Hate culture prevails one year after violent attacks

One year after the bombing of the DIY pub and violent counter demonstrators attacked a Diversity March in Yerevan, Armenia still suffers from widespread intolerance and discrimination of minorities. The legislation does not include hate crime with intent towards gender and sexual minorities, and the government fails to protect the rights of these citizens. Media is more often used as a tool to build up under prejudice and intolerance, and homophobic statements are frequently used by stakeholders to gain popularity.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is concerned with the development in Armenia, and supports local civil society activists in their struggle for tolerance and respect of all groups in the country, says Secretary General of the NHC Bjørn Engesland.

Women, LGBT-persons, ethnic and religious minorities are under increased pressure in the homogenic society. Any alternative behaviour is subject to public scrutiny from the neighbours to the authorities and might be seen as a threat to the national ideal of a masculine head of the family, ready to defend his motherland from the many enemies around.

Several state officials were justifying the hateful crime after the bombing of the DIY pub, including the spokesperson of the ruling Republican Party. Later the same month, a discreet march devoted to the UN World Day of Cultural Diversity was attacked by a large group of violent thugs, supported even by priests in their traditional black cloaks. The thugs were additionally provoked by the way the event was portrayed in the media as a gay parade. The police were initially protecting the participants of the march, but later advised the attackers of where they had taken refuge.

At a round table one year after the violent events, several concerned members of Armenian civil society met at a round table supported by Human Rights House Yerevan to commemorate what happened and look forward. All of the participants expressed their grave concern about the rise of hate speech against sexual minorities in the Armenian society, among them lawyer Lusine Ghazaryan who presented the legal process of the case, emphasizing that what happened was a hate crime because the act was aimed at destroying not only property, but to intimidate and threaten the owner of the pub as well as the safety of her supporters. “The criminals were charged under Article 185 of the criminal code, which does not include hate crimes,” said Lusine. She also underlined that this case which is now sent on to the European Court of Human Rights might have great strategic importance. There is a possibility it can bring about significant positive changes in the Armenian legislation – in particular to include intent.

Mamikon Hovsepyan of PINK Armenia spoke about institutionalized homophobia and how this also comes to play in times of elections. Political parties will typically draw attention to LGBT people and use homophobia as a means to gather an electorate since a majority of the population is homophobic. “They target specific people and last year after the parliamentary elections the target was Tsomak, [the owner of the DIY pub]”, said Mamikon.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee joins the local activists in the aim to remove homophobia and intolerance in Armenia, and urge the Armenian authorities to

– Include civil society activists in the process to develop effective anti-discrimination legislation that also addresses intent and hate-crimes against all minority groups;

– Widely discourage homophobic and intolerant statements by public figures and derogatory terminology in the media;

– Prosecute offenders of hate crime and protect representatives of minority groups and their defenders.

On 14-15 May, international experts and stakeholders will gather in Oslo for a two-day conference on right-wing extremism and hate crime directed towards minorities in Europe and beyond. The conference is arranged by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the NHC urge everybody who have an interest in the theme to watch the conference live via web here

Or Or get updates from the conference on Twitter using the hashtag #REHC2013

Photo: Anahit Hayrapetyan