Adriana dreamt of leaving Armenia to work as a model in a country where pursuing a public-facing career would not expose her to danger. In this dream, she would take her dog Froggie and flee to a place where she could start a family of her own. She did not believe she was strong enough to endure the discrimination and bigotry she would face in Armenia, where there are no laws protecting the rights of the transgender community.
She shared these aspirations with her friend Monica. Adriana never had a large circle of friends. She sought “quality, not quantity in friendship,” in Monica’s words. She also shared her fears with her friend. Adriana always felt that she was in danger, but the police dismissed her reports as products of her “imagination, not real proof.”
One day Adriana met a boy online who wanted to meet her in her home. It seemed suspicious, but she invited him over. He arrived at her door brandishing a knife. Adriana kicked the door shut and called the police. They told her to calm down and sleep it off, that she would feel better in the morning. Abandoned by law enforcement to protect herself, Adriana would regularly invite Monica over so that she would not be alone in her apartment.
On August 20, the police received calls about a fire in an apartment on Yeznik Koghbatsi St. in central Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. After the flames were extinguished, officers found a corpse marred by lacerations. They later confirmed that Adriana, at age 28, had been stabbed to death and her apartment set on fire.
“Adriana could never hurt or cause anyone pain. She was an extremely good and kind person,” Monica said to the Weekly, restraining her voice to hold back tears. “She was not for this world. This world is very evil.”
Police arrested the 26-year-old suspect at a border checkpoint in Bavra along Armenia’s northern border, as he was attempting to flee to Georgia. He has admitted to committing murder, and law enforcement has launched criminal proceedings.
Just as Adriana’s requests for help were disregarded by the police, the transgender activist community in Armenia has been advocating for legal guarantees for its rights and security for years, to little avail. In her eight years as president of Right Side NGO, transgender activist Lilit Martirosyan has raised this issue in front of government officials. She has demanded laws criminalizing hate speech and discrimination and upholding equal rights for people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. She warned that if these legal measures were not taken, a member of her community could be targeted with murder. Now her premonitions have been realized, and she feels exhausted.
Documented cases of violence against transgender people are not unprecedented in Armenia. Several years ago, another trans woman managed to escape from her apartment when it was targeted by arson, according to Right Side NGO. In August 2022, a member of a far-right organization filmed himself attacking a trans woman and published the video online.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any support from the government, from the police or from society. We are alone,” Martirosyan said, her voice anxious and desperate. She repeated herself for emphasis. “The LGBTQ community is alone. The trans community is alone in this country.”
The trans community did not even have the chance to grieve Adriana’s passing in peace. On August 21, Right Side NGO organized a candlelight vigil in Komitas Park, a serene, circular courtyard bordered by trees in Yerevan. More than 100 LGBTQ activists, Adriana’s family, the Dutch ambassador to Armenia and a representative from the British embassy were present. The vigil was disrupted by a group of agitators who threw eggs, bottles and stones at the mourners. Police officers, who had gathered in the park in preparation for the vigil, did not intervene.
Before the vigil was attacked, Monica and Adriana’s mother had a brief moment to grieve together. Adriana’s mother was accepting of her daughter’s gender identity.
“Her mother said, Monica jan, she loved you. She was very connected to you. She only said your name,” Monica said. “She was crying and wouldn’t let go of my hand. She said that she felt her daughter’s presence while holding my hand.”
News reports of Adriana’s death have been inundated with hateful comments from people living in Armenia, praising the murderer, calling for the death of all trans people and threatening specific trans activists. Martirosyan has been named, as have people who work for Right Side NGO. As a prominent activist, Martirosyan is accustomed to being targeted with hate speech. She doesn’t leave the house without a mask. She can’t go grocery shopping without being harassed. “It’s a dream for me to go to a café,” Martirosyan said.
Yet since Adriana’s murder, hate speech against the trans community has climbed to a new, unbearable pitch. As a model, makeup artist and blogger with a notable social media presence, Monica has been inured to discrimination and bigotry. Yet now, Monica’s Instagram and Tik Tok have been overwhelmed with warnings that her death will be next. She has been receiving death threats in her voicemail. She is living in hiding at an anonymous address. For the first time since coming out to the public, she is afraid for her life.
“I love Adriana. I miss her. I don’t believe this. The thought that I could be next is killing me from within. Physically and psychologically, I am suffering,” Monica said.
Martirosyan has called on the EU, Council of Europe, Western governments and international organizations to appeal to the Armenian government to protect trans rights. She believes the Armenian diaspora and all Armenian organizations must stand with the LGBTQ+ community.
“I do not want to survive. I want to live happily. I have that right. Adriana also had that right,” Monica said.