WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif.—The Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society (GALAS), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that “provides outreach and promote the equality of LGBTQ Armenians within the larger community,” released an op-ed applauding ARPA International Film Festival’s screening of the films “Listen to Me” and “Apricot Groves” last weekend.
The screenings occurred after the two films, which contain LGBT themes, were slashed from the 2017 program for the Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival in July. Lousine Shamamian, who authored the op-ed, chastised organizers of the Golden Apricot in her letter for self-censoring their program, arguing that when they did so, they “squandered the opportunity to participate in one of the most meaningful traditions of filmmaking: being a catalyzing force for social change.”
The statement compared organizers’ censorship to the historic repression Armenians experienced as residents of the Ottoman Empire. “As Armenians, we know all too well what it means to be censored,” it read. “Having lived in our native land of Anatolia for so many centuries, many of those as minorities ruled by unforgiving empires, we know the delicate intricacies of conforming in order not to raise the ire of the dominant power.”
Though it expressed some empathy for the organizers’ decision, stating that “the resistance from the broader Armenian community stems from centuries of needing to assimilate and avoid being a target,” it didn’t elaborate on the more imminent threat of violence that those in the gay community face in Armenia.
In 2016, gay rights advocate and PINK Armenia representative Kyle Khandikian reported for the Armenian Weekly that 86.6% of respondents to a survey in Armenia “strongly agree” that homosexuality should be outlawed. The most notorious manifestation of such negative attitudes took place in 2012, when Armine “Tsomak” Oganesova’s bar, DIY, was firebombed by a “group of ultranationalists.”
Shamamian concluded the statement by reiterating GALAS’s approval of the screenings by ARPA organizers, hinting that the Golden Apricot Festival could “redeem itself” by adding the two films on next year’s roster and “celebrate the essential duty of all Armenians to respect one another’s humanity. We as a people need more films like these, not fewer.”