and you may be hassled in bars or in the streets.

You may serve for two years without meeting another gay, lesbian, or bisexual Volunteer or Armenian. Most gay, lesbian, and bisexual Armenian probably have migrated to larger cities, while many Peace Corps Volunteers are posted in rural sites. Relationships with host country nationals can happen, but as with all cross-cultural relationships, they are not likely be easy. Lesbians will have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all women). Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Gay men must deal with machismo: talk of conquest(s), girl watching, dirty jokes etc.

The Peace Corps is committed to providing support for all Volunteers regardless of sexual orientation.”

Saturday 30 May 2015

Educational short film on need for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Armenia

This great educational short film (in Armenian), with the use of nice graphics and pics,  illustrates various types of discrimination, so widespread in Armenia, and why it is essential to have a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, including discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Մեկ հասարակություն ՝ մեկ իրավունք from EPF Armenia on Vimeo.

Friday 22 May 2015

Charles Aznavour's “Comme Ils Disent" feature in Divas show, Las Vegas

The fame of Charles Aznavour's groundbreaking "Comme Ils Disent" ("What Makes a Man a Man”) - "the first song about homosexuality" - extended to Las Vegas, featuring in popular Divas show. In fact, it was one of the strongest performances in Divas, emotionally charged, very nicely executed.

If you are in Las Vegas, do not miss your chance to check it out. I highly recommend.

P.S. Today is Charles Aznavour's birthday. Happy bday, Aznavour !! Thank you for your music. And more. Much more !!