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. 

I was among the group gathered in front of Tamamyan’s statue at the Cascade. I approached a prominent representative of PINK Armenia and another women’s rights activist and asked about organizers’ plans. We should decide how we want to move forward, I said, sensing that a strategy wasn’t in place. I was doubtful that the police who were there to guarantee our safety would, indeed, do their job. And yet before anyone could say anything — actually, before anyone could even think about what to do — the group of loud mostly (but not only) boys chanting nationalist songs began to move in our direction. And before you could blink an eye, a few of the activist-organizers held up their signs and escorted — I would say rushed along — by police crossed the street. And the march began.

A big mistake.
Because now we were no longer in control. Because from this point on it was the cops telling us how to move, where to go, where to stand. We were being controlled by the state apparatus. I don’t believe for a minute that the police actually cared about our safety (in fact, a couple of marchers and supporters told me afterwards the remarks they heard by police officers — remarks that sanctioned the hate rhetoric chanted by protestors). Police follow orders from above — not from activists (and least of all not by activists they perceive as gay or gay allies).
And we were merely pawns in their hands. We fell into their trap and played the game by their rules. And by “they”, I don’t just mean the police. I mean the state authorities all the way up to the president himself. Because you just wait and see how the march that went so horribly wrong today will be used to glorify the authorities. Oh, look how well our police force acted! Oh look how well the state authorities are protecting LGBT rights — after all, they sanctioned the gay parade (oh wait, I mean Diversity March) and did a good job of protecting the marchers (well no one got badly hurt, right? A few skirmishes here and there is to be expected, but nothing serious went down, right?).
At one point in Charles Aznavour Square (just outside Moscow Cinema) we were surrounded by police. Again they were there to “protect us.” And yet I felt more afraid in that position than if I was standing outside the circle looking in. Once police had formed a wall blocking protestors from marchers, we were told to go into the Painters’ Union (where the march was expected to end as an exhibit related to “diversity day” was organized). Again, for our safety. And yet I felt more like an animal lured into its cage. Because now we were barricaded in, while counter-demonstrators were outside, continuing to chant, sing and proclaim themselves as defenders of the nation and “national values”.
At that moment I was consumed by fear but looking back on it now (and after speaking to good friends), I think, what a sad sight. Because those young people gathered outside didn’t realize that they too were being used. That we were all merely instruments in the hands of those with power who most likely were using us to deflect from other, more state-level issues. Anyone who knows this country knows there are other more pressing issues on the table right now than all the uproar that one little Diversity March caused.
We should’ve been smarter. We should’ve taken a step back in order to take two steps forward as a good friend of mine suggested, quoting Lenin. We should’ve cancelled the march because by not doing so we relinquished control. We let the police (and the state) set the rules of the game. And that’s a dangerous place to be in.

P.S. Click here for some great shots by the PanArmenian crew.

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