A homophobic attack in a small village in southern Armenia has generated a public discussion about human rights in Armenia and a challenge to the new prime minister.
Last week, images of a bloodied face of a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activist spread widely in Armenia – a victim of a mob attack in Shurnoukh village, where he and several others were guests at the home of fellow LGBT activist, Hayk Hakobyan.
According to Hakobyan, on August 3 at around 8 pm, a man from Goris city tried to force his way into Hakobyan’s house, eventually jumping the fence and arguing with Hakobyan’s nine guests, ordering them to leave.
A crowd of about 15 people were with the man, and it eventually swelled to about 30. They shouted homophobic slurs and threats, demanding that Hakobyan and his guests leave the village. Hakobyan and his friends fled the house and the crowd ran after them, hitting, kicking, throwing stones, and shouting “get rid of those gays” and “catch them and beat them up.”
A victim called the police, who arrived 90 minutes later, possibly due in part to the village’s remote location. Police took the victims’ statements and secured forensic exams. Six of Hakobyan’s friends were injured, one with bruises on the head and another with a broken nose. Police stated that they questioned several of the attackers, but they have yet to charge or arrest anyone.
Last April, Hakobyan was the victim of a homophobic assault in Goris. He reported it, but the perpetrators were never prosecuted. Hakobyan said one of the assailants was also among his recent attackers.
For years, the Armenian government has failed to effectively investigate anti-LGBT violence. The criminal code does not recognize anti- LGBT hate as an aggravating criminal circumstance, and a government bill on equality does not include sexual orientation and gender identity as a ground for protection from discrimination.
Homophobic comments in the Armenian media – including by public figures – colored the public debate on the attack. It’s hard to avoid the impression that some officials are using Armenia’s pervasive homophobia to mobilize the public against new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who embraces human rights including LGBT rights.
It won’t be easy for Pashinyan to stand by his principles, but that’s exactly what he should do. Indulging hate in the short-term while hoping for better times in the long-term has never succeeded.