In 2003 Armenia amended the Penal Code, as a result of which homosexuality stopped being a crime. However, the attitude towards gays and lesbians has remained negative.
Homosexuality as a way to asylum
Armenia undertook to amend the Penal Code after the decision on joining the Council of Europe. Until then, many Armenians escaped to Europe on the pretext of sexual orientation-based persecution. There have been cases when whole families applied for asylum on the grounds of a gay husband being the reason for his wife and children’s harassment. Although not all of these stories were true, they still proved that Armenians could be granted asylum and citizenship of a European country for these particular reasons. After amending the Penal Code, hatred for gays and lesbians did not change, but the number of homosexuals who stopped hiding their orientation has increased. Transvestites, who had been gathering near the mayor’s office in Yerevan for years, also went public. All attempts at driving them out from their spot ended in fiasco. The rumour has it that they are protected by the municipal officials. It is not known who protects gays, but who fights them is obvious to everybody. It is a conservative-traditional part of society and nationalist circles. Recently, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Dashnaktsutyun”, Artsvik Minasyan, openly spoke about his hatred for gays.
Punishing gays with nationalist ideology
On 8 May 2012 at 5:00 am two young men set a popular gay night club “DIY” on fire. They threw a bottle with gasoline through the window. As it turns out, brothers Arame and Hambik M. had been detained by the police and soon released on bail. The owner of the club, leader of the local LGBT circles Armine Sarkisova, better known as Tsomak, said on the press conference on 15 May that “the young arsonists were probably connected with the ARF, for their defence counsel is a member of the party, while the bail was paid by other members of the ARF”.
Film from the DIY club set on fire
According to Tsomak, it has all begun when she participated in an LGBT parade in Turkey. She stated that “Yerkir Media” reporters (a TV channel that belongs to the ARF), asked her for an interview. In a properly edited programme, she was presented as an enemy of the nation. After the broadcast, she started to receive various threats. A member of the ARF, MP Artsvik Minasyan, thinks that the young people who set the night club on fire (the club is located in a block of flats) acted “within and in the context of the nationalist ideology of our society”. Minasyan also thinks that “people like Tsomak destroy Armenian society”.
Justification for terrorist attacks?
Meanwhile, human rights defenders consider the action of young nationalists an act of terrorism, because the occupants of the block of flats could have been harmed. It is hard to find such Armenian media that would support the gay movement. But today they all rather condemn the attempts at justifying the attacks on gay. In this sense, the actions of the ARF have diminishing support for Dashnaktsutyun. It seems that the ARF members feel the lack of an idea around which they could unite. The nationalist ideology of “Armenia from sea to sea” might not be as popular as it used to be, since the ARF lost a half of their voters in 2012. In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the ARF got 12.7 percent of the votes, while in 2012 – 5.6 percent. It is, however, hard to imagine that the homophobic ideology will lead the party to a success and let them win the presidential elections in 2013.
Translated by Marta Lityńska