Latest:

Letter: ‘Rainbow Armenia’

Dear Editor,

For the first time, an LGBT Forum was held in Armenia. Yes, you read it right. An LGBT Forum. In Armenia. It was symbolically called “Rainbow.” Just a couple of years ago, organizing such a forum and then publicizing it seemed to be impossible. For me personally, participating in it would have been something I could have never imagined. But things change.

‘At the end, we took two group pictures with a huge rainbow flag. One was for publishing…and another was for our keeping,’

PINK Armenia took the responsibility of organizing the forum. Forty participants—both from the LGBT community and supporters of the community—gathered in the Lori region for two days to discuss numerous LGBT-related issues, and discuss strategies for visibility and dealing with hate and homophobia. The most important matter was how to build a sustainable LGBT movement in Armenia with solidarity from supporters and allies.

When I first saw the invitation to apply for participation, I had a brief “wow” moment, which disappeared after I read that the forum would be a private one. Nevertheless, I applied and later came to the conclusion that making it private was a rational step, taking into account how homophobic Armenian society is.

The two days that we spent in Lori—surrounded by the breathtaking autumn nature—were intense in terms of the profound and extensive discussions. As a result of these discussions, sessions, and activities, we could more or less identify where we are both as LGBT individuals and as a movement—what place we occupy in society, what our needs are, who our allies and opponents are, where we’d like to direct our movement, and what the most important issues are that we must tackle. To cut it short, we discussed vital existential questions.

For me, the working environment was a nice addition to the comradely atmosphere. There were many people I had never met before. What I liked the most was that there was a clear understanding that solidarity, inclusion, and equality within the community itself are what we absolutely must have. Sometimes, we had absolutely different understandings and approaches to certain issues—for instance, coming out and outing—but the differences weren’t obstacles for me to feel surrounded with love, understanding, acceptance, and respect. I wish I felt like that all the time.

At the end, we took two group pictures with a huge rainbow flag. One was for publishing: It featured only those participants who were ready to have their pictures published; and another was for our keeping, including all the participants. The majority of participants weren’t ready to have their picture published yet for numerous reasons.

Even though I didn’t have much time to become attached to the group both emotionally and mentally, I didn’t feel like going back home. It was partly because I knew that the very moment the news about the forum was published, the wave of extremely hateful, misogynistic, chauvinistic, and discriminatory reactions would spread through Armenian society.

I wasn’t wrong; it happened so. Nothing new, really. We, as a movement, and we, as individuals, have had our own experiences with hate towards everything LGBT related in Armenia. These reactions, in fact, are very good indicators for us and for the whole world. Apart from those usual hateful comments—such as “Burn them all” and “They are sodomizing our sacred lands and spreading perversions”—I’d like to point out some new rhetoric that I have observed in Armenia.

The first is connected to the Islamic State (IS). Yes, really, the Islamic State! There are those who do think that the IS should come to Armenia just to wipe out all LGBT individuals: kill them, burn them, behead them, you name it. They voice these opinions on social media. What is absolutely incomprehensible for me is that often the individuals who are inviting IS to come to Armenia and fight gays are against IS in other matters.

Another trend is connected to the fact that Armenia is a highly militarized state. The hate linked to this issue comes down to the opinions that LGBT individuals don’t deserve the protection that the Armenian military is offering citizens. LGBT people are perceived as a group of enemies from within. The type of discourse that claims, “Our soldiers don’t fight the enemies to let these perverts exist and spread,” dehumanizes LGBT individuals, and labels them enemies.

Last, I want to mention the “Gay is not Armenian” discourse. In fact, LGBT is just one of many groups that are perceived as completely foreign, hostile, and opposite to the so-called “sacred Armenian spaces” like church, family, army, religion, and traditions. Whatever it is that doesn’t fit in this concept of “sacred spaces” is automatically discarded as non-Armenian—as if being Armenian means bearing a certain number of very categorical imperatives by default. These “sacred Armenian spaces” are not inclusive at all—not only towards LGBT individuals, but other minority groups as well.

The hate that is massively generated is harmful for the LGBT community on multiple levels. In fact, one of the participants of the forum was followed and threatened just because she had an LGBT flag sticker on her phone. What people don’t realize is that LGBT individuals are present in those “sacred spaces” and have always been.

Unfortunately, we have to deal with these primitive and narrow concepts: We have what we have. But if that is the reality, if we still have to concentrate on nationality, traditions, and Armenian-ness in their worst manifestations, and if it matters that much, then gays too have to serve in the army and protect those “sacred spaces.” There are gay people who are religious, and there are gays who serve in church too. LGBT people are athletes that win gold medals for their countries. They work as teachers, drivers, politicians, doctors, and they can be your cousins, brothers, sisters, you name it.

If people don’t know about them, it doesn’t mean they don’t or can’t exist. They do exist in the best terms they can. I exist, I am happy, I have a person I love, family, and friends. Now some of us have to hide, but I am sure that is temporary. Because hate is temporary. Because love conquers hate.

 

Sincerely,

A citizen of Armenia who has to hide

16 Comments on Letter: ‘Rainbow Armenia’

  1. Being a non-Christian Armenian is almost as bad, but not quite. Even for neopagans such as myself, whose religion is more Armenian than Christianity is, in certain situations its best to hide it. I wonder what attitude Armenians had toward gays before Christianity? No doubt a more open one.

    • “[Pagan] religion is more Armenian than Christianity is…”

      Another magnum opus from our non-Armenian “friend”. It turns out that he miraculously can measure a religion to be ‘more Armenian’ and ‘less Armenian’. All stages that the ancient Armenian nation has gone through—being at one time Pagan or Zoroastrian and at another time Christian—are closely interconnected and intertwined within our Armenian Identity. Cheap tricks aimed at driving a wedge into it by making foolish statements that Paganism was more Armenian than Christianity are just that: cheap tricks. Armenians have ONE indivisible history, just like several other ancient peoples do. Persians, too, were Pagan before they adopted Islam. Hardly would an Iranian intellectual say that Paganism was ‘more Persian’ than Islam. What kind of an idiotic statement is this, anyway?

    • “john,” relax, that was not me. My icon is not purple. It’s majestic brown, just like our khachkars (as is deserving for an Armenian god). Plus, I am Christian (gods are allowed to do such things).

      [What kind of an idiotic statement is this, anyway?]

      You realize that by calling others “idiotic,” you are only showing your own desperation, right?

  2. Do those ignorant people who call on ISIS to come to Armenia to kill gays realize that ISIS would happily turn their guns and knives on them and chop their heads off just for being Christians? I am saddened at how ignorant and closed-minded Armenia has become. This stems from this unachievable pidgeon-holing of what it means to be an Armenian. It has always been a source of division at all times of our history. Russia’s ignorance doesn’t help either, but it also gives me an idea of the extent to which social trends in Russia echo in Armenia. I recall a time when Armenians’ attitudes towards LGBTs was changing from 2006-2008, but that adruptly stopped.

    The ignorance, hatred and villification of ordinary Armenians who happen to be gay or a part of another social caste in Armenia is sickening. I hope the next generation addresses this issue civilly. Those who want to live in an environment in which people are persecuted for being a certain way are welcome to leave Armenia and join the Taliban or ISIS.

  3. avatar vart adjemian // October 30, 2015 at 4:41 pm // Reply

    I feel very sad that you have signed your article ” A citizen of Armenia who has to Hide”.
    The published picture shows a group of men and women, who are all beautiful, and should be treated with dignity and love.
    As I said in another comment, ingrained cultures and attitudes that are ill-conceived take time to change.
    Be patient, and do not give up.
    Vart Adjemian

  4. Terrific– As a gay Armenian who’s spent a great deal of my own personal income and time supporting various Armenian causes, it makes me proud to finally see Armenian culture starting to remove the yolk of regressive and backward cultural norms picked up from the region’s other intolerant ossified peoples.

    Better to stand proud and embrace European and Western moral norms that have created open and vibrant societies. Keep up the good work! Proud of you and don’t let the moral and religious zealots and trolls bully you.

  5. Wow!… It’s as if Armenia is finally joining the 20th Century, even though it is the 21st… Reminds me of the Gay and Lesbian rights seminars and LGBT Pride gatherings we had on the west coast of the USA in the 1970’s, 40-45 years ago… Congrats for bravely trying to catch up in your weirdly homophobic society!

    • Mr. Wells,

      You are the bigot. You prejudge the people of Armenia based on your vision of a place you never visited, a people you don’t know, a history of which you are ignorant, and you compare us to what – Berkeley? Condemn Armenia for her faults – that is easy enough.

      Please point out to me any post Soviet country that is doing better. For that matter, please take a look at any Moslem society, and let us know if it measures up to Santa Monica. Iran? You would be executed. She is our neighbor and historic cousin.

      Western Europe and North America have the advantage of Enlghtenment values and…wealth. Armenia also endured two events that you have no knowledge or experience of: Genocide 1894-1923, AND losses of 30-40 per cent of her population in the great Patriotic War. Tiny Armenia lost almost as many men and women as the United States in WWII. Yet, she recovered.

      She lacks the ability to launch social upgrades as might work in California.
      She is too busy defending herself from enemies on three sides. Not that long ago, far less than 40-50 years ago, leading US politicians like the Clintons backed what I am sure you think are bad policies, so don’t get too high and mighty.

    • Because homophobia does not exist in the United States? Recall Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, and of course these are only the cases prominent enough to have movies made about them.

      Let us not forget that it was in 2008 that Prop 8 passed in ostensibly liberal California.

      What was that about homophobic societies again?

  6. Obviously, standing up for LGBT rights in Armenia is much alike doing that in a conservative Islamic country like Iran. Even in western parts of Turkey, I think, it’s not so much of an issue.

    Nevertheless, traditional values and sacred spaces is what kept Armenian nation, Armenian self-consciousness together for thousands of years, and this is no joke to be taken in brackets, dear ”Citizen of Armenia”.

    While simply discussing issues and troubles that LGBT members face in Armenia, in private environment is just fine, the thing I am highly concerned about is just how ferociously the U.S. tries to force upon us tolerance towards elements which are contradictive to Christian and Armenian values, labeling a normal reaction towards them as „backwards” and a sign of ”underdevelopment”. That’s not just an issue in Armenia. The United States forces all kinds of feminist propaganda even through it’s president speech in the UN.

    It would all be okay, if you my dear friends wouldn’t be heavily subsidized from across the ocean. If you were just Armenian gays trying to gather and discuss their problems (I’m sure there is a gay club in Yerevan though) I’d shake your hand myself first. But your point is to provoke, to sow dissent and to show yourself off as valorous fighters against backwards and agressive masses of your countrymen.

    I’m glad we Armenians are smart enough to see through that.

    Sincerely,
    An Armenian-Russian

  7. Shame and disgrace

  8. Dear Eduard/Armenian-Russian,

    There was a gay friendly club in Yerevan. It was fire bombed by some Armenian neo-Nazis. Those neo-Nazis were taken into custody by the police, but then they were bailed out two members of Parliament. You can read about it here: http://armenianweekly.com/2012/05/15/hate-crime-targets-gay-friendly-bar-in-yerevan-mps-bail-out-assailants/. It seems to me that the people who sow dissent are the Armenian neo-Nazis and those like you who believe that feminism is not a Christian value out that tolerance towards those who are different will somehow bring down our nation. This is a very dangerous attitude.

    Our nation has been Christian for 1700 years but it was pagan for 2000 years before that. Were we not Armenian then? A nation that does not evolve is not alive, it is fossilized. And so is a nation that looks only inward for its ideals. The West is not the enemy; only those who would rather live in a fictitious past than embrace a bright new future.

    This is not a new phenomenon in our nation’s life. In the 19th century, Armenian intellectuals that are revered today were complaining about the inflexibility and backwardness of the “leaders”of our community. People like Komitas, who was not permitted to perform his beautiful mass in a secular venue. People like Karekin Servantsetiants, who experienced ignorance and intolerance at first hand in Vaspurakan. People like Khachatur Abovian, who was opposed by the clergy for wanting to have open schools that were open to knowledge. If these courageous Armenians had not stood up and “sowed dissent”, where would we be today?

    Open your mind, dear Eduard, to the light of knowledge. You may find that it is not Western after all. Maybe it even comes from the teachings of the Bible: “Judge not lest you be judged”.

  9. These “human rights” movements pretty much all come from the same “source” and all with a political, nefarious agenda. Sadly, the emotionally distraught subjects which they employ, I would even say victimize, and get to implement their task, probably are all unaware how they are being used and for what real purpose. And that purpose, contrary to what they believe, is not about them, but a much more profound and far-reaching objective.

    And contrary to what anyone believes, the recent Supreme Court ruling in the US was NOT about “progress” or “rights” or “the will of the people” in any way, in fact it was a regression in democratic principles and was simply a usurpation by one minority deciding the future morality of the majority according to their own vision, and yes, agenda.

  10. Kudos for those that participated on the meeting, hope you guys find great support within that new community you guys formed. :)

    Is sad to see how narrow minded we (armenians) have become and a big part of it is the miss interpretation of the bible. Or, as someone said christian “traditions.” There is nowhere in the bible that says being homosexual is a sin. And for those that might reply to my comment with verses of the bible, let me tell you, Don’t be hypnotic. If you are going to interpret those passages as anti-gay, then you should also be as passionate for Deuteronomy 22:13-21, 22:22, 25:11-12. Mark 10:1-12, 12:18-27. Leviticus 18:19, 19:19, 19:27, 19:28.

  11. avatar Karen Mkrtchyan // November 3, 2015 at 10:22 am // Reply

    Beautifully written. Thank you Armenianweekly for publishing this. It does not matter weather you do or don’t agree with the views expressed by the author who sadly has to hide his/her identity. The fact that you allowed this voice to be heard calls for some respect. You certainly have mine.
    Glad to see so many positive comments. I don’t know what is ‘more Armenian ‘, I hate such terms but I am certain that Christianity is not Armenian. And whoever thinks Iranians don’t look back at their Pre-Islamic history with nostalgia have obviously never interacted with Iranians since the Iranian Revolution. I hope we allies can do more for the LGBTIAQ community in Armenia. #LoveConquersHate

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*