Lilit Martirosyan, President of the Right Side NGO, is the first ever transgender woman to hold a speech in the Armenian Parliament and used the opportunity to speak up about the many problems faced by the trans community. 283 cases of hate crimes have been registered by her organization alone.
“I ask you to see me as collective figure… I encompass in myself tortured, raped, kidnapped, subjected to physical violence, burned, immolated, knifed, subjected to murder attempt, killed, emigrated, robbed, subjected to stigma and discrimination… unemployed, poor and morally abandoned Armenian transgender’s image”.
Attacked after speech
“We are ready to support you in building democracy in our homeland”, Martirosyan concluded.
Her speech was instantly condemned by Naira Zohrabyan, Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs, claiming she had no right to speak about this subject at the present agenda. After the debate followed a spurge of attacks and threats against Right Side NGO as well as persons from the transgender community. People have been outed online with personal addresses being disclosed, verbally attacked and some have even received death threats.
I ask you to see me as collective figure… I encompass in myself tortured, raped, kidnapped, subjected to physical violence, burned, immolated, knifed, subjected to murder attempt, killed, emigrated, robbed, subjected to stigma and discrimination…
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is concerned about the recent developments and calls upon the government to react.
“Armenian authorities should promptly react against the transphobic hate speech that has surfaced this last week, both inside and outside of the Armenian Parliament”, says Mina Skouen Senior Adviser for LGBTI issues in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Attention from the EU
In a statement, the NHCs partner organization New Generation Humanitarian NGO and several others ask the president and other members of the national assembly to publicly condemn the discriminating speech of Naira Zohrabyan and reassess her as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs. They also ask the Ethics Committee to inspect the case.
Armenian authorities should promptly react against the transphobic hate speech that has surfaced this last week, both inside and outside of the Armenian parliament
The situation has also gained the EU’s attention. The Delegation of the European Union and EU Member States Embassies Resident in Armenia released a statement on April 9 expressing their concerns for the recent attacks and hateful speech on the transgender community, considering Martirosyan’s speech.
“The EU calls on all in Armenia who promote and believe in the universality of human rights to condemn hate speech and on law enforcement agencies to take urgent steps to guarantee the physical safety of Armenian citizens and to investigate allegations against those suspected of perpetrating hate crimes”, the statement concludes.
The Armenian ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) has responded to the critics by saying that Armenia “fully adheres to its commitments to protect and promote human rights.” The MFA further urges foreign organisations not to intervene.
“In this context, our international partners should demonstrate more respect and sensitivity towards the Armenian society and refrain from undue engagement in the public debate, even if they disagree with its tonality”, the spokesperson says.
Not a revolution for everyone
Despite the democratic reforms that followed the Velvet revolution in 2018, and free and fair parliamentary elections in December, the situation for LGBTI persons in Armenia remains among the worst in Europe.
“The new political leadership that came after the Velvet revolution has not yet demonstrated will or ability to protect the LGBTI community, and negligence to do so incites more hate, more attacks and weakens the legitimacy of the Armenian institutions”, Skouen says.
On the contrary they are directly participating in hate speech and provoking negative attention.
“In the election campaign last year, being an LGBTI activist was used as a derogatory comment thrown at other candidates to taint them”, Skouen explains.
Report: Police also responsible for attacks
15 cases of violence against transgender persons have been documented in a 2018 report developed by The New Generation Humanitarian NGO with support from The Norwegian Helsinki Committee. In several of the cases the perpetrators are policemen.
“Independent reports documenting abuse is crucial, because the police are not investigating the cases properly nor prosecuting the responsible persons”, says Skouen and continues:
“Thanks to the civil society in Armenia there is still available and well-documented information that allows independent actors to hold Armenia accountable to their international human rights obligations.”
The report’s conclusion states that the hate and discrimination towards LGBT community members increased in 2018. Several have moved out of Armenia in the search for safer places. Some have also endured interrogations without proper reasons or charge, while others have been criminally charged on unfounded terms.
“In 2018 LGBT people’s rights have also been violated at state level through hate speech and propaganda. Many have concealed their sexual orientation and have been scared to apply to law enforcement agencies as they have been subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane treatment thereby numerous times”.