Last week, I visited Armenia for the first time as an adult, to attend my nephew’s baptism. I decided to take the opportunity to write a travel article on tourism in Armenia. I want to help promote our magical homeland to non-Armenian masses. My trip was a life-altering experience, seeing Mer Hayrenik, its raw beauty including the warm and hospitable people and re-connect with my roots.
My timing was perfect as the nation was still rejoicing and celebrating Armenia’s Velvet Revolution in May 2018, when the people peacefully drove-out the old regime and elected Nikol Pashinyan as the new Prime Minister.
There was and still is high hope amongst the citizens that Pashinyan would lead the nation to a better future. Unfortunately, despite shared optimism for Armenia’s outlook regarding economy, justice system, administration and standard of living, Armenia’s LGBT community is not hopeful about their fate and future. In fact, it was heartbreaking to witness the despair among queer Armenians for their living situation and general role in society.
I spoke at length to dozens of LGBT Armenians; they were businessmen, artists, blue-collar workers, an architect, an activist and a very famous entertainer. Sadly, despite confidence in their new leader, all were pessimistic about their own future. None expressed hope that the situation would get better regarding hate crimes against LGBT— harassment, gay-bashing, abuse, homophobia and transphobia. Terrified for their safety, all expressed a desire to migrate to freer and more progressive countries.
According to several studies, a conservative estimate of ten percent of the world’s population is LGBT, and Armenia is no exception. Make no mistake: the only difference between Armenia and the Western world is that its queer community is, for the most part, still in the closet, due to institutionalized and widespread homophobia.
The LGBT rights movement is simply this: The right to be average. Period.
There have been several high-profile gay-bashings and assaults in Armenia recently. In February, a trans woman was beaten and set on fire in her own apartment. In May, while in Armenia on a humanitarian mission, Elton John was subjected to homophobic slurs and hurled with eggs. On Friday, August 3, the day I left Armenia, a group of thirty villagers broke into a house and attacked nine LGBT Armenians in the southernmost Syunik region. One of the attackers, Hakob Arshakyan, is the former Mayor of the village. Gevorg Petrosyan, an Armenian parliament member with the Prosperous Armenia Party, made the following statement, “I don’t know who will incriminate me and to what extent, but we should have already driven out (I’m stating this lightly) homosexuals, religious minorities, and their protectors from our Holy land with joint efforts.” All of the aforementioned devastating incidents have been reported in mainstream, international media.
I strongly believe that it should be up to the people of every nation and community to decide their own fate; but there are always exceptions. In this case, save for a few activists, LGBT Armenians have few people who are willing to speak out on their behalf. I would implore Nikol Pashinyan to take action against systematic homophobia in Armenia and send a message that we are all equal, whether native-born or diasporan, straight and cisgender or LGBT, living in Armenia or abroad, rich or poor, connected or otherwise. Our people have been massacred, slaughtered and prosecuted for centuries in the hands of our enemies, so why are we doing it to ourselves now?
Some may argue that Mr. Pashinyan has bigger priorities to tackle before combating homophobia, including national security, corruption, economy, unemployment, under-employment and immigration. Queer Armenians are confidently looking forward to his upcoming State of the Nation address and roll-out of his agenda, but unfortunately, their optimism is not extended to the LGBT community.
The destiny of Armenia and its people can be adversely affected by the future of its queer community. If hate-crimes against people’s family members are ignored and continue to go unpunished, how can they maintain faith in a functioning justice system? And if talented, innovative and educated Armenian citizens are forced to flee to Western Europe or the United States because their homeland does not accept them, how can the country develop?
Our people have been massacred, slaughtered and prosecuted for centuries in the hands of our enemies, so why are we doing it to ourselves now?
Following May’s Velvet Revolution, the world was awed to witness how a nation practiced non-violent resistance against an oppressive regime and demand change. Armenia received a great deal of positive press and global attention. But the international headlines about the recent gay-bashings have worked to contradict this image of peace.
We cannot afford to ignore this matter any longer. It will not simply go away, and we cannot sit passively as the rest of the world watches in outrage.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” But what does it say about a nation, when its people are treated like animals for being LGBT?
The LGBT rights movement is simply this: The right to be average. Period. LGBT Armenians do not wish for better or special treatment. They only want a life in a country where they can live a free, honest and authentic life, without fear of prosecution, violence or hate due to their sexual orientation or gender identity