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16 November, 2018

LGBTnews.am has interviewed Arman Sahakyan, office manager of New Generation Humanitarian NGO, about the LGBT Christian Forum which was cancelled today, and about the general situation with LGBTI people's rights in Armenia.

After yesterday's statement by Chief of Police Osipyan, the organization reported to the public that it had to cancel the LGBT Christian Forum which was to be held in Armenia in November. Do I remember correctly that you had expressed your intention to hold the forum still before the change of government power?

Still, before the revolution, there had been given an interview on which one of the Russian sites prepared an article. It was about the LGBT Christian Forum which is held every year, and this year the 11th one was planned to be held in Armenia. Since public events were not planned during the forum, there was no specific intention to inform the society about the event, and the event was discussed only during the mentioned interview.

We thought that the Armenians who proclaim themselves to be the first Christian nation, would host Christians from other countries with love and solidarity and the latter would see Armenia, the country would become more recognizable, why not in terms of tourism as well. These people are ordinary Christians trying to spread love and tolerance towards all people understanding the Bible as it is - not as a book of hatred but of love and solidarity. The event had absolutely nothing to do with Bible editing or interfering in domestic politics, public events, as it was later distorted and propagandized by different specially guided groups and media.

The forum, which had been announced before the change of power suddenly turned into an active target. Why do you think it happened?

If we look into the chronology, we will see that the specially guided groups began their attack in the politically tense period when the idea of dissolving the parliament was actively debated, which rapidly transformed into conflict between the revolutionary government and the old members of the National Assembly.

It was obvious to see from this organized campaign that in this heated political situation the motivation of these specially guided groups was inner-political, so once again an attempt was made to use the LGBT human rights issues for speculative actions and provocations as before. Public figures, current and former MPs, some organizations, individuals who spread hatred and misinformation through social networks, as well as fake faces and pages, media, press conferences, and even leaflets, were on the frontlines of this campaign of hatred.

They wrote that a gay parade was to be organized, disinformation was spread about the number of the participants, instead of the real 50 they first told it was going to be 1500, then 2000 and then 3000 people. They said that we were going to edit the Bible, to destroy the Armenian family, the church, the state and other false things. Then they started demonstrations, dozens of people gathered, propagandized hatred, and when they saw they were getting away with it, they passed on to threats. Gevorg Petrosyan, MP from Prosperous Armenia party, called on to expel  Armenian citizens  from the country. Former MP Aragats Akhoyan talked about "slaughtering" at a press conference, and at another interview, he threatened to use violence. Law enforcers did not react adequately to any of these issues, even though we turned to the police.

- I want to mention that the context of the issue was even wider. After the change of power, the topic of LGBT human rights was discussed not only in the framework of the LGBT Christian Forum. Shurnukh's provocation when people affiliated with the Republican Party poisoned the peasants' minds against activists having a rest in the village and other disturbances they tried to organize to turn people against the LGBT people, finally the LGBT Christians Forum. Moreover, MPs Sharmazanov and Urikhanyan introduced homophobic bills to the parliament.

- Yes, and the result of all the provocative campaigns was that some part of society started to believe that LGBT people are the greatest evil for the society and the state, forgetting about corruption, the previous authorities' crimes and many other things that are really harmful to the government and the society. This was done to distract the people from the real political agenda.

The government, in the person of Nikol Pashinyan responded to this in the National Assembly and in the government speech the next day...

Nikol Pashinyan did not consider LGBT people as full-fledged citizens with inalienable rights and freedoms but as a mass that is a headache, a problem with which something should be done, and asking questions in the logic of Hitler-Nazi philosophy, he suggested to think of ways of dealing with this issue: either to burn those people, to throw them into prison in the logic of Soviet legislation, to run them over by tanks, or to tolerate them somehow.

In the New independent Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan is the first of the high-ranking officials who publicly addressed the issue of LGBT people and this is what he said, forgetting that every human being is of supreme value. He did not consider LGBT people as vested with equal rights that the rest of the society has and did not care to reflect on the fact that these people have acute problems which need solutions but rather stopped on the point what could be done with this mass that has become a headache for all. In other words, “several people” should sit and decide what to do with a group of other people, and the versions of the solutions they have made are just stunning.

So what actually turns out? Some groups, pursuing some interests, organize homophobic campaigns consistently, and the LGBT community being well aware of their intentions does not respond to all this provocation, while the law enforcement system stubbornly ignores the anti-legal calls and actions. And the response of the top public figure of the country was just as you described. So weren’t the inactivity of law enforcement and Pashinyan's speech actually a green light for provocateurs? After Pashinyan's speech they began driving around your organization and you had to announce that the organization temporarily suspended its activities...

We have sent numerous letters to the Government of the Republic of Armenia, personally to Nikol Pashinyan, informing them that we are planning to hold a forum for LGBT Christians in Armenia and that the forum is going to be a closed, non-public event during which no public actions are planned but all our letters have remained unanswered. And today, Chief of Police Osipyan's made this  outrageous statement  that it is not convenient to hold the forum in Armenia, so  it will not take place, and the security risks were presented by him as an additional not the main argument.

Love and solidarity are thus selective and discriminatory...

- That's how it turns out. And do you know what's interesting? An attempt is made to present as if those homophobic groups won and we were defeated. In fact, the Republic of Armenia was defeated, the rule of law, democracy lost and the country fell a huge step back on its way to democracy. But I want to emphasize that this regress is temporary; love, tolerance, freedom, equality have no alternative, and sooner or later they will win. Analyzing the recent events, registering the facts, we come to the conclusion that there are still many things to do to establish a real democracy and ensure equality for all.

- By the way let’s talk about these things to do. What long-term actions you are you planning to take in this direction?

- First of all, it’s the work with the society, raising their legal awareness, providing them with information, acquainting them with the constitutional rights, secondly, it is the documentation of anti-legal actions and cases and submitting the revealed cases to the judicial system and international partners, work towards court cases, strategic litigation thirdly, it’s the discussion of LGBTI people's rights agenda with different authorities; fourthly, it is the work with mass media and many other plans and actions.

- Your organization had temporarily suspended its activities. Have you already resumed the working process?

- We will continue our activity in its regular and normal course of work, in all the mentioned directions and we are confident that we will achieve a truly free, democratic, equal, fair state and society.