Our guest is Mamikon Hovsepyan, Communications Manager of Pink Armenia community-based human rights organization
Q: Mamikon, the situation in pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary Armenia is significantly different in all aspects, it is entirely different. If we compare the discourse around LGBTI+ issues before and after the revolution, what is the dynamics?
A: Before the change of power, the LGBTI + community was presented at the highest state level as a “public danger”: issues of Armenian identity, religion, traditional family, birth rates were manipulatively circulated labeling the LGBTI+ community as a group people far from or diverting country and society away from those values. In that sense, the discourse has not changed much, there are no positive changes, just now the same is being done to condemn the current authorities by identifying them with the LGBTI+ community. In other words, the same old circles are again trying to use the issue of LGBTI+ people’s problems for their political interests. In the past, these retrogressive figures tried to cover up their actions and illegalities by diverting attention to the issues of the LGBTI+ community, and now they are trying to involve LGBTI+ people in their new-old debates so that they have a reason to blame each other. The LGBTI+ community is presented as an artificially created Western conspiracy, they do not take into account that it is about people who exist and have always existed.
Q: Can we claim that the current government is more tolerant of the LGBTI+ community than the previous one? Is the LGBTI+ community satisfied with the policy pursued by these authorities in terms of solving their problems?
A: In fact, in both cases, nothing much has been done to improve the rights situation. The difference is that if in the past the community was completely ignored without an opportunity to put the human rights agenda on the table of the authorities, now there is such an opportunity, though formal one, but without impact. The result is zero in both cases. Whether these authorities listen or not, whether they realize the problems or not, nothing changes. The draft law prohibiting discrimination, which was developed in 2016-2017, did not receive practical attention during this government, and we did not have a good law. No legislative changes were made to prevent hate crimes. The police and the judiciary continue to be biased, discrimination in many cases is qualified as an exercise of freedom of speech. The government, in all its branches, does not want reforms in this area. In 2020, a law establishing criminal liability for publicly justifying calls for violence was passed, but that law also contains a small number of grounds. I joke that such laws are laws to protect Nikol Pashinyan․ This law will be exercised only when there is a call for violence against Nikol Pashinyan or Alen Simonyan, but not against an ordinary citizen, moreover a vulnerable group. In other words, vulnerable groups are again excluded from the state protection.
Q: This government came to power with democratic calls and slogans. Pashinyan declared during his speech in front of the Parliament that the existence of LGBTI + people in any country of the world cannot be denied, that in the end some government will face the problem of making very clear decisions about that community. Why, then, does the dialogue with this government fail?
A: After the change of government, there was hope for change in the LGBTI + community, because many of those who came to power had previously worked in civil society institutions, and so seemed more aware and more educated on these issues. Of course, there was hope that it was possible to move forward, but then we found ourselves in a deadlock… There is an opportunity for dialogue, but, I repeat, the government does not want to work in this direction. They say we understand, we really want change, but there is not much we can do. All government agencies have the opportunity to get acquainted with the problems, they understand the problems or at least show that they understand, but the answer is the same: there is nothing we can do. Okay, but who can? If you can do nothing, why do you then work there, you might want to get out of job then? When they say we realize, we know those problems, but we can do nothing, sounds like an absurd. After all, they are in power, they possess most of the keys to the solutions.
Q: But what would be the reason for not doing anything?
A: They say changing the system is a difficult process. They claim that there is a political will to make changes, but there is no mechanism.
Q: If there is political will, and the political power is in their hands entirety, can they not introduce mechanisms of change?
A: Well, it is clear that their justification is not serious. I am sure the real reason is the fear. Fear of losing popularity. This government is a populist in its essence in the worst sense of the word.
Q: You mentioned that the LGBTI+ people are presented as a threat in the context of Armenian identity, religion, national values. But the war in 2020 showed that LGBTI+ people are not indifferent to the protection of the state and the Armenian identity.
A: You are right; it is a fact that many people from the LGBTI+ community took part in the war. The homophobic mass, of course, does not want to see that. On the other hand, we, of course, cannot point out and declare that this dead, or wounded or war participant is from the community. It is a fact, however, that as others are worried about their country, so are the representatives of the community. They equally participated in the defense of the state both on the front line and in the backside work carried out in Armenia, e.g supporting the displaced, etc.
Q: What has the war changed in the strategy of the LGBTI+ community?
A: After the war, it became difficult to speak about the rights of the vulnerable group in the tone and style in which it was possible to speak 5 years ago. Now such a heavy and big burden of problems have arisen in front of the Armenian society that it has become much more difficult to bring the issues of the rights of certain vulnerable groups to the forefront of issues. If before the war no one listened to and wanted to solve those problems, now, moreover: it is not the time, especially since there is an excuse.
Q: However, what are the priority issues for the LGBTI+ community that the community would like to be addressed?
A: I think the legal prohibition of discrimination is a top priority, due to which a number of problems would be solved in different spheres, such as labor rights, access to health care services, etc., it would also decrease the tense atmosphere of hatred.
Source: “Informed Society” Magazine