YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Official Yerevan has dismissed international concerns about the state of LGBT rights in Armenia, saying that the United Nations and the European Union should show “more respect” for the Armenian society.
The EU and the UN voiced those concerns on Tuesday in response to a furious backlash against an unprecedented speech delivered by a transgender activist in the Armenian parliament on April 5. The activist, Lilit Martirosyan, complained about widespread hostility and discrimination against sexual minorities in the socially conservative country during parliamentary hearings on human rights.
Martirosyan’s appearance on the parliament floor was denounced by both pro-government and opposition parliamentarians, who accused each other of making it possible. It also sparked angry street protests by nationalist groups championing “traditional Armenian values.” Some of their members openly advocated violent actions the Armenian LGBT community.
In a joint statement, the EU Delegation in Armenia and the Yerevan-based embassies of EU member states condemned “hate speech, including death threats directed at Ms. Lilit Martirosyan, her colleagues and the LGBTI community as a whole.” They urged Armenian law-enforcement authorities to “guarantee the physical safety” of sexual minorities.
The UN office in Yerevan issued a similar statement deploring “the recent rise in hate speech and threats of violence against human rights and LGBTI activists.”
Reacting to those statements, the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalian, insisted that Yerevan is “fully” committed to protecting human rights and “will not tolerate any illegal actions.” She stressed at the same time that “human rights are, as a rule, effectively protected if they become part of a social consensus and are perceived as universal social and moral values.”
“Therefore, 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,” Naghdalyan said in written comments.
“We would like to remind that the principle of public morality is part of international commitments on human rights and cannot be ignored,” she added.
Are death threats and hate speech against fellow Armenian citizens also part of the principle of public morality? So can people and politicians publicly call to burn any citizen or group in Armenia? If society is homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim, instead of defending the racist segments of society, you should stand on the side of human rights and defend the rights of all citizens. Can foreigners who have a black skin color, or members of LGBT, or any other group that does not correspond to what the majority finds ‘normal’, come to visit Armenia and feel safe and protected by law? Can investors who might have some features or lifestyles that do not correspond to your ‘traditional’ ‘values’ come and make an investment in Armenia? This is really not about LGBT or traditional against non-traditional. This is about equality, equal rights for everyone. A nation that has experienced a genocide based on hate and racism, for something that they could not change, should be more sensitive towards these issues and more courageous in defending basic human rights. We don’t have time for this, we need to think about the economy, how to make sure our incomes rise, how to make sure we get everyone to feel socially and economically secure.