Saturday, 20 April 2013

US State Department highlights LGBT discrimination in Armenia, DIY bombing and officials’ endorsement of anti-gay attacks

US State Department published its annual country-specific human rights reports, including Armenia related. In the chapter that highlights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the report specifically describes firebombing of gay friendly DIY bar in downtown Yerevan, attacks on Diversity march, as well as endorsement by ARF Dashnaktsutyun party and ruling Republican party MPs and officials, including vice-speaker of Armenian parliament, spokesman of ruling Republican party Eduard Sharmazanov and prominent ARF Dashnaktsutyun MP Artsvik Minasyan.

source: USA Department of State

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No antidiscrimination laws apply to sexual orientation or gender identity. Societal attitudes toward LGBT persons remained highly negative, with society generally viewing homosexuality as an affliction. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity negatively affected the employment, family relations, and access to education and health care of sexual minorities.

On May 8, three men firebombed the DIY Bar in Yerevan, a popular spot for activists who promoted equal rights for women and minorities, including LGBT persons. Although there were no injuries, the bar was destroyed. Police were summoned but arrived 12 hours after firefighters extinguished the fire. The bar owner identified three suspects, of whom police arrested two, the brothers Hampig and Mkrtich Khapazyan. Legislators from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Artsvik Minasyan and Hrayr Karapetyan, posted bail for one suspect and police released the other after he promised not to leave the country. A number of other National Assembly members, including Eduard Sharmazanov and Hovhannes Sahakyan from the ruling Republican Party, praised the actions of the Khapazyan brothers as a justified defense of the Armenian nation. Vandals spray-painted swastikas and threats against the owner of the destroyed bar on May 17 and 21.

Also in May the efforts of several NGOs to hold a “diversity march,” which local nationalists dubbed a gay parade, were thwarted by youths who shouted antigay slogans and tried to block the entrance to a building where a diversity exhibition was scheduled. Police ensured that there was no violence between the marchers and the nationalists and that the marchers were able to enter the exhibition while the protesters remained outside. The NGOs alleged that those who attempted to block the march were the same persons as those involved in the DIY bar bombing.

Openly gay men were exempt from military service, purportedly because of concern fellow service members would abuse them. However, the exemption required a medical finding, based on a psychological examination, that an individual had a mental disorder; this information was stamped in the individual’s personal documents.

According to human rights activists, sexual minorities were frequent targets for humiliating discrimination in prisons, where they were forced to perform degrading labor and were separated from the rest of the prison population.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Aregnazan or Magical World: queer, Armenian, futuristic video-animation - re-interpreting Ghazaros Aghayan fairytale (fundraising)

The Queering Yerevan Collective’s Indiegogo fundraising campaign is nearing its end, with only 6 days left at the time of this posting. It’s an experimental video project by Arpi Adamyan and Melissa Boyajian called AREGNAZAN OR MAGICAL WORLD. This is a unique collaboration between two outstanding artists from Yerevan and Boston respectively, who reconstruct and reinvent Armenian writer Ghazaros Aghayan’s fairytale, originally written in 1887, in a completely new way.

You can find out more about the project here:

Please, read artists' description below and make contribution to this queer, Armenian, futuristic video-animation, where the evil witch is replaced with an oligarch.

Aregnazan or Magical World is an adaptation of an Armenian epic fairytale by Ghazaros Aghayan. This olden day fairytale takes place near the base of Mount Ararat, a symbolic mountain to the Armenian people. The story begins with a father and his 3 children, 2 of which are beautiful girls. And the 3rd child, Aregnazan, was the most beautiful, but good spirits decided to hide the sex of Aregnazan until a day when it would need to be revealed for the greater good of the world. Aregnazan's father chooses to raise Aregnazan like his 2 daughter's, and dress them all in girl's clothes. However, Aregnazan disliked playing girl's games and learned how to ride a horse and use weapons. After the children grew up the father realized that there was future for them and that he must send 1 of his children out to fight for the king. He devises a test for them and disguises himself as a masked thief in an attempt to test the strength and will of his children. Aregnazan wins the test and leaves on a journey to save the king from a bear, defeat an evil witch who has imprisoned the citizens of the stone city, and save the ailing princess.

We are interested in adapting the story because of the unique representation of gender of Aregnazan within the story's beginning. However, the story remains very patriarchal and sexist in it's glorification of masculinity and lack of agency with the female characters. Aregnazan does not become a true hero in the story until completely transforming into a man. And of course the tropes of the sick princess, lovesick and waiting for her prince to save her as well as the wicked evil witch are also examples.

Our fantastical video animation is about Aregnazan's journey to self-discovery, redefining of traditions, love and revolution! Our piece is very important because it is offering an alternative narrative and representation of gender within Armenian culture! While our adaptation will still be following the journey of Aregnazan, Aregnazan's gender remains fluid throughout the story and will never become a man. Our version will also be reversing the roles of the weak female characters to be strong. The piece will make connections with socio-economic conditions of present day Armenia by replacing the evil witch with an oligarch, a symbol of the small very wealthy group of men that have monopolies on most of the resources of Armenia while a staggering portion of the population is unemployed. Some of the things Aregnazan encounters on their journey are a fight on a dangerous bridge, a meeting with a cyborg woman and a girl that can fly, and a revolutionary scene in the sleeping city!

The piece will not follow in a cut-and-dry filmic narrative fashion. The scenes contain performative actions between the characters that give reference to Armenian traditions and literature and reinterpret and queer their meanings. The performative gestures in some scenes can be likened to a choreographed dance of actions.  The video and animation will be layered together in post-production editing to make the already fantastical atmosphere even more stunning!

If you have not done so already, please visit our Indiegogo page and make a contribution to our project!

Analysis: Nationalism and Sexuality in Modern Armenian Discourse

Good analysis by Marine Margaryan of PINK Armenia and Tamar Shirinian, PhD candidate in cultural anthropology. Few quotes below. For article in full: read Hetq Online (Armenian, English)

[re: DIY firebombing and attack on Diversity march] “If we comprehensively analyze this situation and the details of the events of the past year and the concrete incidents that took place, it becomes clear that the root of the problem is not nationalist organizations or their work in opposition toward LGBT people. Rather, we can consider these organizations as tools - mechanisms of a larger chain which are directed towards the public to strengthen the discourse of the authorities. Furthermore, LGBT issues have never been in this kind of agenda within our public before, and this is the result of the problem’s artificial escalation. The manipulation of LGBT issues through nationalist forces acts as one of a few mechanisms, through which authorities mobilize public, which is then naturally used to establish and secure power.”

“When public attention is focused on LGBT issues, authorities can guarantee that it will be able to distract away from dangerous topics and take social discourse toward their desired directions. It must be noted that this technique used by the state is not a new one. The target group being used can change.”

“Here we can cite Kagarlitsky (2006) who argues that fascism as an ideology comes about at a time when it is possible to create an illusion for the masses that they can solve poor social conditions by subjecting themselves to nationalist prejudice.”

[re: cancelling Parada film screening] “The discussion around LGBT issues in this manner creates a problem not only for human rights defenders, activists and anybody who advocates for LGBT peoples’ rights but also for international organizations who cannot even find a space to show a film. This should indicate to all of the various institutions that provide support to Armenia, financial and otherwise, for promoting democracy and human rights reforms to properly monitor the state’s actions, otherwise the work done by international organizations can be considered inconsistent and ineffective.”