Homophobia increases migration and crime rate in Armenia:   interview with Mamikon Hovsepyan

LGBTnews.am interviewed Mamikon Hovsepyan, president of PINK Armenia NGO


Mamikon, several days ago the First Instance Courts of General Jurisdiction came up with the final part of its judgment on the lawsuit of “16 citizens against Iravunk newspaper”. The court didn’t make available the grounds for the rejection of the claim during the court session. Have you, at least, received any official paper with any explanation for the rejection of the claim?


– We have, indeed, received a document. There is an attempt to explain the grounds for the rejection of the claim. However, those are very unclear, are not complete and are not acceptable.


Taking into account the fact that there is lack of trust in Armenia in Judiciary, which were, according to you, the preconditions and real reasons behind such court ruling?


– To begin with, the negative attitude of the Judge towards the plaintiff party was quite obvious during the court hearings: there was an observable aggression by the Judge towards our advocates and just the opposite attitude, very mild and polite, towards the defendant. The Judge kept sending unfriendly notes to the advocates of the plaintiff. Also, there was an impression that he was intentionally stressing its power in court room to signal that “he is the decision maker” thus making a serious psychological pressure on our advocates. So, the Judge was bias from the start.


Secondly, several days before the judgment, Serzh Sargsyan awarded Iravunk newspaper editor-in-chief Hayk Babukhanyan by Movses Khorentatsi award on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the newspaper. This was an indicator that hate speech and homophobia are sponsored by the top management of the country. This was also a message to court as well as a sign to what kind of judgment to wait for.


That was in fact going to be my next question. After the court ruling, are we now able to confirm that the hate speech and homophobia are indeed supported by country’s top management? Since Hayk Babukhanyan, who received award from Serzh Sargsyan, is not only the Editor in chief of Iravunk newspaper, but also, more importantly, a Republican MP regularly using Parliament platform for homophobic statements.


– We can definitely confirm that. This fact has now found its place in several international documents and reports as “state sponsored homophobia”, homophobia that is sponsored by country’s top management. In the past, it was highlighted that Armenian senior officials keep silence and never talk about the LGBT community or other minority community problems in the country, which of course was another type of discrimination. Now we found ourselves in even worse situation: the silence has been replaced by clear and open campaign of homophobia and hate speech, which is now encouraged by N1 in the country. I have no clue for what merits he got the award…and this important award has now become a tool for Republicans, very upsetting. I just hope that Movses Khorenatsi’s name and award will stop being manipulated one day.


I am struggling to find out why Iravunk newspaper so openly places itself against LGBT community and organizations campaigning for the rights of LGBT people? Do you believe this is an ideological and principal issue for them or this is just a trick to increase the newspaper readership taking into account the fact that homophobic articles are of high demand among the local readers. Or may be both?


– Well, I don’t think they need any advertisement: that newspaper has strong supporters, we all know who fund it and why. I think this is more of a stream coming from Russia. Locals want to confirm their loyalty to Russian Government by sharing Kremlin’s anti-human propaganda in Armenia.


The attitude towards LGBT has become a geo-political indicator, something to form an opinion about persons’ value system in West-Russia or progress-regress contrast. In local context, can you observe this?


– Definitely! You should be aware that Putin, who is has a mania to go against the universal human rights, among other issues has started to target LGBT people and organizations campaigning for their rights and he is willing to make his “occupied” territories, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia follow his tactics. Your readers should be aware that Kyrgyz Parliament by first hearing has recently adopted anti-LGBT legislation, the LGBT people are under threat in Belarus. The same logic is now slowly arriving here. Kremiln’s servants are making sure the orders are delivered successfully and reported accordingly. Those newspapers, allays of government, are campaigning for Armenia’s accession into Eurasian Union thus very effectively performing such functions.


I am aware that you plan to take the case forward, to the next instance of court, to Appellate court. What is your real plan? Do you hope that other courts will be professional and thus objective or you plan to go through all courts in the country to be able to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights?


– We want to win and we will go through all available levels. If this is not resolved in Armenia, yes, we will probably apply to European Court of Human Rights. In spite of the fact that trust in Judiciary in Armenia is around zero, I would not exclude our victory in Armenia taking into account the quickly changing nature of Armenian officials, and the existence of rare professional and objectives judges we might still come across in Armenia. However that might be still a miracle. You know, Armenia’s foreign policy agenda, it is to earn a good reputation somewhere, so our objectives might just coincide and that might work. Also, we want to make sure we make use of all opportunities in Armenia.


Hayk Babukhanyan, MP, and Iravunk Newspaper journalists often makes a reference to the memorandum of understanding that your organization, PINK Armenia and Ombudsman, Karen Andreasyan signed. They blame Ombudsman for protecting the rights of LGBT people, though it is not quite clear for me what Ombudsman has done so far in reality…Anyway, is that Memorandum of Understanding still valid and if so, what is the supposed scope of cooperation?


– The Memorandum of Understanding is still valid but I must mention that is just a formal document, nothing more. The de facto cooperation didn’t take place since the Ombudsman adopted different tactics. The cooperation with the previous Ombudsman was worse but the current one is not yet supportive enough. In its 2013 Armenian Human Rights report the Ombudsman created an imitation of fighting homophobia, however he used series of transphobic expressions. LGBTnews.am has done very good analyses of the report. There are no serious groups of cooperation. Anyway, we keep in touch and send our reports to his office.


As to our organization, Iravunk newspaper has targeted PINK Armenia from 2009. They regularly prepare articles about or activities and disseminate hate speech and spread defamation. For example, their most recent article was about me telling that I took part at a gay parade in Latin America. Well, I really want to go to Latin America to see all those attractive places but I have not yet been there, and secondly I never so far took part in any gay parades though I would like to see how that is organized and implemented. So that newspaper is “watching” PINK Armenia for about 5 years already. The same Ombudsman has signed several MoUs with other organizations that too campaign for the rights of LGBT people, but for some reason Iravunk has targeted only us. They might possible need personified ”heroes”, concrete person to label as “national betrayers” about and around who they build their fake stories.


It is equally strange that Hayk Babukhanyan’s recent publications that rather reminds a Collection of Hate Speech (which was the subject of the court case), justifies and protects the freedom of expression for Anush and Inga Arshakyan sister for a similar occasion?.


– There is a lot of absurdity on what they say and do. The article which became subject of our appeal, contained the hyperlinks of facebook users who had no connection with Anush and Inga Arshakyan’s case and never even commented, for example me – I never reacted that scandal but my name appeared in the list of that article. Also those facebook users, whose profiles appeared in Iravunk article never commented on LGBT issues or talked about Conchita, they simply asked Arshakyan sisters several question on their insulting comment towards people with mental problems. I am not even talking about the homophobes in the list, who automatically became “gay-lobbyists”. That’s interesting to observe that the latter didn’t react so the very article brought opposite result for some of them.


When I read their coverage, I have an impression that Iravunk is well informed about the life of LGBT community, about the events being organized, about the organizations, etc. So, although half of the coverage is misinformation, it still contains some correct information, including personal details. Via which channel does the info leak?


– The flow of information is very easy to organize in Armenia. First we have to keep in mind that country is small, everyone knows everyone and are informed. Also, due to homophobic society, LGBT people try to hide their sexual identity which opens room for manipulation and blackmail and so those people are being used to get the infos. I would rather not to know the names of persons who deliver the information to them, as those people are also victims. Also, there is a lot of available information around, at least PINK Armenia is very open and transparent. If they were smart, instead of going round and round to make stories, they could just use the free and open information we provide. We usually joke in our office, what excellent articles we would provide Iravunk and how we would title those.


And my last questions – which might be the negative consequences that this court ruling and other similar ones might bring in Armenia?


– First, this will not only support the increase of homophobia and hate speech but it will create a chaotic atmosphere, which will increase of crime rate, sexual violations, murders for sexual orientation, rape etc. Mass media and individuals witnessing the impunity precedent will be more openly printing homophobic articles and hate speech thus taking the process further down. For example, in Uganda, a newspaper printed a list of LGBT people as later the court didn’t make any judgment against this newspaper, series of suicides started throughout the country. This is an extremely dangerous precedent for a country like Armenia as the government affiliated media and bias justice system prepare all grounds for serious crime. Here we should note that this atmosphere will affect negatively on other minority groups: religious, ethnic, etc.


The second negative effect is the stimulation of migration. We will soon publish a report on the increase of migration resulted by the discrimination towards LGBT people, we also studied its influence in other spheres. I won’t talk much about it, but this report contains a lot of interesting findings. Recent years LGBT people received asylum more easily than before which increased the migration rate. This is conditioned by the fact that in 2008 and few years after that Armenia has become a signatory in series of international conventions which would guarantee the protection of LGBT people, parallel to that the EU partnership negotiation was still on and the West would not give asylum to LGBT people reasoning that the protection of their rights are guaranteed in Armenia. Situation changed during the last 1-2 years when the authorities changed country’s foreign policy priorities. Homophobia became state- sponsored, the situation got changed and now LGBT people receive asylum much more easily than before. After the DIY pub was blown and after the attack on Diversity March in Yerevan a lot of LGBT people received asylum. If we are very honest about this asylum thing, some just manipulated with the problem, those LGBT people were in no way connected with those events however got the permission to live in another country and now they have left.


Anyway, we can say that homophobia is increasing the rate of migration, be it reasonable or not. If the authorities are really committed in decreasing the migration rate, they should take into account those facts, of course I am very skeptical if government is really committed to that. Just to mention that LGBT people not only go to West but Russia as well, where the situation is very close to ours, the difference only is that the society is not aware of the sexual orientation of those people.


To sum up, the government affiliated media, state officials and individuals using fake nationalistic slogans and being pseudo nationalists, from one side stimulate the migration, from the other side stimulate the crime rate. I am sure that this siltation cannot last for a long time and I do hope that in near future we will have a country prescribed to universal human rights and we will have a legal state.


Artur Minasyan