Monday, May 21, 2012

Diversity March in Yerevan Hijacked by Ultranationalists

In December 2002, the UN General Assembly had declared May 21 as the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, the UN encouraged local communities to take action and commemorate the day by supporting diversity.

As I had noted a couple of days ago, Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia) and the Women's Resource Center of Armenia NGOs had declared May 21-26 a "Diversity Week" in Armenia. They had planned a series of events, the first of which was going to be a Diversity March downtown Yerevan. Given the recent events surrounding LGBT issues in Yerevan and all the societal agitation, frustration, and distortion, the march promised to be eventful. And it was.

Firstly, due to PINK Armenia's previous campaigns against homophobia, somehow the Diversity March was distorted in the public mind and presented as a "gay parade" by certain ultranationalist (for the sake of avoiding the "neo-Nazi" term) elements and groupings, who showed up to the event. Their numbers far exceeded those of the actual Diversity marchers and with their aggression and noise they did manage to hijack and distort not only the objective, but also the intended meaning of the event.

[See the playlist with all of the videos.]

Despite criticizing the organizing NGOs of carrying out such events for the sake of getting some "grant money from the West", some ultranationalists clearly had no qualms about wearing "Western" flags to such an event. Doublethink at its best?

Some worrisome observations:

- The Armenian Constitution does ensure human rights and equality before law of all its citizens (Articles 14 and 14.1). Despite that, however, it is clear that the majority of the public does not care about the law and still believes in the superiority of the its conservative and rigid social values.

The guy here makes it clear that he couldn't care less about the Constitution. So much for patriotism and devotion.

- This event, along with all that's been going on with D.I.Y., is becoming a growing trend in Armenia. The blind worship of Garegin Nzhdeh (who, despite his patriotic work, was, let's not forget, a Nazi-cooperator and a supporter of "Aryanism", having successfully established with Berlin during WWII that the Armenians were an "Aryan race", too) and the increasing influence of the Armenian Apostolic [Echmiadzin] Church encouraged by Armenia's ruling Republican Party is not only worrisome but dangerous. Their ideology, as well as the activities undertaken by its various bodies and supporters, are too similar to Nazism; while their talk about the protection of Armenia's "genetic pool" is dangerously reminiscent of eugenics.

The crowd stuck to the initial plan of the march, walking from the Cascade to the Aznavour Square.

This was a desperate attempt to set the flag on fire (those were distributed by the Diversity March organizers). It didn't seem to work... Nice precautionary measure :)

- The fact that aggression against minorities, especially sexual minorities, is encouraged by a range of political forces within the country (including those that are in the supposed opposition), makes this state-supported neo-Nazism. Given Armenia's membership in the UN and the Council of Europe - and therefore, its commitment to such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and especially, the PACE's Resolution 1728 (on "Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity") - the Armenian political leadership should be held accountable not only for allowing such developments in the country, but, especially, for actively supporting them.

The point she would make without the flag would not have been as strong, would it?

Northern Avenue.

- Such groupings are conflating everyone - religious minorities, sexual minorities, political "dissidents", social non-conformists, etc., etc. - into one pile (hence the question: what does homosexuality have to do with Turkey, Azerbaijan, or the "Armenian race"?). Any civil discussion is impossible and all arguments somehow become "ad hominem". (For example, the ultranationalists suggested that Diversity marchers should go demonstrate in Baku, instead...). The reasons are obvious: scapegoating. All this, yet again, overseen and supported by state institutions. The parallels to the 1920s, then, are all too vivid.

Although this is the reverse of the Nazi swastika, the message is clear.

- The clashes in Tbilisi on May 17 were mostly inspired by the Church. Seems like the Armenians decided not to stay behind, make an appearance and put in their two cents.

One priest in particular made a point of referring to Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as praising the "patriotic youth" who had gathered there to demonstrate their devotion to God and their nation [see the report by Kentron TV; unfortunately, I couldn't find it online].

- The media play an important role in this all. They should, perhaps, be the first to call for a civil discussion and promote education. Instead, they spread hatred and discrimination.

One of the young men asks the lady holding an anti-racism poster if she is "half man, half woman". When she responds that she actually has a child, they are outraged as to why is she there supporting the gays. Clearly, supporting human rights = being LGBT, these days.

Accidentally caught this encounter on camera. The police, supposedly, started a case against the ultranationalist man who was swearing. See more details here.

One note: perhaps the most "tolerant" ones today were the police and the internal security forces present at the "event". They did seem to be doing their best to prevent violence and maintain a modicum of order. Although many of them clearly showed where their preferences lie, they did perform their duty of keeping the agitated ultranationalists from attacking the small number of Diversity marchers. They did not, however, ask them to disperse. The police were, obviously, tolerant of nationalists' right to demonstrate in support of their (feudalistic) social and cultural views, while the initial organizers of the events had to take refuge inside the building where they had planned to hold an official opening of their photo exhibition (which, obviously, did not take place).

There seemed to be a systematic documentation of the faces of those openly supporting the Diversity March (we exchanged quite a few shots, here). In a small town like Yerevan, especially given such institutionalized support, this can be worrisome.

Also, it was reported late in the evening that the D.I.Y. pub was attacked yet again, this time with a much more religious tone.

In short, the "Day for Cultural Diversity" demonstrated, yet again, that such "dialogue" and public discussion is impossible in Armenia, which, in itself, will only hinder the country's "development".


My deepest respect and appreciation to PINK Armenia, Women's Resource Center and their supporters for carrying on with their brave and dedicated work. Such response, although disappointing, was expected. What public needs most is more discussion, education and awareness. One can just wish that some day the majority will come to accept the individual's right to life and freedom. I just hope that this support is better-informed and educated than their current "patriotism".

UPDATE [5/22/2012]: Someone mentioned that the case with LGBT issues is somewhat similar all over the world, and "even in the US and Europe". Well, let me point out to those who might think so: yes, LGBT persons all around the world might still face various degrees of discrimination and hate. However, while in the US or Western Europe LGBT might be fighting for equal rights in marriage, inheritance, hospital visits, etc., in Armenia (as in many other countries - but since I was born in Armenia and currently happen to be back there, I will focus on this country only) they are fighting for their right to be. The ultranationalists do not believe they have a place in Armenia and do openly call for (and engage in) violence against people based on who they are. Yet again, this all might not have been any news, but since Armenia is a member of a number of international bodies and has made certain international commitments, it is bound by its domestic and international law to ensure protection of everyone's rights, and should not encourage their violation instead. Such state- and church-supported groupings should be held accountable. This is not an issue of "lesser priority" when it comes to economic development or rule of law. It is a matter of basic human rights and gender equality and therefore, it needs to be raised as highly as the issues of political, economic, or any other "freedoms" in this country (if such exist, that is). This is not supposed to be a totalitarian state, anymore...
Oh, and one more reminder, this was not a "gay parade". This was a march for all kinds and sorts of diversity. Gender orientation and identity just happened to be on the list.


  1. I do hope the respectable international organizations, especially the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and the European Union, will make public statements condemning intolerance, violence and those politicians and officials that encouraged "ultra-nationalists" (although those behaved not like real nationalist but rather like thugs...).
    I would, too, give credit to the police. Misinformed and misguided by certain forces as they might have been, still they performed surprisingly well by Armenian standards.
    As regards the half-wit in the "Old West" T-shirt, you conveyed his words very mildly. What he says verbatim is "I spit on the Constitution..." You call that nationalism? I would call it something else...
    I applaud the organizers and the participants of the Diversity march. One needs a lot of courage, dignity and personal integrity to take publicly such a position. We should not forget also those courageous individuals who speak out against violence that targets sexual minorities. While few, they are persons that we are and should be proud of in our rapidly morally degrading nation...

  2. This is a stupid, irresponsible, and ridiculous article written by one who obviously has no clue about Armenian history, and the current state the Armenian nation is in. Are Turks and Azeris our enemies? Yes, and so are "Armenians" like you, who only aid our enemies. People like you disgust me.

  3. There you go: K K you just proved my point above to be true. Instead of having a civil, public discussion of major issues that truly plight this country, you simply make this a talk about individuals [just in case you don't know what the "ad hominem" is], who, in your imagined universe, harm your stated cause. Instead of calling for violence, ignorance of law, or venting - ANONYMOUSLY - on blogs, I would suggest you look at the ROOT causes of all the problems this country faces. It's not just about finding scapegoats, after all, but about economic and political regress, social degradation, and the total absence of rule of law. It's easy to point fingers, especially at marginalized and already disadvantaged communities...

  4. I don't know what you consider yourself, but I am assuming you are a Lesbian. From your "article" it is obvious you care nothing about Armenia, neither its history nor its culture, but rather you have one clear mission in mind, regardless. I would have listened to you had your stance been to defend the helpless from any violence, but that is not your true concern - what you obviously want is a "revolution" that will first and foremost destroy the fabric of the Armenian culture and recreate another version based on your ideals.

    After again scanning through your article, I got disgusted more than the first time. What kind of "dialogue" do you wish for, when parts of your rhetoric comes straight out of a Turkish propaganda handbook? All you so-called "human rights defenders" are all a bunch enemies of the Armenian nation who are there to undermine Armenia's security. "Garegin Njhdeh was a Nazi collaborator" - what the hell do you know about Armenians living in WWII Germany and the Soviet Union to be vomiting careless statements you know nothing about?

    And if you had any clue about being Armenian, you would know that the swastika is a symbol of Armenia, and not originated with Nazis. Yeah in your view, we must neither know about our past, nor be proud of it right? (Turkish agenda, anyone?)

    "and the increasing influence of the Armenian Apostolic [Echmiadzin] Church encouraged by Armenia's ruling Republican Party is not only worrisome but dangerous" - oh really, says WHO? A bunch of bleeding Atheist liberal Lesbians like yourself? I'll tell you what's "dangerous" - it is people like you who want to destroy Armenia's traditions, religion, and culture by importing the ideas of a reject sub-culture from Europe and the US, all disguised as "Human Rights".

    I suggest you find another line of work before bringing more shame and embarrassment to yourself. As an "Armenian" you have nothing to offer the culture which is positive.

  5. As the owner of this blog, I had decided to leave the comments open and moderate them for hate speech only. What you have "written" here borders hate speech, but I will not be deleting it just yet.

    I have no desire to be engaging you on your hateful terms of this "discussion". I will not change your mind. Neither do I want to. You clearly have no idea who I am (beyond reading this single post and making your own narrow conclusions) and therefore, you cannot be making any statements regarding that. Firstly, it is absolutely NONE of your business. Secondly, I couldn't care less.

    As regards "Armenianness" or any knowledge about history... I presume it's very easy to be making such statements, sitting somewhere in California. Of course, I don't know whether you have even been to Armenia or not, but that's beyond the point. Why are you not here fighting for the supposed values you supposedly stand for? That's more of a rhetorical question. You don't have to answer.

    This conversation is over.