CHRISMON EVANGELISCH MAGAZINE COVERS LGBTQ+ RIGHTS IN ARMENIA. INTERVIEW WITH ACTIVISTS
On August 8, 2020, Chrismon Evangelisch Magazine covered the topic of the rights of LGBTQI people in Armenia by interviewing several Armenian LGBTQI activists thereby developing the discourse of the rights of LGBTQI people and their feelings in the patriarchal Armenian society. But before moving on to the main interviews, the magazine reflected the attitude of the majority of the Armenian society on LGBTQ issues. Armenia is one of the countries in the world where trans people are mostly discriminated and persecuted. Meantime Armenia is considered a part of Western Europe as a democratic country, where people are always proud to be the first Christians. However, the mentality of most people is so conservative that it denies the existence of LGBTQI people, arguing that “we need families where future soldiers will be born, because otherwise Azerbaijan will destroy us.” According to a survey conducted by the LGBTQI International Association of 49 European Countries, Armenia ranks as the 47th country in terms of persecution and discrimination against LGBTQI people. Only in Russia and Azerbaijan the situation is worse than in Armenia. Homosexual relations and passport name change are no longer illegal in Armenia. Since 2015, trans people have been able to change their names without changing their registered passport sex. But the rejection of LGBTQI people by people of other gender is still radical; it is still unacceptable for the majority of the patriarchal militarized people of the Armenian society. In 2014 when Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest, and Anush Arshakyan, a singer from Armenia from the music duet Inga-Anush Arshakyan and later a judge of Eurovision Song Contest, said: “I find that phenomenon disgusting, just like madness.” Anush later apologized for her statement. However, this language penetrates the human languo-mentality, creating fertile ground for stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI people. Such a mindset could lead to an increase of hate crimes in the number, as happened in the summer of 2018 in the village Shurnukh, when residents attacked a group of LGBTQI people. Statistically, almost every day transgender people are killed in the world. Activists have estimated that 700 transsexuals have been killed worldwide in the past two years. Human Rights Campaign reported that 26 trans people were killed in the United States last year.
Summarizing the general situation, the interview was continued with the activists telling their life stories. First, the interviewer spoke with Lilit Martirosyan, President of the “Right Side” human rights NGO. Lilit Martirosyan told the German magazine that she should be careful, many people hate her. “Almost every day, somewhere in the world, someone is killed simply because he or she is a transgender,” Lilit added. She was the first trans woman speaking in the Armenian parliament about the rights of LGBTQI people. After her speech in the National Assembly Priest Petrosyan publicly called for the execution of transgender people like her for their gender identity. The Armenian “PA” party member and Member of Parliament explained to the media that men should not be confused with women, as it is shameful. In her three-minute speech in the RA parliament, Lilit presented the fact-based discourse of discrimination stigma and persecution of LGBTQI people in Armenia. After her speech, a huge wave of hatred and death threats collapsed on Lilit. The head of the NA Naira Zohrabyan accused Lilit of “violating” and “disrespecting” the NA agenda. Immediately after that, another threatening messages appeared on Lilit’s Facebook page. The situation became worse when the address of her apartment was published on the Internet. The angry crowd gathered in front of her house, shouting insulting things and threats. The situation was aggravated until the representatives of the European Union and the United Nations warned about the “increase of hate speech and violence” in Armenia. First, Lilit had to hide in Armenia, then spend a few weeks abroad.
Chrismon Evangelisch Magazine conducted the interview in the office of the “Right Side” human rights NGO which Lilit founded to protect the rights of transgender people. Lilit sat at her desk and told her life story. She grew up in a village which is just a few hours away from Yerevan. Lilit didn’t want to tell the name of the place to protect her family. Her father is a farmer, the mother is a housewife. “Everything was very traditional,” she says. At the age of ten or eleven, Lilit started secretly wearing her mother’s clothes, but the family persuades her that the desire is only in her head. Lilit answered. “No, I’m a woman, I feel it.” The situation got worse every day until Lilit run away from home at the age of 13. She headed to Yerevan, telling her parents that she had found a job. In fact, she had to do a sex work to survive. Lilit found an apartment where she lived with other transgender women who also felt that they were born in the wrong body. Life was difficult for them as nobody hired transsexuals, because otherwise the protest of the patriarchal society would be too extensive. The young trans woman had to work on the streets. Lilit was beaten and mistreated, even threatened with a knife. Fortunately, the roommates heard her scream and came to help. However, these years were a period of liberation for her, as Lilit said. She now lives as a successful activist working on the front lines for transgender rights. However, she noted that there are many problems with hormone therapy, as there are no necessary hormones approved by the doctors in Armenia. Lilit was discriminated by the Armenian doctors too as they refused to make her sex reassignment surgery. Lilit had to call a surgeon from Russia because it was difficult for an Armenian surgeon to break the taboo by making a sex reassignment surgery. Lilit’s surgeries took place in secret, at night in 2015, shortly after Christmas Day. Lilit sacrificed all her savings for the operation. It was the third sex reassignment surgery in Armenia. Lilit did not want to reveal to the German magazine where the actions took place or who took care of her, as she had to defend herself. Since Lilit’s parliamentary speech on April 5, 2019 she and her co-workers and family members have received threats such as “Burn her,” “The death penalty for them.” Lilit also mentioned that she wants to stay in Armenia. After her parliamentary speech, she had to hide and spend two weeks abroad. Lilit said that for a moment she thought of staying abroad forever. Then she returned to Yerevan, as she did not want to become a refugee, because this is also her country. Her friends live here, they continue to be discriminated, so she meets with her colleagues every day in their small office to support the transgender community. To the question of the interviewer what needs to be changed in Armenia, Lilit answered that there are no laws and regulations to protect them, there are no hormones for them, there are no doctors or clinics where they can have surgery. Lilit wants to fight for it to the end.
The magazine interviewed trans model Monica Sarkisyan. In June 2019, he was attacked by a crowd in the center of Yerevan. “It is one of them, burn her,” a woman shouted as Monica was walking in the center of Yerevan. She has always had a shocker gun with her. A man ran to Monica, pulled out her dress, shouting: “Take off your clothes. Prove that you are a woman. ” The crowd attacked her. Monica pulled out a shocker gun, holding it in the air to push people back and to defend herself. She always had to carry it in her bag. Later, when the police arrived, only Monica was taken to the police station. The magazine interviewed Monica in a cafe near the opera house in Yerevan. The waitress was acting quite nervous at the sight of the trans woman. During the interview she and other waiters were nodding at Monica and laughing at her. But Monica ignored the ridicule as she has been continuously facing it almost every day. She has much deeper wounds. The parents and the brothers of Monica refused to keep in touch with her because she could not find a job to survive and depended on “the support of a few men”. After all she does not want to go into details. Monica has dreamed of becoming a model since she was a child. Recently, she received an offer to participate in the Ukrainian program of America’s Next Top Model. But the trip was canceled because of the Coronavirus. She spoke about international fashion brands such as Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana with shining eyes. “My goal is to be the face of trans women,” Monica concluded.
The next LGBTQI activist to be interviewed was Mamikon Hovsepyan. Mamikon regularly receives death threats as he is the head of “PINK Armenia” non-governmental organization, advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people in Armenia. Before answering the questions, Mamikon Hovsepyan took a deep breath, as the 37-year-old knows what it means to be out of society. “Hatred has become part of our national tradition. If you don’t hate, it means that you are not a real Armenian,” Mamikon said.
Once again, the fact-finding stories prove that the conservative society in Armenia is not yet fully ready to accept and to respect the rights of LGBTQI people, as it should be in an equal, democratic country. You can get acquainted with the whole article here.
“Right Side’’ human rights NGO and Lilit Martirosyan express their gratitude to the Chrismon Evangelisch Magazine for covering the discourse on the protection of the rights of LGBTQI people in Armenia.
Sep 10, 2020 Armenia, Yerevan