The LGBTI Community as a Tool for Political Manipulations

On June 28, a photo taken by a passerby during the filming of a new clothing brand SHA in one of the yards of Yerevan quickly spread on the internet. Ariana Hovsepyan, the founder of the news website, who had posted the photo of 5 young people on her Facebook page, gave it political content, openly linking it with Nikol Pashinyan’s name.


“…those who constantly talk about nikol, who has allegedly “freed” them from 20 years of slavery, and deify him, let them answer now, are you talking about this freedom?…”, the description of the publication reads. 


Hovsepyan also did not avoid unreasonably identifying the models as transgender individuals, while accusing the government of sponsoring the LGBTI community. The more than 600 comments of the publication had the same content, and although the brand considered it a slander, the manipulation mainly worked.


Such manipulative campaigns regularly take place depending on the internal political developments. Different individuals and groups may be interested in those campaigns, trying to serve them for their own benefit, and the LGBTI community, as the main tool of speculations, works as it is a taboo and sensitive topic in the society.


Initially, the community is pointed out as a serious threat to the nation and the statehood. Then, by fighting against it, the support of a certain segment of the society is easily gained.


According to Arman Gharibyan, a human rights defender and co-founder of the “Human Rights Power” NGO, the topics to which the society reacts abruptly, and with which it is easy to affect people’s mental and emotional inner world, easily become a tool of manipulation. Such topics are Artsakh, issues related to the lives and health of soldiers, children, and all the other topics that have traditionally been considered either very important or very sensitive for people.


“Our society has a special attitude towards children, and this is probably the reason why the legal processes on children’s sexual education have become a cause of manipulations and noise. The LGBTI topic is just as sensitive, about which there are so many myths that easily mislead people,” says the human rights defender.


Applying regular political manipulations using this, or that issue, can be aimed at both bringing forward a false agenda and throwing mud at the current government. According to Arman Sahakyan, human rights defender, representative of New Generation Humanitarian NGO, misleading people with false information would not be so easy if they analyzed the given information and approached it critically.


“Unfortunately, I must say that today a significant part of the society in our country does not have a high level of legal awareness. So, without hesitation and awareness that it is hate speech, they can join some movements and spread ideas. In a way I understand these people too. When they hear about American or European forces undermining religion, culture, and national values, they automatically show a self-defensive reaction,” Arman Sahakyan notes.


The inclusions of these manipulative campaigns have not always been this much. After 2018, their volumes have changed to some extent. In the words of Arman Gharibyan, they are now on a larger scale, the involvement of financial means is also greater and, when the opportunity arises, the interested individuals and political parties are actively manipulating. Due to the limited resources available, the counteract against the manipulation is uneven.


After the change of power, it was expected that Armenia would become a safe, non-discriminatory area for everyone. Instead, it was forbidden to hold the 11th Forum of LGBTI Christian groups in November 2018. Some media outlets, political forces and groups were diligently spreading the topic, while targeting the New Generation Humanitarian NGO, the forum host, and even threatening its employees. When the chief of police of the Republic of Armenia was asked why the forum was canceled, he said that it was not appropriate to hold such an event at the moment. Earlier, the Prime Minister’s speech in the National Assembly had  a neutral position. After all, the forum did not take place.


Referring to the scandalous case of transgender Lilit Martirosyan, who gave a speech from the platform of the National Assembly last year, and the subsequent fermentations, the human rights defender considers that the government’s response was a strategic mistake.


“After Lilit Martirosyan’s speech, when they started accusing Maria Karapetyan, MP from My Step Alliance, of letting her in, the latter hurried to point the finger at Naira Zohrabyan, MP of Prosperous Armenia Party. So, instead of explaining that it refers to human freedom and rights, they justified themselves by allowing the opposition to continue manipulating the topic. Once the government has the courage to say that they are obliged to listen and to provide an audience to any citizen of Armenia, the opposition will no longer be able to manipulate the issue in the future,” says the human rights defender also adding that in this case the ruling party is showing unnecessary avoidance.


Another thing that also became a reason for negative perceptions was the Armenian Prime Minister’s characterization of the LGBTI community from the platform of the National Assembly as “a headache”, with which in fact the Prime Minister disregarded the fact that any human being is of highest value.


“The situation changed to some extent when Nikol Pashinyan spoke in favor of the idea of shooting the film “Mel”. This let us think that the government is in fact for the protection of human rights, but with some reservations. In other words, they are in favor of the rule of law, but they do not want to achieve it by damaging their own reputation”, Arman Sahakyan says.


The visions of human rights defenders for possible progress and reform are different. According to the anticipations of Arman Gharibyan, legislative reforms will most likely not take place during the ruling period of this government. The latter will not take risks, allowing itself to be targeted again. According to Arman Sahakyan, there will be reforms if they not only have expectations from the state, but also make demands. The key demand/goal is to force the government to ensure the full protection of the human rights of every person in Armenia, without reservations.


Rima Grigoryan


The compilation and publication of this material has become possible within the framework of the project on Capacity Building and Empowerment for Protection of LGBTI Human Rights in Armenia implemented by New Generation Humanitarian NGO with the financial support of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of New Generation Humanitarian NGO or the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.