By now, many readers are aware of this week’s firebombing of DIY, a Yerevan bar frequented by bohemians and LGBT. This heinous act of vandalism, accompanied by the painting of swastikas on the walls of the premises, leave no doubt that the level of intolerance towards minorities remains very high in Armenia today. To add insult to injury, the perpetrators–caught on video–have openly admitted to, even defended, their actions, citing gay-lesbian behavior as a threat to the cultural fabric of Armenian nationhood.
This story, shameful as it is, is not uncommon. In many societies–especially “transitional” ones, where social cohesion is very fluid and tenuous–conservative values often mutate into fascism, emphasizing conformity and “purity” as a way of staving off fear of the messy, hybrid realities found all around us. Think of the skinheads in post-unification Germany or the radical nationalists in Russia.
But what is uncommon–and disturbingly so–is this act’s connection to the ARF, a social-democratic party that upholds human rights as a fundamental tenet of its platform and ideology. For not only are the perpetrators connected to the party, but–perhaps more ominously–the individuals who bailed them out, Artsvik Minasyan and Hrayr Karapetyan, are high-profile members of the party leadership in Armenia (both men are MPs, with Karapetyan having served as governor of Aragatsotn province and Minasyan having run as the ARF candidate for the mayor of Yerevan). By associating themselves with this act, these men have condoned the prevailing homophobia that afflicts Armenia today, becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Even worse, their act of bail did not happen quietly; rather, in an effort to justify himself, Minasyan tried to blame the victim in criticizing the owner of the club: “I consider [Oganesova's] types—I don’t want to sound offensive—destructive to Armenian society.”
While Karapetyan may not possess progressive credentials, Minasyan has long been considered one of the more progressive members of the ARF in Armenia. He has done himself and his party a huge disservice and has cast doubt upon the ARF’s credibility as a champion of freedom and civil rights. It would be a cruel irony if a party that prides itself on its membership in the Socialist International, and that has spoken out for dissidents of all kinds–including its own ranks who dared to speak truth to power during the harsh reign of Levon Ter-Petrosyan in the 1990′s–now found itself shutting the door on other minorities, other dissidents, simply because they fall outside the boundaries of what some consider to be proper.
I am confident that the ARF leadership in Armenia will recognize that both acts–the initial bombing and the subsequent bail/justification–are both abhorrent and must be condemned. For unless it distances itself from these acts, the ARF will lose its moral credibility as a force-seeking change on the path of social justice in Armenia. Surely, the party leadership will recognize this, and act accordingly. Armenia’s justice authorities must also act swiftly and decisively, else the Armenian constitution’s guarantee of equal rights proves to be no more than empty words.
Dikran Kaligian is a member of the ARF Eastern U.S. Central Committee and chair of the Armenians and Progressive Politics conference.