Armenian homophobia

Published: August 14, 2013

 Proposed anti-gay propaganda legislation raises human rights concerns in Armenia, where violence against sexual minorities is supported by representatives of the institutions

Proposals to introduce legislation to ban the promotion of ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ in Armenia has concerned human rights activists in the small former Soviet republic. The bill, posted on the website of the Armenian Police, came a little over a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into force similar legislation to prohibit ‘propaganda’ that might cause the ‘distorted understanding’ that gay and heterosexual relations are ‘socially equivalent.’ Fines of up to $4,000 for ‘propagating non-traditional sexual relationships’ in order to protect the ‘traditional Armenian family’ against ‘phenomena alien to national identity’ were included.
“We live in Russia’s shadow,” Mamikon Hovsepian, head of the PINK Armenia NGO was quoted by media as saying.
A few days later, Radio Free Europe reported that the bill was withdrawn by the police due to undisclosed ‘shortcomings’ and because such issues are ‘not a priority’ for them at present.
Others, such as prolific Armenian LGBT blogger Mika Artyan, were not convinced. “I didn’t even manage to write a post on the already withdrawn gay propaganda bill, but will do so post factum as this is not the end of story,” he tweeted. He also told Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso that he believes only international media coverage of the proposed legislation, as well as domestic ridicule, prevented it from being taken further.
Alarming level of homophobia
Of concern to Artyan and other LGBT activists in Armenia is the alarming level of homophobia in the country and the wider region. According to a 2011 household survey by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) as quoted by local media, 96 percent of Armenian respondents said they did not approve of homosexuality. In neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia that figure was 84 and 87 percent respectively. But given events in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 17 May when thousands of Orthodox believers disrupted an LGBT event to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), that will hardly come as any comfort.
Taken as a whole, the South Caucasus remains highly intolerant and inherently homophobic.
But at least Georgian LGBT activists did attempt to hold such an event in downtown Tbilisi. In Armenia, on the same day, a small group of activists from PINK Armenia gathered in a park on the periphery of the city center to release rainbow-colored balloons into the air. Photographs were posted on their Facebook page only after the short flash mob was over, and likely for good reason. A year earlier, although marking the 21 May International Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, nationalists disrupted an event staged by PINK Armenia and the Women’s Resource Center in downtown Yerevan.
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