Armenian Police Target Teenage Rock Cult

YEREVAN (AFP)—When police officers arrived at 13-year-old Masha’s home, searched her room, and inspected her computer, it was not because they suspected her of any crime.

An Armenian follower of angst-ridden punk-rock subculture known as ‘emo’ looks at graffiti in Yerevan on Dec. 15. Police in Yerevan have been conducting a campaign against the capital’s small but controversial emo community since the recent suicides of two teenagers who were rumored to have been emo fans.

Her offense was simply to be a devoted follower of the angst-ridden punk-rock subculture known as “emo” in an ex-Soviet state where pressures to conform remain strong.

“It was offensive and frightening at the same time,” said Masha, a schoolgirl in the Armenian capital, clearly upset by the experience.

Police in Yerevan have been conducting a campaign against the capital’s small but controversial emo community since the recent suicides of two teenagers who were rumored to have been emo fans.

They claim that the subculture represents a threat to young people’s welfare.

Officers have visited schools, searched pupils whose distinctive clothing marks them out as possible emos and mounted surveillance on public places where young people gather.

Several fans have been detained for questioning, despite the lack of any specific legislation against the musical genre or its followers.

In a recent newspaper interview, Armenia’s chief of police, Alik Sarkisian, claimed that emo could “damage our gene pool.”

“We should fight against such phenomena because they are morally harmful to our people,” he said.

Emo—an abbreviation of “emotional”—is a more melodic and melancholy form of punk rock. It has origins in the United States but has become a well-established global subculture in recent years.

Masha and her friend Ani, also 13, say they started dressing in the unconventional emo style in an attempt to stand out from what they call “the grey masses.”

But they now feel that they have to disguise themselves in ordinary clothes for fear of detention or harassment by other youths. “They point and laugh at us. Or even worse, they sometimes beat up our boys,” Ani said.

Sensationalist media reports in Europe have suggested that the gloomy lyrics of some emo songs can influence teenagers to harm themselves or attempt suicide, although fans have consistently rejected the accusation.

Emo devotees in Britain and Russia staged protests two years ago against what they saw as negative stereotyping.

Some people in Yerevan not only believe that emo can cause suicidal depression, but also see it as a degenerate Western influence on traditional Armenian values.

Members of the youth wing of a local police association held a march against the subculture in the capital this month, carrying banners that read “No to foreign perversions!”

One teacher in a Yerevan suburb, who asked not to be named, said the directors of some schools supported the police action, and had even been actively encouraging officers to search pupils who dressed unusually and check them for signs of self-harm.

“We suspected one female pupil of being an emo. We invited our district policeman and the pupil’s parents to come in, and explained how dangerous the consequences of this could be,” the teacher said.

A local human rights activist compared the police’s behavior to a Communist-era witch-hunt.

“It is like the repression in Soviet times, when law enforcement agencies were chasing hippies, punks, and rockers—all those who refused to live within society’s limits and be like everyone else,” said Mikael Danielian, chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia.

But the police say they are only intervening to protect vulnerable youngsters. “We are simply doing our job,” said the police colonel responsible for youth affairs, Nelli Durian.

“We are conducting explanatory, preventative work among teenagers and their parents to prevent children from becoming hooligans and from thoughts of suicide.”

However, she said that she could not blame emo music for the reported rise in teenage suicide attempts in Armenia this year.

Young fans like Masha and Ani have been worried by the anti-emo campaign, but they insist that they will not be pressured into abandoning the subculture that they love.

“It is impossible to ban youth movements using repressive methods,” Ani said defiantly. “We will not stop listening to our music and dressing how we like. This is my choice.”


  1. This is pretty ignorant of the Armenian police to blame music and a subculture of youth on suicides. Music doesn’t do anything but express the feelings and emotions people have within their lives. The music didn’t fuel the suicides or cause them. The kids are being bullied at school and probably dont get along with parents (as if any kid doesnt have that problem) because they want to be different and want to express themselves rather than be a normal, boring kid that conforms. Go after the bullies, go after the parents that didn’t do enough to help their kids through difficult times in their lives.

    Just because the Chief of Police, Alik Sargsian, doesnt like them personally doesnt mean he needs to go out and do a witchhunt on everyone that doesn’t look right to him. My 12 year old daughter is into Emo music, me, I’m into Death Metal, Hardcore, Punk music. Parents of these Emo kids should stand up and be behind their kids and tell these fascist police to go after real criminals.

    It’s sad the kids commit suicide yet it has nothing to do with music. When I was young I had suicidal tendencies, was it because I listened to bands like Metallica, Slayer, Venom, etc? No because I was young and didn’t think anyone understood the feelings I was going through. Having parents divorced, issues with ignorant kids at school, relationship problems with girlfriend at the time, etc. These are the things kids go through. Music is there for them to seek refuge, not telling them, “Hey, your life sucks, go kill yourself.” It’s pathetic when an adult wants to blame a subculture or lifestyle on someones death.

    I stand behind the youth of today in wearing what they want to wear, listen to what they love to listen to, and stand up for what they believe….if not, then the future is already lost to ignorance and hatred and stupid action by those in athoritive roles, like that chief of police.

    Crossroads Music Publication
    Victoria, Texas USA

  2. If you want reasonable action then I guess the police should look into the 2 suicides within the Armenian army since this past summer, the last who claimed to be victimized and intimidated by fellow soldiers.
    The 15yr old who hung himself left a suicide note, saying he is “sick and tired” of lessons, and of all of his family members’ incessant threats and advice to learn English. Does anywhere in the suicide note mention the reasons being the music he listened to? No, it mentioned about school and family being the issue.
    If you want police and parents to do their job then have them look into bullying by fellow students, troubles within the family structure that may lead to depression and anger, relationships issues facing young people in society, etc. If you want to look at trends as a scape-goat then you are missing the point and are not looking at the problems from the childrens point of view.
    Crossroads Music Publication
    Victoria, Texas USA

  3. If you want to see a past statistic of suicide rates in Armenia from 2006 go to
    Yes one of the age brackets that is high is ages 15-24 (10 deaths), yet four other age brackets have similar and higher suicide rates, 35-44 (12 suicides), 45-54 (10), 55-64(10), and 65-74(19 deaths). If this trend is any indication maybe you guys need to check on why so many older people are killing themselves. maybe they just discovered Emo music as well?!
    Also, a psychiatrist mentioned that there is at least 1 suicide a day that occurs in Armenia. Yes, he states that alot are of the young people but does he mention music as the issue? No, he mentiones “living a very stressful life with the war, blockade, earthquake, economic transfer to capitalism and widespread unemployment” and “singled out the poor state of the mental health system in Armenia as leading the way.”
    Also, why does the Police Colonel Nelly Duryan, deputy head of the Police’s 3rd Investigation Department (of Juvenile Affairs) in Armenia mention that “the main reason [for committing suicide] is everyday concerns; suicides based on family disputes are also often seen. Youngsters at the age 16-17 already manage to fall in love, they get a refusal,” says Duryan, adding that more victims are girls.” and why doesn’t she mention music as the cause? info here:
    Also, what about the man who committed suicide while in police custody early in the year. Seems like the police had something to do with that suicide cus I doubt he was listening to Emo music in the cell.
    Get a clue people.
    Crossroads Music Publication
    Victoria, Texas USA

  4. Avo,
    But you have to show that there is reasonable justification that emo music leads to suicides to begin with. And you don’t go around harassing people at random if there is an issue.

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