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.

Two other important events took place on May 15: a press conference organized by human rights organizations to talk about the DIY case and a conference titled “LGBT Rights in Armenia: Silenced Reality” organized by PINK Armenia, which, along with the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia (WRCA), has been at the forefront of defending LGBT rights in Armenia before, during and after the DIY firebombing.

And these two events, which, in a way, rallied around the same cause, transpired markedly differently — a fact that can be viewed as symbolic of the society in Armenia today. The first event, the press conference at 11 am, was filled to capacity. Journalists from online and print media and television crews with their large cameras, as well as interested onlookers, not only filled the small room at the Novosti Armenia press agency, but also spilled out into the hallway. There was obviously great interest in this case — at least for the media.

The second event, the conference — so timely and urgent — was attended by only a handful of people, mainly civil society and NGO representatives. Though invitations were sent to the ombudsman’s office, the police and other state agencies, no one from these structures came. PINK Armenia tweeted: “If there are any state officials or reps at #armLGBT conference, they are keeping silent…”

While WRCA Executive Director Lara Aharonian, who was present at both events, tweeted: “No one from local authorities came to the press conference this morning and none present here at the #LGBT conference #armLGBT”

So it seems that as a topic, the DIY firebombing and LGBT rights are interesting for the media (they can be sensationalized and raise their ratings), while state officials have more important things to do, it seems, than attend events addressing important issues of concern to their electorate (oh right, the elections just passed).

Photo of DIY before bombing (from DIY Facebook group)
If there was ever a time for state officials and public figures to speak out, it is now. And again, I say, you may consider us mentally ill (despite the fact that homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder by the psychiatric/psychological community — that is, if we are required to base our arguments on the scientific community), you may despise us, you may wish we never existed, but you must stand up and condemn such acts. I believe the authorities are obliged to respond — not by creating a page on Facebook praising the neo-nazi attackers on DIY bar, as one state official did, but by publicly stating that it is acceptable neither to take the law into your hands nor to terrorize, intimidate, vilify or otherwise harass another person or group for ANY reason. Period. 

(At least one party leader, Raffi Hovannisian from the Heritage Party, showed his solidarity when he came to a concert in support of DIY. Kudos!)

Photo of DIY after bombing (photo courtesy of Nairi Hakhverdi)
What is now widely cited knowledge, two local MPs of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) faction — Artsvik Minasyan and Hrayr Karapetyan — posted the 1 million dram bail for one of the accused (the other had been released earlier on signature that he wouldn’t leave the country). On the same day the bail was posted, Minasyan effectively defended his stance, going one step further. In an interview to [AM], he said:

“In this case, I am convinced that these youth [the accused] acted in the context of our society and national ideology, in the right way,” adding, “Tsomak’s kind […] is destroying Armenian society.”

So not only are public figures not condemning these acts, they are defending them!

Front room of DIY which sustained the most damage (photo courtesy of Nairi Hakhverdi)
As Unzipped: Gay Armenia puts it, Minasyan effectively supports and encourages terrorism in Armenia. Like me, Unzipped also believes that political parties and members should stand up and say that they are opposed to such statements:

If ARF-affiliated groups and party members worldwide care about the reputation of their party, and — more importantly — the future of Armenia, they should speak up against homophobia. They should demand that ARF makes statement clearly disassociated from their MP’s statement. They should demand that disgraced MP Artsvik Minasyan resign,” he writes.

(photo courtesy of Nairi Hakhverdi)
(And luckily, we’re not the only ones. In a letter submitted to and published by The Armenian Weekly — a Dashnaktustyun-affiliated publication to boot! —, a person who self-identifies as being associated with the Armenian Revolutioanry Federation also believes the political party is obliged to respond.)

However, not only has there been no such response by local or diasporan ARF-D members, but also Yerkir Media, a local ARF-D–affiliated media outlet, has posted a pathetic and rather homophobic video response to accusations that it misrepresented Tsomak, the DIY bar owner who participated in gay pride festivities in Istanbul last year, in an interview it conducted last year (English transcription of video narration here: No comment, indeed. 
(photo courtesy of Nairi Hakhverdi)
There is so much more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave it at this for now.

Other relevant posts by fellow bloggers and journalists:
Unzipped Gay Armenia (cited in several instances above)

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