Armenia: Anti-Gay Protests Block Film Screening

Public opinion sharply divided, but at least issues are now being talked about openly.

The Armenian government has been criticised for failing to ensure that a film about gay rights could be shown, despite hostility from nationalist groups.

The European Union mission in Armenia, together with the German embassy, was hoping to show an award-winning Serbian film called “The Parade” at venues in Yerevan, to raise awareness about human rights.

The film is about attempts to organise a gay pride parade in the Serbian capital Belgrade in the face of fierce opposition.

The plan had to be shelved after nationalist demonstrations halted three separate attempts to screen the film in October.

“The EU delegation and the German embassy are concerned by the abrupt refusal of several venues to show the film, given that they initially agreed to host the screenings. This highlights the need for further awareness on tolerance in Armenia,” a joint statement from the two missions said after the last failed attempt to show the films, on October 17-18 in the Congress Hotel.

The statement added that local organisers had promised to show the films at a later date.

It also referred to a statement by EU delegation chief Traian Hristea on October 9 which noted that some people were concerned that a film on this subject would be shown.

“I would like to underline in response that the EU aim is to spread information and encourage awareness in Armenia, thus challenging stereotypes. One of art's important functions is to open discussions and confront prejudice and preconceived opinions," Hristea said.

More than 20 non-government organisations joined forces to criticise the government for failing to protect screenings, which was part of a series of EU events to mark Human Rights Day 2012.

“As part of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, Armenia has accepted an obligation to reinforce respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the NGOs said in a joint letter. “Armenia receives support from the European Union, including financial support, to implement these reforms.”

Davit Harutyunyan, a member of the ruling Republican Party and chairman of parliament’s legal affairs committee, said the government was not currently taking specific action to protect homosexuals.

“Of course society needs to be kept informed of these issues. However, the government thinks that although important, this is not a problem of major significance,” he said.

Opponents of the film said it was the organisers’ own fault that demonstrations took place.

“For some incomprehensible reason, the German embassy, the EU delegation, and a few local organisations took to organising this film with huge enthusiasm, as if no other opinion could exist. It was deliberate provocation,” Tigran Kocharyan, chairman of the Armenian Association of Experts, said. “There are sections of society in Armenia that have more serious problems, but for some reason these get forgotten while these secondary, invented issues are publicised.”

Kocharyan attacked “local NGOs sustained solely by financial support from abroad, which claim to speak on behalf of Armenian society and portray anyone who holds a different opinion as a pawn of the authorities. They think that civil society belongs only to them, and they cannot accept that society also includes many young people who oppose attempts to pervert our national values.”

Mamikon Hovsepyan, head of the Public Information and Need for Knowledge (PINK) group, which works with Armenia’s gay community, said this kind of opposition was only to be expected.

“If you look at the experience of other countries, you see that whenever groups fight for their rights, they face indifference at first, then a negative reaction, and then serious opposition. Looked at in this light, protests and opposition are fine,” he said.

Hovsepyan said the lack of support from the government was more troubling than any protests.

“The problem is that officials are keeping quiet and not doing anything. In a situation like this, you can only assume that’s how they prefer things,” he said.

This is not the first time Yerevan’s gay community has come under pressure. The DIY Club, known as a gay hangout, was firebombed on May 8. In a second incident on May 15, swastikas were sprayed on the bar’s walls (See Gay Rights Under Attack in Armenia.)

Two men arrested after the firebombing were later released on bail. Leading politicians from both opposition and the ruling Republican Party spoke out in defence of the two suspects.

According to Hovsepyan, “When something like the attack on the DIY Club is praised in parliament, young people are going to get wound up even further.”

“That aside, the authorities must protect everyone’s constitutional rights,” he added.

Tsovinar Nazaryan, an expert on media and human rights, said events in both May and October at least showed that public awareness of issues around homosexuality was growing.

“The government does not give legal equality to the gay community. But I’m convinced that awareness of the law is constantly growing and that while the number of violations is increasing, so is opposition to this from people with legal knowledge,” she said. “A year ago, this film would have been shown quietly in some hall, and the matter would have ended there. Today it’s being talked about openly, and that is a positive development.”

Sara Khojoyan is a freelance journalist in Armenia.


 


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