Following the 8 May firebombing of D.I.Y., a gay-friendly bar in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, events have taken an unexpected turn with the release of the suspected arsonists, Iranian-Armenian brothers Hampig and Mgrdich (Arame) Khapazyan. Believed part of a local Neo-Nazi group and caught on camera, one was released on bail of 1 million Armenian Drams (less than $2,600) and the other on guarantee that he will not leave the country.
Of concern to some observers, however, was that bail was posted by Artsvik Minasyan and Hrayr Karapetyan, two MPs from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D). Moreover, fuelling worries about the rise of nationalism in the country, Minasyan was quoted by the local media as saying that the two brothers were “normal people,” had acted “in the right way in the context of societal & national ideology,” and that one of the bar owners, Tsomak Oganesova, “destroys Armenian society.”
@unzippedblog: One of the arsonists in #neonazi attack towards DIY bar was bailed out by… Dashnak MPs… #Yerevan #Armenia #hatecrime
@unzippedblog: Re bailing out #neonazi attacker on DIY bar: #Armenia Dashnak party must explain what's going on or else I conclude they support terrorism
@Lara_Aha: Tashnak MP Ardzvik Minasyan who just bailed out the 2 suspects in #hate crime and said”people like tsomak(gay) destroying #Armenia” #armLGBT
@KevorkO: A ‘national ideology’ that deems thuggery and terrorism more ‘normal’ than homosexuality is nothing less than degenerate. #Armenia #DIY
Unzipped: Gay Armenia was shocked:
Basically, Armenian MP of ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Artsvik Minasyan supports and encourages terrorism in Armenia. With such statement, he acted as a pure criminal. ARF Dashnaktsutyun party must explain what's going on or else I'll conclude they support terrorism too.
If ARF Dashnaktsutyun won't make clear statements distancing itself from its own MP, then truly this is a death of ARF Dashnaktsutyun as a political party and its transformation into a neo-nazi group that supports and encourages terrorism in Armenia. Needless to say, utterly homophobic too.
If ARF-affiliated groups and party members worldwide care about the reputation of their party, and – more importantly – the future of Armenia, they should speak up against homophobia. They should demand that ARF makes statement clearly disassociated from their MP’s statement. They should demand that disgraced MP Artsvik Minasyan resign.
The blog also notes that a second attack occurred on 15 May and quotes one of its Facebook contacts.
Hate crime, no public condemnation by authorities, more encouragement by an MP and now repetition of hate crime, do you see the cycle?
Le Retour in 3 Parts is also concerned.
For the first time since moving to Armenia, I am afraid. Queer women are in the spotlight — an unfamiliar and not at all good place to be in. We perhaps have become used to being invisible here: we can hold hands in public and generally be more affectionate than men without experiencing stares and suspicious glances from passers-by. But now more than ever, it seems, we elicit the same contempt that has traditionally been reserved for gay men.
And, I hate myself for thinking this, but at times like these I can’t help but wonder why some of the more outspoken LGBT activists and queer allies had to raise their voices, draw attention to themselves/ourselves, wishing now that they lay low and not provoke other possible acts of violence. And I know I’m not the only one thinking this. Because now we’re in the spotlight and the wayward glances I get every day any way have taken on a whole new meaning.
Ianyan updates its readers, examining motives:
DIY, which bills itself as a bar for alternative thinkers, was frequented by many in Armenia’s gay community, a place considered a safe haven, free of judgment or discrimination. The violent act, which caused around $4,000 of damage according to well-informed sources, is being said to have been motivated by nationalistic and fascist ideology – the bar’s gay-friendly atmosphere as well as owner Tsomak Oganesova’s attendance at Istanbul’s Gay Pride Parade in neighboring Turkey have been cited as two key factors that have categorized the attack as a hate crime.
Nationalistic sentiments are common in the South Caucasus country, which is almost mono-ethnic and still reeling from the psychological effects of genocide and war. Its isolation, where borders with both Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed and distrust of much of what falls outside the realm of the status quo have been discussed as underlying reasons as to the rise of hate groups whose violent actions have left many fearful.
Following the attack on D.I.Y. as well as on a local activist engaged in peace building initiatives in the region, others are disturbed by recent events as well. Some NGOs, for example, have released a statement [en, ar].
Meanwhile, in response to the firebombing, online civil society news site Civil.Net posts an open discussion on nationalism, xenophobia and human rights violations in Armenia. In Armenian with English subtitles, Ianyan summarized and quoted parts:
Fascism has reached our door and is now saying I’m here,” [Lala] Aslikyan said in Armenian. She regretfully emphasized that the stifling of freedom of expression in the country is growing, while [Karen] Hakobyan pointed out that the groups, mostly consisting of young men in their late teens and early 20s define their “Armenian-ness” by spreading hate towards groups that perceive as threats to national interest. […].