Prime Minister Pashinyan,
I sent a letter to several members of your staff a few weeks ago, prior to visiting Armenia, but I did not get a response; so I am writing this open letter, hoping that your will read it and give it careful consideration. With our help, the future of Armenia is in your hands.
Firstly, I hope you are well despite having the weight of a nation on your shoulders. I would like to offer congratulations on your immense victory with Armenia’s White Revolution. Like millions of Armenians worldwide, I watched the developments with great excitement and I was thrilled to anticipate a tsunami of change in our motherland.
Last week, I visited Armenia for the first time since my parents took me there when I was three years old. I was there to attend my nephew’s baptism, but decided to take the opportunity to write a long-form article on tourism in Armenia as I am a journalist and write travel pieces. I want to help promote our magical homeland to non-Armenian masses. My trip was a life-altering experience, seeing Mer Hayrenik, its raw beauty including the warm and hospitable people and re-connect with my roots. My timing was perfect as there was an air of excitement, renewed energy and immense hope since the events of May 2018 and new leadership under your administration. Unfortunately, despite shared optimism for Armenia’s future regarding economy, justice system, administration, standard of living and more, Armenia’s LGBT community is not hopeful about their fate and future. In fact, it was heartbreaking to witness the despair among queer Armenians for their living situation and general role in society.
During my visit, I met dozens of LGBT Armenians; I spoke to them at length about Armenia at large as well as the future for LGBTs there. Sadly, despite their faith in you as the new leader of the country, each one of them was pessimistic about their future. None expressed hope that the situation would get better regarding hate crimes against LGBT, harassment, gay-bashing, abuse, homophobia and transphobia.
According to several studies, a conservative estimate of ten-percent of the world’s population is LGBT and Armenia is no exception; so, make no mistake about it. The only difference between Armenia and the western world is that its queer community is largely in the closet due to institutionalized and widespread homophobia. I met queer Armenians from all walks of life. Some were successful businessmen, teachers, artists, government employees; two were well-known entertainers, a few journalists, an activist and an architect.
I am sure that you are aware of several high-profile gay-bashings in Armenia recently. In February, a trans woman was beaten and her apartment was set on fire while she was in it. She survived after being in intensive-care but has permanent damage to her face and the rest of her body. Elton John, who was in Armenia in May on a humanitarian mission, was subjected to eggs and insults hurled at him, which was widely covered by foreign media. On Friday August 3rd, the day I left Armenia, a group of several dozen people attacked nine LGBT Armenians in Syunik region, one of the attackers, Hakob Arshakyan, is the former Mayor of the village. All devastating incidents, like many others, were reported in mainstream international media. To make matters worse, Gevorg Petrosyan, an Armenian parliament member with the Prosperous Armenia Party, made the following statement, “I don’t know who will incriminate me and to what extent, but we should have already driven out (I’m stating this lightly) homosexuals, religious minorities, and their protectors from our Holy land with joint efforts.”
LGBT Armenians live in extreme fear of violence against them, hostility, aggression and general homophobia. They fear for their safety, well-being, job security, loss of family and friends, should their sexual orientation be known publicly. They live very discreetly and carefully, in constant fear of what could happen if their sexual orientation is revealed. Some complain that authorities are equally hostile and unsympathetic as homophobia is institutionalized. Simply, they are hopeless and in despair. Despite their love for Armenia, all expressed a desire to leave and migrate to freer and more progressive countries. They do not believe that even their new idealistic leader, who is from the people and a ray of light for the country, will make a difference for their particular situation. They believe that the status quo will remain, despite the bright future of Hayatan.
But I am hopeful as I intuitively feel that you are even a greater man than your leadership has already demonstrated. Let me say that I strongly believe that it should be up to the people of every nation and community to decide their own fate, but there are always exceptions. In this case, with the exception of a few activists, LGBT Armenians’ extreme and justified fear for safety and retaliation warrants that their fellow-Armenians speak-out on their behalf. For over a century since the Armenian Genocide, Diasporas Armenians have played a key role in all aspects of Armenia and Armenian life. In fact, Armenia’s Minister of Diaspora, Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, visited Los Angeles while I was in Armenia. This is due to the immense importance of diaspora Armenians’ cooperation with their motherland; so let me be the conduit and implore you to take action against systematic homophobia in Armenia and send a message that we are all equal, whether native-born or Diasporas, straight and sisgender or LGBT, living in Armenia or abroad, rich or poor, connected or otherwise. Our people have been massacred, slaughtered and prosecuted for centuries in the hands of our enemies, so why are we doing it to ourselves now?
Some may say that you have far more important priorities to tackle before combating homophobia, including national security, corruption, economy, unemployment, under-employment and immigration. Queer Armenians are confidently looking forward to your upcoming State of the Nation address and roll-out of your agenda, but their optimism is not extended to the LGBT community. But why not? I write this letter not only as a gay man and my concern for fellow LGBT Armenians, but also as an Armenian-American and my love for Mayr Hayatan, as what is good for LGBT Armenians is good for all Armenians. The destiny of Armenia and its people can be adversely affected by the future of its queer community. Armenia’s national security and economy are at risk if more people migrate elsewhere. People’s faith in a functioning justice system will be impacted if families see that hate-crimes against their family members are ignored and gone unpunished. Country’s development and progress will slow if some of some of its most talented, innovative and educated citizens continue to flee to Western Europe or the United States. LGBT tourists, some of the most desired travelers by nations around the globe will stay away from Armenia for fear of their safety. This would result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential annual revenue. Armenia’s standing in the international community, especially those in the developed world will be further affected and reputation tarnished if human rights violations such as anti-LGBT hate-crimes continue to escalate. Armenia will continue to rank as one of the most hostile countries against LGBT in international surveys and studies, even below some of its neighbors. Some of Armenia’s hostile neighbors, whose human-rights record is not much better, will use this as a weapon to discredit and paint the country in a negative light. The world was in awe to witness Armenia’s White Revolution and how the nation practiced non-violent resistance against the oppressive regime and demand change. Armenia was hailed as an example for peaceful revolution; but the international deadlines about the recent gay-bashings have overshadowed this and brought a lot of negative attention on Hayastan.
So you see Mr. Prime Minister, what we are facing is NOT merely a LGBT issue effecting %10 of Armenians, rather a much broader national cry for help. Armenia cannot afford to ignore this matter any longer, hoping that it would simply go away. YOU cannot afford to ignore this as everyone in Armenia and abroad watches, including the international media and human-rights organizations.
With the risk of sounding as if I am comparing LGBTs to animals, I quote Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” In the twenty-first century, this bar has been raised to include the treatment of the LGBT community. The most advanced and civilized societies have civil rights, including marriage-equality for their LGBT citizens, yet Armenia is still in the middle-ages on this matter, with rampant gay-bashing, mod lynching and well-tolerated homophobia.
The LGBT rights movement is simply this: The Right to be Average-period. LGBT Armenians do not wish for better or special treatment. They only want a life in a country where they can live a free, honest and authentic life, without fear of prosecution, violence or hate due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Again, I realize that you have an awesome responsibility to tackle a rightfully impatient nation’s high expectations. I also believe that one is either part of the solution or part of the problem. So I would like to be part of the solution as well as of service and offer my expertise in LGBT issues, experience, and knowledge in whatever capacity needed to help you, your administration and my fellow Armenians.
I close by quoting the great Armenian-American writer, William Saroyan, “It is simply in the nature of Armenians to study, to learn, to question, to speculate, to discover, to invent, to revise, to restore, to preserve, to make, and to give.”
Thank you and kind regards,