By Shushan Harutyunyan
20-year old Ruben is a bartender at the only gay bar in Yerevan and also one of few ammoniums bloggers that actively campaign for gay rights in Armenia. Ruben has not told his family about the nature of his activities, only a few of his friends know. And those few friends are also aware of the fact that Ruben is in love with a boy.
“My parents were suspicious of my sexual orientation during my last years of school, and we had many fights about it at home. Now we don’t talk about it anymore; they think I’ve changed”, said Ruben.
Ruben is a student and future economist. He said his greatest problem has been to overcome the period of dispute with his parents and resigning himself to his current situation.
“When my parents found out, they isolated me. They wouldn’t talk to me, kept being hard on me and I was in a very bad state psychologically. I was aggressive and behaved badly – imagine what you would do if the world you lived in did not accept you,” Ruben said.
Mistreatment and intolerance of homosexuals, which often then turns into animosity, are seem to be typical in Armenian society. Our own survey we conducted among 100 people of different ages in the center of Yerevan offered further support to this position.
According to the results, 53 percent of the respondents felt animosity towards homosexuals, 40 percent were tolerant, 4 percent treated them well, and 3 percent were undecided. When asked, “What would you do if your child were a homosexual?” 73 of the respondents said that they would disown the child.
Psychologist Davit Amiryan believes that this attitude in Armenian society is actually typical of all former Soviet countries.
“Ignorance and misperceptions about homosexual relations have led to its association in people’s minds with perversion, which is why many people don’t consider that it has a place in Armenian society,” said the psychologist.
He also said that homosexual tendencies could arise at different ages and that it was necessary to have correct information about homosexuality in general in order to understand the homosexual population.
One of the most powerful institutions in Armenia, The Armenian Apostolic Church has a categorical position on homosexuality. According to Deacon Suren Nersisyan, the Church views homosexuals as people with an illness and does not allow them to partake of the Communion during mass because they are considered to be in sin. Even if they confess, they are considered to be in a period of repentance and are not given Communion then either (all this, of course, “if the church knows about their homosexual tendencies”).
51-year old Gevorg is a successful businessman. He said that now, in a relationship with a 18-year-old boy, he has had the same feelings that he once had for his wife. Gevorg discovered these tendencies within himself years ago, after living with his wife and children for many years.
“I think gay love is more natural, because we are both of the same sex, we understand each other better and act more naturally. I hope the girls who read this will forgive me for saying so, but they are never completely honest in a relationship,” said Gevorg. He agreed to an interview with us in his apartment where I was, he said, according to him, the first “straight” person to set foot. Gevorg has not had a legal divorce from his wife, but they no longer live together.
“I would like to declare all this openly, because I don’t think I am doing anything unusual. But there are issues of family, friends and work – I don’t want to lose all that I’ve gained in business, and I can’t confide in my old friends,” said Gevorg, adding that he often had parties at his apartment where they would gather together in small numbers and it would remain their secret.
Just few years ago, homosexuality was considered a criminal offense in Armenia and homosexuals were constantly targeted by the police, who made frequent arrests and demanded large sums of money. The police today no longer arrest homosexuals, but they continue to meet in secret and prefer to conceal their homosexuality.
Gevorg said that there were a few clubs where they can feel free, and that many gays got together outside, but in his opinion, these gatherings were not well-organized, so he and his friends preferred to stay away. “Many are afraid to even go to clubs, they think they will be recognized as homosexuals”, he says.
All the gay people who spoke with us said that the best means they had to interact was the Internet, where many of them had first established relationships. There are 1,764 homosexuals registered on a social network for Armenian gays – 1,306 present them as homosexuals, 436 as lesbians and 22 as transvestites.
We tried to contact a few of them. They all replied, and an Armenian from the Diaspora, visiting Yerevan for two weeks, agreed to meet.
“I was called a bad word in the street the other day and pretended not to understand Armenian; it was a very unpleasant moment,” said Daron and added that military service was most difficult for Armenian gay men.
Daron also spoke about his friends in the army. He talked about how the problems his friend was facing came to an end when he openly declared his homosexuality and everyone, starting with the commanders, was then very careful to avoid any incidents with him so that they would not be held responsible.
“The insulting thing was that they had separated his plate and cup from the rest and would not touch it, but would come to him when they wanted to satisfy their sexual urges,” said Daron. He also had friends who have not had problems in the army because nobody has known about their homosexuality.
We tried to get a comment from Press office at Ministry of Defense of Republic of Armenia, but they refused to give it unless we name certain case or people, which of course, we were not able to do since the conversation with our interviewee was off the record.
Within the light of all the positive developments in Armenia, negative attitude towards homosexuals is still one of the main problematic issues. But Ruben and his friends hope for a better future and think that younger generation are of more tolerant towards gays. Yet, psychologist Davit Amiryan thinks that negative feelings towards homosexuals will change years down the line.
Note: Some of the names of our interviewees have been changed to protect their privacy
Photo by AGA Community
The article has been published in Hetq.am (the online publication of Association of Investigative Journalists of Armenia)