The people’s revolution in Armenia last spring and the developments thereafter had a certain impact on the discussions about LGBTI rights. In the extremely active political process, this topic became one of the most speculated with themes.
Even though no amendments have been introduced to any legislation on LGBTI rights between the launch of the revolution and snap parliamentary elections on December 9th, for the first time ever in the history of independent Armenia the rights of this group of people became a topic that the highest profile political figures and officials referred to. The discourse, however, was mainly far from the logic of human rights concept, reflected the traditional and conservative stereotypes dominant in the society, and frequently were associated with hate speech, direct and indirect appeals of violence.
A number of incidents involving physical violence, as well as limitation of freedom of assembly took place in this period, too. The law-enforcing system manifested a passive and evasive stance regarding the need for registering, investigating, and bringing to justice the perpetrators of such actions, and in fact, upon a statement made by the Head of the Police the freedom of organizing closed, indoor assembly was limited for LBTGI.
The public reactions by civil society representatives to the events were inadequate, and the majority of media outlets demonstrated, mildly speaking, inconsistency in terms of comprehensive coverage of this issue.
LGBTI human rights defenders, however, expressed hope that, after the end of this dramatic political turmoil, an opportunity for holding debates on the rights of this group might become constructive and more substantial.
The Situation Before the Revolution
In Armenia, LGBTI relationships were decriminalized in 2003. No dedicated legislative mechanisms for the protection of the human rights of LGBTI people have been passed or enforced in the country. According to research conducted by international human rights organizations, Armenia, together with Azerbaijan and Russia, occupies one of the lowest positions from among post-Soviet states with regard to the protection of this group’s rights.
The previous government, urged by the commitments assumed before international partners, had recently implemented a number of minor positive changes, for example, substituting a number of formulations violating LGBTI persons’ dignity with terms that are more neutral.
At the same time, the previous Government has failed to ensure the adoption of the anti-discriminatory draft law, envisaged by the Agreement signed with the European Union.
In 2016, the Government held a referendum and passed a draft of Constitutional amendments, which contained a reformulation of the right to marriage and family: the government construed this as banning same-sex marriage.
It is noteworthy that the text of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, signed with the European Union, mentioned fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the context of “information and best practice exchange.” In 2017 the Government tabled a draft of amendments to the Criminal Code for public discussions, according to which Article 197 established sexual orientation as a ground for non-discrimination.
Thus, at least on the legal and legislative plain, the previous government’s policy and intentions towards LGBTI rights in the recent few years were controversial and equivocal, though at the level of political discourse and practices the representatives of the ruling party stood out with their openly homophobic and transphobic rhetoric and actions.
For example, the ruling Republican Party and its coalition partner Dashnaktsutyun representatives multiply made homophobic statements. Various state agencies, including law-enforcement bodies, not only failed to guarantee the rights and freedoms of LGBTI rights but also hindered their exercise, demonstrated an obviously discriminatory attitude which human rights defenders published many facts about.
It is noteworthy that the leader of the ruling party, President Serzh Sargsyan, never spoke on this issue publicly.
Juxtaposing facts and data, we could draw a conclusion that in the recent years the previous government avoided the adoption of a clear legislative policy on this matter and, at the level of discourse and action, demonstrated open homophobia and transphobia. Yet, within the framework of internationally assumed commitments as well as under the pressure of the civil society in Armenia the previous government imitated willingness to positively regulate these matters in the uncertain future, not refraining from using LGBTI rights as a topic of speculations, provocations and manipulations.
The Political Force of the Revolution Leader
The political party of the revolution leader Nikol Pashinyan – the Civil Contract – was founded in 2015, and it did not even mention the rights of LGBTI in its founding documents and programmes. The founding document of the party, however, contains several emphatic references to the need for the protection of human freedoms and dignity, the importance of individual’s happiness, universal equality before the law, and the principle of denying violence.
The political programme presented during the extraordinary Parliamentary elections stressed that “there has been no and there is no legislative barrier in Armenia to ensure that all are equal before the law. The only factor guaranteeing the solution of this issue is the political will of the government. The Government, enjoying the trust of the vast majority of Armenia’s citizens and acting on their behalf, reconfirms its determination to ensure the equality of all people before the law and its ability to solve this issue.”
As for Nikol Pashinyan’s personal stance on the matter, it is perhaps best reflected in his novel The Other Side of the Earth, published part by part in the Armenian Daily in 2008 and printed as one book after the Revolution.
“Throw stones at men and women who like to enjoy themselves? Burn gays and lesbians or group sex lovers on fire? No, definitely not; because gay and lesbian couples do not violate a third person’s freedom by their relationships, and no matter how strange it may sound, they are exercising their own freedom.
Hence, shall be welcome gays and lesbians? No, definitely not. What shall we do then? To let them live their lives, because they do not infringe upon our freedoms and rights, but rather exercise theirs? And this is one of those cases that does not belong to the domain of relations to be determined by the society and individuals, but rather belongs to the domain of relations between God and an individual. Hence, a gay person is not accountable to the society, he is accountable to God, and humans are not authorized to implement Divine Judgment.”
“Frankly speaking, I have always been bewildered at the aspirations of gays and lesbians for marriage. I have always wondered why they so desperately want a legal possibility to get married. They even try to get the acknowledgement of this right by the church. In Tokio, in Tokio only did I come to realize that they want to have their own space on Earth that’s devoid of sin, to have a small matrimonial bed so that whatever they do in it is not regarded as a sin. When I was in Armenia, same-sex marriages to me looked as if they were displays of indecency, now away from Armenia, I realize that all those people want either consciously or on a subconscious level, is for their love to be considered not sinful. But still this is not anything humans decide; this is yet another issue under Divine Jurisdiction.”
At the Initial Stage of the Revolution
During the first stage of the revolution that happened under the slogan of “Love and Solidarity” the importance of human rights was emphasized many times from the platform: the citizen was declared the beneficiary of the revolution with all unalienable freedoms. LGBTI activists were among the active participants of the revolution, too.
Zaruhi Batoyan from Civil Contract party, appointed as Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs made a speech in a post-revolutionary rally with thousands of participants and highlighted: “In this country the human being should be the supreme value, regardless of their characteristics, religion, political views, gender, sexual orientation, social status, and everything else.”
At this stage, the texts delivered in the public and political domains, however, mainly related to the course of the revolution and the necessary steps, state security, foreign policy and other issues; the topic of LGBTI rights was not on the agenda of public discussions.
The Period after New, Post-Revolutionary Government Formation
In May, after Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation, Nikol Pashinyan’s election into the Prime-Minister’s office, and the formation of the new government, an initiative named “New Armenia, New Patriarch” emerged in Armenia which demanded the resignation of the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church Catholicos Garegin II and held public events to voice this demand. In a tense situation around the Catholicos, the representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church accused the members of this initiative of being “sectarians” and “homosexual propagandists”.
Even though the LGBTI community was not in any way associated with this initiative, and the representatives of the latter stood out with their progressive texts, the references to the LGBTI community made in this dispute as a discrediting circumstance were abused by Bishop Ajapahyan, the leader of Shirak Diocese. Hovhannes Ishkhanyan, the representative of Pink Armenia, made an announcement on all this, which read: “The LGBT community, regardless of its active participation in the developments in the country, is actively involved in various socio-political struggles, has nothing to do with the internal affairs of Church and the demand for Catholicos’s resignation.” However, the identification of this initiative with the LGBTI community in the media and social networks by a number of groups continued intentionally, serving as occasions for hate speech and accusations against LGBTI in destroying the Armenian Apostolic Church and the state.
In May the world famous musician Elton John, known as the promoter of LGBTI rights, arrived in Armenia to participate in a charity project. In the course of his visit, the musician also met with President Armen Sargsyan and Prime-Minister Nikol Pashinyan. These meetings became a topic for speculations and hate propaganda. In the course of John’s visit an unpleasant incident took place, namely, a 34-year-old man threw eggs at him. The Police found the man who wrote an explanatory report and was released.
Even though by August the topic of LGBTI rights had already served as an occasion for political and public speculations and hate speech, planned provocations and fake information campaign was launched in August the organizers of which started to act openly. It became clear that forces and groups, displeased with the Revolution, supported them.
Thus, on August 4th a group of people, composed also of a few LGBT activists, was attacked in the village of Shurnukh, Syunik Marz, as a result of which a few people received bodily injuries. Later, Pink Armenia published facts indicating that people, related with the Republican Party of Armenia, organized the provocation. A criminal case was initiated on this incident. Groups supporting the previous government and criticizing the revolution explicitly defended this case of violence, by organizing a public event in Shurnukh to express solidarity with the perpetrators.
On the Internet, public and political figures who made analogous statements and notes contributed to the intensification of appeals for violence and hate speech against LGBTI by Internet users. Thus, for example, the Member of the Parliament of Prosperous Armenia Party Gevorg Petrosyan announced that “we should as soon as possible drive away (I am putting this mildly) homosexuals, sectarians and their supporters from our Sacred land…” Pink Armenia submitted a report to the Police in relation to Petrosyan’s comment.
From the Government, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan evaluated this occasion in his Facebook press conference on Radio Liberty. In response to a question posed by a Facebook user about the Shurnukh incident, he said approximately the following: “There is one thing that is unacceptable to me regarding this case. It is the use of violence, i.e., I do not even want to go deep into the substance of this matter and dwell on it, because this is simple truth here: violence is unacceptable as a solution to the problem regardless of its cause, regardless of who it was used against, regardless of the grounds for the use of violence.”
A number of local and international human rights organizations disseminated statements, condemning the violence in Shurnukh.
On October 14 the Police disseminated a message and a video material, informing that a number of transgender persons who were sex workers “invaded a Police station” and “Caused bodily injuries to two policemen” after the Police (based on the report by the transgender people) had detained a citizen using violence against them. As a result, a criminal case was initiated within which two persons who caused injuries to Policemen were detained. The video disseminated by the Police on this case bore an improper title and contained inappropriate formulations. Later the Police changed the title to the video.
Right after this incident, an initiative named Everyone’s Step for the Sake of the Nation emerged, which declared its intention to organize a series of public events against “LGBT propaganda.” The representative of this initiative informed the media that they had turned to the Embassies of the US, UK and Germany, demanding to stop “funding LGBT organizations.”
On August 22nd a Facebook user published photos from an event held in Hasmik children’s camp in Hankavan with a headline that read “How to Become Homosexual or Atheist/Sectarian/Satanist?” The photos depicted children on the stage, participating in a performance similar to a setting in the Club of the Funny and Inventive, dressed in various clothes, including clothes typically worn by the other sex. A number of media outlets reprinted the photos and the status, presenting the incident as “LGBT propaganda among minors.” In a conversation with journalists, Minister of Education and Science Araik Harutyunyan told them: “They gave me preliminary information that this was a Club of the Funny and Inventive performance, but I have assigned to study the case thoroughly. The director of the camp informed “it was only a carnival in the course of which the Club of the Funny and Inventive of the camp organized a regular humorous performance which the parents were aware of.” He also noted that he was going to sue the user for ungrounded accusations against the camp.
On August 31st a number of representatives of Everyone’s Step for the Sake of the Nation initiative organized an action in front of the German Embassy in Armenia, called ‘No to LGBT Propaganda for the Protection of Traditional Family and Children’s Rights.”
On the same day in his interview with a media outlet, the Vice-Chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia Sharmazanov stated that “homosexual propaganda should be banned in Armenia by the law,” and shared his intention of initiating a relevant amendment to the Law on Child’s Rights, which is “going to be the litmus paper for the new Government.” Speaking of the huge public resonance Hasmik Camp case received, Sharmazanov mentioned that the new government “should concretely answer whether they are for or against all this.”
In the meantime, information that LGBT Christian Forum would be held in Armenia started to be actively disseminated on the Internet and by the mass media, even though the organizers of the forum had shared this information long before the revolution, and it had not received any significant resonance.
Thus, Politik.am electronic news outlet published a story of the following content: “The new power, filled with love and tolerance, protect the rights of all groups” and informed that the positive outcome of the revolution was the hosting of an LBGT Christian Forum, planned to be held in Armenia. A number of other media outlets reprinted this story.
On the same day, August 29th, Arman Boshyan, a member of “Pan-Armenian Parents’ Committee”, an organization created in Armenia after a homonymous Russian one, a person who previously organized many homophobic campaigns, expressed his concern on Facebook that the LGBT Christian Forum was going to be held in Armenia. On the following day, Mher Terteryan, advisor to ex-Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, shared content containing ironic statements and formulations on Facebook. On the same day, Yerkramas Russian-language website disseminated the request of “a group of voters from Yerevan” who wanted to clarify the standpoints of the power and political forces running the elections regarding the LGBT Christian Forum towards the elections of Yerevan Elders’ Council. “Armenia has become an object of aggression of external forces, which aim for the deterioration of the traditional and national values of the Armenian statehood and its spiritual principles”, the shared text read.
On September 7th Politik.am website again published an interview with “a member of the LGBT community, a participant of LGBT Christian Forum”, mentioning that the name of the interviewee was changed. The incognito interviewee criticised the previous government, welcoming the revolution and the new government and informed that in the course of the forum they were going to address exclusively issues of Christianity. Other media reprinted the story.
On September 13th an online platform hosted an anonymous petition “I am Against an LGBT Forum in Armenia” which appealed to “join and prevent the catastrophe and shame.”
On September 14th an unknown blog published a piece of news, stating that Minister of Daispora Mkhitar Hayrapetyan was going to participate in the LGBT Christian Forum to strengthen his ties with affluent gays arriving in Armenia. A number of media outlets reprinted this story. Nune Aylanjyan, Diaspora Ministry spokesperson refuted this information. Online resources disseminated information that Nikol Pashinyan’s wife Anna Hakobyan was going to participate in the forum, too.
On September 15th Chairman of the Chamber of Advocates Ara Zohrabyan wrote on Facebook that it was necessary to ban sexual orientation propaganda among children in Armenia. He substantiated his claim, referring to two ECHR decisions.
On September 17th within the framework of criminal cases launched in relation to the eavesdropping of a conversation between the heads of NSS and SIS, the law-enforcement bodies searched the office of Protection of the Christian Value System and Traditional Family initiative. Three days later the members of the initiative announced that their office had been searched because they had acted “against LGBT propaganda.”
On September 28th, Eduard Sharmazanov, then National Assembly Deputy Speaker and RPA Deputy Chairman, jointly with a number of his party members, put into circulation a draft law on amendments to the RA Law on Child’s Rights which envisaged to legislatively ban propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relations” among children. The rationale of the draft law stated that “non-traditional sexual relations include, for example incest, zoophilia, paedophilia, homosexual relationships and so on.” To substantiate this point, a reference was made to the same ECHR decisions, specified by Ara Zohrabyan, the Chairman of the Chamber of Advocates.
On October 5th a group of people, including religious servicemen from the Armenian Apostolic Church organized a protest march against the LGBT Christian Forum in Yerevan, announcing that they were against “perversion, homosexuality, the destruction of the traditional family.” The participants of the protest sent a letter to Prime-Minister Pashinyan, with a demand to ban the forum.
On October 10th New Generation Humanitarian NGO that was to host the LGBT Christian Forum disseminated a statement, underlining that Prime Minister Pashinyan had no relation to the forum, that the forum had no political implications and called “not to be led by the recently very widely spread political speculations and provocations which mainly tended to split the society.”
On October 11th Aragats Akhoyan, a former MP from Prosperous ArmeniaPparty and currently a member of Alliance Party led by Tirgran Urikhanyan, made a statement that “they would go for anything” to ensure the forum was cancelled, and four days later underlined at a press conference: “We will beat them to death, we will punish them as they deserve.”
On October 18th MP from Tsarukyan fraction and leader of Alliance Party Tigran Urikhanyan put an RA draft law into circulation in the National Assembly on Amendments to the Family Code, which envisaged to legislatively ban same-sex marriages.
On October 24th, in response to a question asked by Tsarukyan Fraction MP Gevorg Petrosyan in the NA, Prime Minister Pashinyan for the first time spoke about the issue of LGBTI rights. Referring to the LGBT Christian Forum, Pashinyan stated that he had assigned to clarify what kind of an event it was, who organized it, for what purpose, and added that family and the Armenian model of family were the highest value for him. Pashinyan continued with clarifications of his standpoints:
“Everything was clear in the Soviet Union: there was an article in the Criminal Code, and if it turned out that a person is suchlike, that person was imprisoned. This is a very concrete solution to the issue, an attitude to it, etc, before that they hanged, shot, etc, etc. What do we do today?
I will be frank with you: the less frequently this issue is raised, the better for me as Prime Minister and the better for our Government, because it is a headache. Now, some will say, ‘Oh, they are supporting those ones,’ the others will say we are infringing upon rights, some others will say we shatter the foundations of our traditional family and so on and so forth. Yet, not only the Government, but we all should understand what we are doing: let us decide whether we shall add an article to our Criminal Code, let us decide whether we collect all those people and deport them from Armenia, let us decide whether we accept their existence as such. Do we admit that they do exist, or do we say ‘You know what? Do not propagate, so to say, for expanding your community and involving new people…”, Pashinyan mentioned in particular, stressing that this issue was serious and he thought the “government would somehow manage to evade from the issue, there are ways to do so.” The Prime Minister stressed that decades later whoever the Government they “would have to face this problem” and should decide “whether they take out tanks and smash them all, shoot to death or acknowledge these people.”
On the next day, October 25th, the Government discussed the draft law submitted by Sharmazanov and other RPA MPs on Amending the RA Law on Child’s Rights. As a result, the bill was not approved by the Government with the latter’s recommendation that reads: “There is no need for adopting such draft laws, and it is recommended that the enforced laws remain unchanged.” However, it is noteworthy that the draft law was not passed because the enforced law already regulated the matter.
“I would like to emphasize one thing. Recently this issue has constantly been on my mind. Am I wrong in my perceptions, namely sometimes I have an impression that for example, advocacy for struggle against sexual minorities at a certain point turns into sexual minority propaganda? Is there no such component? Because one can suddenly notice that some have started speaking about it – they struggle and struggle, and when children see all those things on the news, things that we do not want to be propagated, won’t they – the ones who are still unaware –ask, “What are these people are so zealously and consistently struggling against? Why do they write law after law, what do they deny, discuss, and criticize?’ Is there no such thing? Do I misunderstand something?” Pashinyan asked Arsen Manukyan, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs during the discussion of the draft law. And in response, the latter stated, “Yes, children unwillingly get interested.”
During the Supreme Spiritual Council Session in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin on November 1st Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II made a statement about the LGBT Christian Forum.
“Lately we have been very concerned with the information on a forum initiated by homosexuals to be held in Armenia. This has caused great indignation among our people. Our Christ loving nation has been the bearer of the cherished concept of God-blessed family and the preserver of the sanctified value of family. Life and the miracle of life continue due to the sacred symbolism of God-created family. God established commandments and moral norms for the human, created by the Lord. Today however, an attempt is being made to present moral deviations and their explicit propaganda as human rights and freedoms. The Holy Church of Christ has expressed its standpoint towards the phenomenon of homosexuality, declaring such lifestyle unacceptable as a distortion of human nature, but never ceasing to demonstrate pastoral care and appealing to these people who have found themselves in sin to correct their path. LGBT community representatives’ steps for the sake of provocations in the society, publicity and promotion of the phenomenon of homosexuality are strongly unacceptable and reprehensible, as a temptation to our young generation and a threat to the continual existence of our nation,” the Catholicos said.
On November 2nd New Generation Humanitarian NGO beat an alarm: “Sevan Aghajanyan, leader of National Values Preservation Front organization, who is notorious multiple homophobic and transphobic actions in the past, jointly with others, chases the organization staff mambers in his car. A report on the incident has been submitted to the Police. The organization informs that it is temporarily suspending its activity.”
On November 6th For National Values initiative held a demonstration in Freedom Square in Yerevan, demanding a ban on the LGBT Christian Forum and adoption of a law, prohibiting “homosexuality propaganda.” On the same day, Head of the Police Valeri Osipyan stated in his interview with reporters that the LGBT Christian Forum was not going to be held, as he believed it was not expedient.
“No, it will not take place, because I think it is not expedient at the moment. I personally believe it is not, also taking into account the risks and security issues. We conducted some explanatory work so that it does not take place in the RA,” Ospiyan said.
On the same day, New Generation Humanitarian NGO, the host the forum, announced that they were forced to cancel the forum “taking into account the constantly voiced threats on the Internet, the organized persecutions, the risks of probable attacks on Forum participants, as well as the lack of full willingness on the part of the RA Police to ensure protection.”
A number of local and international human rights organizations condemned the statement by the Head of Police and the cancellation of the forum as a result. It was noted that freedom of assembly was limited.
On November 15th the government discussed the draft of amendments to the Family Code proposed by the NA MP Tigran Urikhanyan which envisaged a ban on same-sex marriage. As a result, the Government did not approve the draft and recommended to keep the enforced legislation unchanged on the grounds that the Constitution already regulated this matter.
“Simply to clarify and in order to clearly avoid any speculations. Now let us assume that two men and two women go to the Civil Status Acts Registration Agency and say, ‘We want to get married.’ Is there a legislative way or possibility for their marriage to be registered?” Prime Minister Pashinyan asked Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Arsen Manukyan during the Government session. Manukyan replied negatively, referring to the Constitution.
On November 19th a fake video and text were sent to the media on behalf of an inexistent organization, informing that allegedly LGBTI support actions were organized in Yerevan which mainly aimed at “supporting the LGBT movement activists in Armenia and the policy pursued by the new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.” Many media outlets disseminated this fake information and explicitly fake video, even though Director of Pink Armenia Mamikon Hovsepyan and LGBT activists refuted the existence of such an organization and the relation of the LBGT community to the disseminated materials.
On November 20th Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan again spoke of LGBTI rights when answering a journalist’s question at a press conference.
“Now again the LGBT issue is being used. If an RA citizen announces that they are a representative of a sexual minority, what shall we do to them? Tell me. Tell me what shall we do? Shall we kill them? Shoot them to death? Quarter them? Imprison them? Deport them from Armenia? Let them tell us. Has there been no LGBT community in Armenia before May? In the 2000s when we lived through the most flourishing period of the Republican Party, a list of Ministers and high-ranking officials of a different sexual orientation was published. Back then, these same people, God knows why, did not organize rallies, and there was no secret funding for those demonstrations… We will not let anybody distort the truth. Do you want the truth to the very last bit? We will open it up to you to the last bit, and all those 90% will be shocked,” Pashinyan said.
On November 22nd, the representatives of For Social Justice Party organized a protest action in front of the Government building, demanding from the Government to ban “homosexuality propaganda” and control the funding NGOs receive from abroad. They sent a letter that contained the list of their demands from the Government, requesting a prompt response.
On November 26th, the election campaign for snap Parliamentary elections was launched in the course of which the intensity of discussions on the LGBTI rights declined: the political debate was mainly held on state security, foreign, economic, and social policies.
Towards the end of the election campaign, on December 5th, during the debate of slate leaders of the political forces running for the Parliament, Vigen Sargsyan, the leader on the Republican slate, asked Prime Minister, the leader of My Step Alliance Nikol Pashinyan a question about LGBTI rights.
Vigen Sargsyan mentioned “there were two prominent LGBT activists” on the Board of Trustees of Pashinyan’s Party and whether Pashinyan had any obligations before these activists.
In response, Pashinyan said that a list of high-ranking officials with a different sexual orientation was published in the years of RPA’s rule and that a number of the Republican Government members were famously known as LGBT community representatives. Vigen Sargsyan qualified Pashinyan’s speech “a sexist remark,” saying that “the LGBT community had the same rights as all the rest” and that a person should not be judged for his/her sexual orientation.
“A human being has a right to do whatever they will behind their closed doors. I am against sex parades in general, be it homosexual or heterosexual. I believe that a child should not see this when walking in the street, an Armenian child should not see this,” Vigan Sargsyan added.
In response, Pashinyan said: “Just now Vigen Sargsyan said that LGBT community members have the same rights as all the other citizens in Armenia. You heard it. The people he referred to, these women, say the same thing as Vigen Sargsyan. Vigen Sargsyan calls them LGBT activists for saying things he just said himself, hence, Vigen Sargsyan is an LGBT activist.”
After the debate, photos of Vigen Sargsyan appeared on Facebook social network, mocking at him and bearing captions that called him “an LGBT activist.”
As a result of the Parliamentary elections on December 9th, My Step Alliance led by Pashinyan received 70,43% of the votes, 8,27% of the votes went to Prosperous Armenia, and Bright Armenia won 6,37% of the votes, whereas the other parties did not collect enough to cross the threshold.
The above-mentioned processes and developments around LGBTI rights should be viewed in the context of post-revolutionary political developments and rearrangements in Armenia, namely an acute confrontation and a conflict of interests among the revolutionary government, the former government and the forces that lost their political capital as a result of the revolution.
Having lost power, the Republican Party which is positioning itself as the bearer of national, conservative ideology, has set a primary task of bringing down the level of popularity and international reputation, enjoyed by the revolutionary government. To achieve its objective, they had taken up the most sensitive issues, namely state security, the Artsakh issue, foreign policy vectors, the Armenian Apostolic Church, LGBTI rights to manipulate with. The calculations were perhaps based on the results of the public opinion polls, implemented by various organizations, according to which the majority of the population in Armenia considered themselves followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church, demonstrated intolerance towards LGBTI, has a pro-Russian orientation in their foreign policy preferences, and normally opposed the solution to the Artsakh conflict, that is currently on the table of diplomatic negotiations.
The campaign tactic of the RPA and ARF who were deprived of power, as well as that of other forces, groups, and individuals who incurred political and personal losses because of the revolution was built on the same logic, namely the depiction of the post-revolution government as anti-national, foreign, eager to undermine national values, state security, and the Armenian Apostolic Church, an anti-Russian force ready to “sell” Artsakh. In this context, the national paradigm defended by the above-mentioned forces was presented and defined as traditional, ethnic, and accordingly regressive, as anti-LGBT, nationalistic, monotheistic, pro-Russian. An attempt was made to identify things associated with evil, namely religious or gender diversity and solidarity, foreign policy diversification and so on with the revolution government, hoping that the citizens will be disappointed with the latter.
In response to this tactic, the revolutionary government did not demonstrate sufficient political will to explicitly declare about the relatively progressive civil national values, to directly protect LGBTI rights, the ideas of religious diversity, peace, foreign policy diversification. Instead, they adopted the defensive tactic of blurring issues, posing rhetorical questions, circumventing problems diplomatically and resorting to populism.
Within the same logic the law-enforcement system not only failed to adequately respond to the incidents of violence, hate speech, explicit threats, but restricted hosting the LGBT Christian Forum.
Thus, the criminal case initiated with regard to the incident in Shurnush was suspended based on the amnesty act passed in November; the perpetrators escaped punishment. Regarding the hate speech by Prosperous Armenia Party MP Gevorg Petrosyan, the report by Pink Armenia to the Police remained unaddressed, and no criminal cases were brought against Aragats Akhoyan and others who openly made threats.
The failure of calculations made by the anti-revolution forces, proven by the outcomes of the elections, was largely conditioned not by the effective counter-tactic of the revolution government, but rather the circumstance, that the societal attitude towards those forces was extremely negative: citizens mainly opposed any idea, voiced by the representatives of those forces.
During the campaign, at the debate among the leaders of political slates running for the Parliament, the RPA representative Vigen Sargsyan’s unexpected statement that “The LGBT community enjoys all the rights as everybody else, and a person should not be judged on the grounds of their orientation” testifies to the RPA’s realization of the mistake in their calculations. Such an abrupt tactical U-turn might also be conditioned by Nikol Pashinyan’s explicitly hinted threat of ensuring the outing of some former government members.
The representatives of the LBGTI community and the civil society demonstrated some caution and evasiveness in their evaluations, which, though justified in relation to the provocations of the anti-revolutionary forces, was not justified in relation to the inaction of the law-enforcement bodies and the equivocal evaluations by the Prime Minister of the revolution government.
It is noteworthy that having a completely different fundamental objective the activities organized by the anti-revolutionary forces led to a point when LGBTI rights finally became part of the political agenda in Armenia, was discussed in the highest instances and received broad public resonance. This can be recorded as the most positive achievement so far.
It should also be noted that the political programme of no political force running the snap Parliamentary elections had openly mentioned LGBTI rights in the positive or negative context. During the campaign, the other political forces running the elections mainly avoided voicing any political evaluation of the ongoing developments or expressing their standpoints on LGBTI rights.
In the future My Step Alliance headed by the revolution leader Pikol Pashinyan will form a new Government, and the new composition of the National Assembly will start functioning. It is difficult to predict whether the the ruling party’s rhetoric on LGBTI rights will change or not. We would like to remind that My Step Alliance included the following provision in the political programme: “there has been no and there is no legislative barrier in Armenia to ensure that all are equal before the law. The only factor guaranteeing the solution of this issue is the political will of the government.”