Thursday, November 15, 2012

Watching Parada and Not in Armenia

I have mixed emotions over the fact that I was able to watch the "controversial" film Parada tonight — a film screening that, unfortunately, did not take place in Yerevan. The film was screened as part of a festival for European audiences, and I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. 

The mixed feelings are not about the film itself. I thought it was a great film — an amazing film — that more than anything else needs to be screened in Yerevan. I can't remember the last time I laughed AND cried so hard in one film. Parada ("The Parade"), though centring around an attempt by a group of activists to organize a gay pride parade in Belgrade, touches upon so many subjects, many of which will appear somewhat familiar to Armenian audiences... and more reason why this film has to be screened in Armenia. And this is why I have mixed feelings: because I was able to watch the film while those in Armenia could not (though I am told that "many in Armenia have seen it online via not licensed Russian websites"). 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Yerevan Screening of Serbian Film on LGBT Rights Cancelled AGAIN

Sometimes it seems that it takes years for things to happen in Armenia, while other times things develop so quickly that if you blinked you just might miss the latest development.

One of these developments is the screening of an apparently controversial film called Parada, an “internationally acclaimed Serbian drama dealing with the delicate subject of LGBT rights,” according to an Oct. 15, 2012 press release issued by the EU Delegation in Armenia and the Germany Embassy in Yerevan, which planned on screening the film on Oct. 17 and 18 at Congress Hotel in Yerevan.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reminiscing... Brazilian Music in Yerevan

Today, I remembered a woman in Armenia I met many, many years ago — young, beautiful, and married to a man slightly older than herself with a beer belly like those of so many men you see in Armenia today. I don't remember how I met this woman, but she was a friend of a friend (I had probably been delivering a parcel to her from an acquaintance in Canada) and after she, her husband, and another young married couple (friends of theirs) took me in their car to some green space outside the city to have khorovats (BBQ — unfortunately, meat, which I did not eat), she welcomed me into her home. 

It was the only moment the two of us were alone and I saw a different side of her — a side that was more passionate than was apparent when she was in the company of her husband and their friends. She took me to a corner of her living room where she had a stereo and played a song by a Brazilian artist. She then confessed her love of Brazilian music and asked me about my musical tastes. The soft melody — which, when I recall this scene years later, reminds me of Bebel Gilberto — in particular, the song "Preciso Dizer Que Te Amo" — in that small Yerevan flat after a boisterous khorovats party took me by surprise. I have since realized that we all create a little corner of the world for ourselves and sometimes that little corner is quite different from the physical place we find ourselves in.

Though I think it's important to "live in the present," I find that sometimes conditions force us to cherish a different present than the one we are currently living — a sad melody that is a reflection of our lives much like the Brazilian music I heard that day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Georgia on My Mind

I just saw this video and it totally made my day:

Incidentally, I came across another video by Georgian activists a few weeks ago that also had me saying "Respects!". In the video "Men for Gender Equality," Georgian men are saying "I can wash my own feet" in response to the country's Patriarch saying women should be waiting at home to wash their husbands' feet.

I would love to see both of these types of videos by Armenian activists!

*Thanks to Unzipped: Gay Armenia for sharing the videos.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Armenian Broadcast of Eurovision in Baku an Exercise in Propaganda

I wrote this article on May 27, a day after the Grand Final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, with the intention of having it published immediately on I submitted it to the editors of this Armenian website that publishes media analysis and critique; however, due to various factors (not having to do with the content or angle of the piece, but rather with technical matters on the organization’s part), it was not published. So I decided to publish it here on my blog. I realize it’s been nearly 3 weeks since the Eurovision contest took place, so I hope you’ll forgive me for publishing old news. I spent a lot of time working on this piece and then waiting for it to be published on — and then when it wasn’t, I decided it had to be published somewhere. So here it is.

"A few buildings, a bit of culture and some clouds. What all this has to do with the 'Land of Fire' I don’t know," said one of the announcers on Armenian Public TV, commenting on the images of Azerbaijan shown between acts of the Grand Final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest held on May 26 in Baku. And so began the tirade of superfluous remarks and ridicule by Armenian hosts on the H1 channel, which decided to air the contest even though the country had opted not to participate this year.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A New Name: Making Connections

(I just realized that this post follows one titled “Not in My Name”. The name theme is purely a coincidence as I’ve been planning to change the name of this blog for quite some time now!)

Like many others, I began a blog to record my travels for family and friends back home. I named this blog “Le Retour in 3 Parts” because I was returning to 3 cities close to my heart — Amsterdam, Paris and Yerevan — in the summer of 2008. Since then, the blog has undergone transformations in style and content to reflect the changes in my life and my purpose for continuing to blog. I am currently living in Armenia, though I have plans to leave the country in the coming months (onto bigger and better things!).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not In My Name

I have learned so much from living here in Armenia. For one thing, everything is not as it seems. And everything is not black and white. Because I am against something doesn’t mean I’m for that which is perceived as being the opposite of the former. Because I stand by you doesn’t mean we agree on the same things.

And yet, in many ways I am still very much naive. For instance, I did not honestly believe that such a crowd could gather as they did today to protest the Diversity March — widely interpreted and misrepresented as being a parade and a gay parade at that but which was organized to mark the UN World Day for Cultural Diversity — organized by PINK Armenia. The number of counter-demonstrators seemed to be at least four times as many as came out to march. Right away I sensed their aggression, their penchance for violence and ignorant, bigoted rhetoric. Right away I sense we should cancel the march — at least for our safety. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Armenia State Officials, Public Figures Should Speak Up, Condemn Hate Crime

Regardless of whether you think I’m perverted, mentally ill or should be burned at the stake (some of the terms I’ve heard applied to LGBT people — for example: see comments in this article), you have no right to take the law into your hands. The crime that was committed was a hate crime because it was committed against an establishment viewed as being frequented by members of a specific community and because the accused said one of their motives was that one of the owners of the bar had participated in the gay pride festivities in Istanbul the previous year. These motives, which I was told the brothers named in their confession only to retract them later, amount to hate against a particular individual and a particular group of people — hence, hate crime.

How timely then for ILGA Europe (the European branch of the International LGBT Association) to launch its first annual review of the human rights situation of LGBTI people in Europe and the European neighborhood on May 15, two days before the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a week after DIY was firebombed and the same day the bar was targeted a second time. Needless to say, ILGA Europe ranked Armenia among 10 countries in the negative zone (!) — countries which do not meet even the basic requirements of human rights standards.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Queer-Friendly Yerevan Bar Bombed: What Happens Next?

For the first time since moving to Armenia, I am afraid. Queer women are in the spotlight — an unfamiliar and not at all good place to be in. We perhaps have become used to being invisible here: we can hold hands in public and generally be more affectionate than men without experiencing stares and suspicious glances from passers-by. But now more than ever, it seems, we elicit the same contempt that has traditionally been reserved for gay men (see earlier post).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Living in the Present

Is it just me or does along with the warmer weather and sunshine come children? All of a sudden all those little people adults have been hiding in the winter have appeared literally overnight strolling the city streets, and I can only wonder: who knew so many children live in such a small city?

But children are a comfort and speaking of another sort of comfort…

Sometimes there’s nothing like a big bowl of lentil soup to cure all ills. And though spring has arrived, today is somewhat of a gray day with little sunshine, so what better way to give your stomach a break post-Easter and your soul some comfort than with a bowl of lemony, vermicelli- and spinach-filled soup? I highly recommend it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Women Occupy Yerevan Park on International Women's Day

March 8 — International Women's Day — will be memorable for me this year because of this group of women who broke through the barricades and occupied one of the kiosks in a central Yerevan park. 

For those who don't know, environmental and civic activists have been coming to Mashtots Park nearly every day for over 3 weeks protesting the construction of shops in what they say (and many will agree) is one of the few remaining green spaces in downtown Yerevan. These same shops (most often referred to as "kiosks" though they're much larger than that) were dismantled on Abovyan St. (another downtown Yerevan street) and "moved" to Mashtots Park. From what I understand, the shop owners have a 10-year lease with the city and they have 3 remaining years left on this lease. So to solve the problem of at once dismantling the kiosks on a downtown Yerevan street (a move the mayor initiated following his removal of street vendors in the capital) and not breaking the contract with shop owners, the municipality decided to "move" them to Mashtots Park. The idea is that the kiosks are temporary (so why the concrete base?) and will be removed when the contract with shop owners is up in 3 years. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

... and I feel fine (or so goes the popular song by REM). Except I don’t. Feel fine, that is.

In case you haven’t been following the latest round of political machinations in Armenia, let me enlighten you. First (well maybe not first, but this is where I’ve decided to begin this story), Vartan Oskanian, Armenia’s foreign minister during Robert Kocharian’s presidency and chair of the Yerevan-based think tank Civilitas Foundation, declared his intention to return to politics. And not just any politics — but to join the ranks of the Prosperous Armenia Party (the junior partner in the country’s ruling coalition).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Diasporan Armenians, Oligarchs, Environmental Activists and Eurovision

Today I was overcome with a feeling of powerlessness. The smallness of me in the vastness of the universe. But more specifically, the smallness of me in this tiny country. Because this tiny country (barely on the map) is full of two kinds of people — those who are barely surviving and those who are thriving. And the great expansive divide between the two is what was eating at me today.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Do You Know the Secret Behind Armenia’s Postal Service?

Because if you do, please tell me. To this day, Hay Post, the “official national postal operator of the Republic of Armenia,” remains a big mystery. Sometimes I get my mail from Canada, sometimes I don’t (though it always seems the mail I send to Canada is received). And don’t ask me why.

Earlier this month, I went to the post office just to check if the two cards I’m expecting from friends in Canada (good thing they told me they sent me mail!) had arrived. Both friends had sent their cards in December and two weeks had passed. Alas, no mail, but the woman behind the counter asked me to leave my phone number so that they could call me when they get my mail. (For those not in the know, in Armenia we don’t actually have mailboxes outside our homes so any mail you get is delivered to your nearest post office.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On Giving Gifts in Armenia

First, apologies to my readers. I just noticed that it’s been nearly 2 months since my last blog post. To say I’ve been busy is an understatement — but even so and since this is a new year, I want to endeavour to post more frequently on this blog. I’m not sure if it’s a good sign to start off the year’s first blog post with an apology, but I do hope you’ll forgive me.

Though this is not the first time I spent New Year’s Eve in Armenia, it is the first time I did so after I made the move to live here. So this year was particularly special, and recognizing this, I decided to do something special for my family in Armenia: make up lovely baskets of sweets, alcohol, cheeses, crackers and so on wrapped in cellophane — you know, something fairly common in North America to give to friends, family, work colleagues, clients and so on over the holidays.