Hebardoutiamp!

Mis à jour : 3 oct. 2019

About the possibility and pride of being gay and Armenian at the same time and the need to say it loud and clear.


Alexis Krikorian



I am "out" in more or less all my relational circles (friends, family, profession). The only circle for which I am still largely in the closet is the circle of the Armenian "big family".


The need to proclaim loud and clear my gay identity to the Armenian world came to me this summer after taking the intensive Armenian language course given by the Mekhitarists in Venice [1]. I found myself in this course choosing the people to whom I told about my homosexuality and those to whom I was silent. This created an unbearable discomfort in the 45-year-old man that I am, sending me back to attitudes that were mine 25 years ago or more, before my first coming out to my closest friends. (Or even ten years ago in the professional world). In this course, I therefore kept my homosexuality from women and men whom I felt were too conservative to accept such a state of affairs. In so doing, I was necessarily mistaken about many of them who would probably have accepted this "revelation" with kindness and I apologize to them. However, the conservatism of the mekhitarist environment does not encourage honesty in this regard. Meals taken together preceded by a grace or sermons attacking for instance the very principle of secularism do not encourage "confession", but rather lead to the "confusion of feelings" [2]. Homosexuality is a taboo subject: a subject that we choose to ignore, even if we know what it is all about. Hence the importance of the duty of truth and transparency in (and for) the Diaspora. In Armenian diaspora communities, it is still often a shameful disease, as in Charles Aznavour's song Comme ils disent. In this respect, the community still lives, largely, in 1972 [3].


However, hiding one's sexuality in this Armenian circle is paradoxical for at least two reasons.


First, because it is in this circle that I co-created an NGO to promote human rights and support literary creation with Alain Navarra-Navassartian. However, one cannot hold others (powerful people, authorities, governments) accountable for human rights without being completely honest about one's own identity. You cannot found an NGO active in the field of human rights in Armenia and neighbouring countries without fulfilling a duty of absolute transparency about who you are. Our partners have a right to know with whom they are dealing.


Two years ago, when we organized an evening on LGBTI rights in Armenia with Pinar Selek, in collaboration with Dialogai, an active member of the Armenian community in Geneva who had attended the evening told me:

"What a coming out! ". He was right, though only in part, because defending LGBTI rights in Armenia without being openly gay yourself is paradoxical, even hypocritical. To the question, "Can we defend the rights of sexual minorities on the sly?", I would answer no, unless we operate at the heart of a repressive or authoritarian system. At a time when gay bashing is omnipresent and instrumentalized in Armenia [4] and by its very nature dangerous, such a posture (defending rights on the sly) is not very courageous either. I thus came to the conclusion that it is important, even necessary, that LGBTI Armenians, especially those who live in countries that more or less respect LGBTI rights, openly live their sexuality for the purpose of setting an example for young (and not so young) Armenian LGBTI people. The latter often live in a climate of fear, risk being assaulted, killed or even take their own lives sometimes. Not to mention those who are forced into exile and those who impose upon themselves hetero-normative lives by marrying and having children so that they can be left in peace.


The Armenian "big family", in Armenia or in the Diaspora, is a family with conservative values. Marked by the tragedy of the Armenian genocide, this large family should be at the forefront of the defense of human rights. In my opinion, this is the second reason why being in the closet in "armenity" is contradictory. While the Armenian "big family" is ahead on some issues (e.g., mass crimes and crimes against humanity, the defense of religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey and the Middle East), it lags behind on some others where conservatism, or even reaction, largely prevails.


From this point of view, Armenians are no different from other peoples who have suffered genocide. It is clear today that from Israel to Cambodia, human rights are being violated, mistreated and commodified by the states representing these people who have been victims of genocide--albeit to various degrees. In Israel, while LGBTI rights are more or less respected, those of Palestinians are completely disregarded and those of Armenians are undermined. The strategic partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan is objectively a disgrace in terms of human rights and the right to life of Armenians.


Similarly, the region in which Armenia is located is a region where LGBTI rights are largely violated. From Iran, where being gay is a crime punishable by the death penalty, to Azerbaijan, where dozens of members of the LGBTI community were arrested in 2017 [5], to Turkey, where LGBTI rights are rapidly declining after a definite upturn in the early 2000s. Russia's shadow still hangs over Armenia, where the temptation to adopt a law banning LGBT propaganda on the Russian model is still prevalent. Even Georgia, which seemed to have a certain lead, has shown the enormous obstacles that remain in this field through the setbacks of the first Tbilisi Pride march this very year [6].


The specificity of Armenia, both regionally and in the camp of nations that have suffered genocide, is that of having suffered a genocide that is not recognized, either by the (majority of the) international community or by the state that succeeded the perpetrating state. This non-recognition by Turkey, which is accompanied by virulent state denial, coupled with the permanent threat of war with Azerbaijan, means that the survival of the Armenian nation therefore remains at risk.


The psychological effects of genocide on subsequent generations are best addressed in books such as those by Hélène Piralian. One dimension that is, as far as I know, never treated is the guilt that may be felt by some gay subjects of Armenian origin with regard to this issue of the survival of the Armenian nation. The answer to this feeling of guilt, at the crossroads of the traditional opposition between national and human rights, is self-acceptance, even affirmation, and the need to respect human rights for all. In the future, this frightens our opponents, as several family models will also be possible within the region. At this stage, however, such models are purely utopian and are only a red rag waved by representatives of the old establishment and far right-wing groups to discredit the new government in Armenia [7].


The first realistic step in the field of LGBTI rights that Armenia should take (Hyestart has said it many times) is the adoption of a non-discrimination law based on sexual orientation. This would reinforce, among other measures, the more democratic nature of the "New Armenia". Full respect for the rights of all citizens is a necessary prerequisite for both their development and that of the nation as a whole. The opposition between national and human rights is sterile from this point of view. You can be both gay and Armenian at the same time. Հպարտութեամբ՜ [8]



[1] The courses are given by the Padus-Araxes Cultural Association. This association was co-founded and is presided over by Archbishop Levon Zekiyan, currently episcopal delegate to the Congregation of Mekhitarist Fathers.


[2] Reference to La confusion des sentiments, the French title of Zweig’s novella Verwirrung der Gefühle (English: Confusion)


[3] Release date of Comme ils disent


[4] www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/armenia-first-behind-the-rise-of-armenias-alt-right-scene


[5] www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/28/azerbaijan-police-crackdown-lgbt-community


[6] https://eurasianet.org/anti-gay-militia-plans-to-thwart-tbilisi-pride

[

7] See again: www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/armenia-first-behind-the-rise-of-armenias-alt-right-scene


[8] Hebardoutiamp՜ - With pride!

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