21 years old Karl Afrikian was born and raised just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, USA to an Armenian father and an American mother. He is a student at Sewanee: The University of the South studying Economics and Russian culture. He first came to Armenia in 2014 to study at the American University of Armenia for a semester, when he was introduced to PINK. He returned to Armenia for summer 2015 to intern with PINK Armenia to help the fight for gay rights.
This June I returned to Armenia excited to be back in my Homeland. Although born and raised in the outskirts of Boston, I still identify greatly with my Armenian heritage. I had studied there the prior Fall where I fell in love with the country, made many friends, and was introduced to Pink Armenia.
I remember my first week in the country in August last year, lost and confused in the streets of Yerevan. I called the office attempting to find it after previously emailing the group to ask about any pertinent safety information a gay man needs while in the country. I came in to the office and remember being in the safest place for LGBT people in the country, which was comforting for a recently out person in a land known for its homophobia. Being from Boston, a hugely gay city, I have experienced very little discrimination firsthand; yet, in Armenia, I was again afraid in this new land, yet my time studying there and meeting fellow queer Armenians reinforced my hope for the community.
I was excited to be spending my summer in the nation I loved with the people I loved even more. Right next to my apartment, I saw graffittied on a wall “vomank gay en, tetev tarek” (some people are gay, take it easy) which helped ignite my passion early on for helping the cause. Nothing seemed more important to me than helping both the LGBT population and Armenia as a whole.
During the summer itself after work I was rather contemplative about the LGBT situation in Armenia and the World as a whole. I had edited documents about and read up on the actual state of LGBT people in Armenia and it showed me the reality of the work ahead. I was shocked to hear of the police ignoring the rights of gay victims of assault, the horrible things Armenians would do to their LGBT brothers, and how public opinion promotes rampant hostility towards gay individuals.
I would spend nights sometimes walking on Northern Avenue or at Hraparak at the Dancing Fountains thinking about what would happen had these people knew I was gay. Would they beat me up? Would they kill me? How would my cousins in Armenia react to such a thing? Being gay is not always something written on your sleeve, thus there was no way they could truly verify any of these possibilities without having me tell them. Although I did not fear being publically outted at any point, I still had this uneasiness in my heart knowing that these people who could be so nice and friendly to me could possibly become hostile towards me all due to who I love.
I was really unsure why this bothered me so much – I was only in Armenia for about two months, my friends queer and straight were all very supportive, and it was not as if I was being persecuted on the streets personally. I had even spent four months prior in Armenia, even volunteering a little at PINK. This time, I was aware of the graveness of the situation. Eventually, I came to several realizations about how I was feeling. In Armenia today, my gayness stands against the “traditional values” held so dearly to many of our people. The traditional gender roles in Armenia prescribe that a man must marry a woman and produce children to continue our people.
Even as I came out to my father in America this tradition has held strong, and his major concern was of course having grandchildren, even though today he has learned to accept that I am gay.
Many closeted-gay men in Armenia from what I observed married women to keep their public identity secure and to appease society, as even seen in that recent public official who was publically outed after being spotted online; imagining the pain of staying in such a horrid situation as a gay man terrifies me, trapped in a heterosexual relationship I had no interest in but had to maintain to protect my well-being. I hope that Armenia will realize that individuality and sexual orientation are crucial aspects to one’s self and identity, and that eventually nobody is pressured to live terrified of who they are.