By Gayane Abrahamyan
Constant clashes during the recent two months between the police and gay prostitutes (whose night meeting point is Children’s Park near the Yerevan Municipality) resulted in hot discussions over gays in Armenia, where homosexuality is hardly tolerated and still considered a moral disease.
During the recent few months press reports have circulated that Yerevan Mayor Gagik Beglaryan is out to “clean” the park from its reputation as a night-time cruising point for gay prostitution.
City Hall refused commenting on the issue, saying that “the municipality has much more important problems than gays to solve.”
Yerevan residents living near the park say that nighttime fights in the park are common. They say that transvestites and presumed gay men are often attacked and beaten.
“They disturb us, too – we cannot simply pass by that section at late hours. Nevertheless, they are people, and it is unacceptable to deal with them like that,” says Armen Saribekyan, 48, resident of Zakyan Street, bordering the park.
In 2009, Armenia joined the UN Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity, taking the responsibility of defending the rights of sexual minorities. However, as human rights activists say, homosexuals face serious physical and psychological pressure, and encounter employment discrimination.
Even though many say this is a problem concerning prostitution, human rights defenders insist that the problem is, in fact, directed against homosexuals.
“This is evident homophobia. You would never see prostitutes being beaten at Circus [one of the main gathering spots for prostitutes in Yerevan]. Of course, it is not against prostitutes, but rather against homosexuals,” says Mikael Danielyan, Head of Helsinki Association in Armenia.
Mamikon Hovsepyan, Head of Public Information and Need of Knowledge NGO (PINK Armenia), founded in 2007 (dealing with Armenia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) says that many become prostitutes because they are not able to find a job, “they simply have no other means of earning their living.”
Petros (the name is changed) was 20 years old, when he told his mother that he was a homosexual; and he lost his mother and family that very day.
“I knew that my parents would receive that news with great difficulty, but I did not expect that my mother would start hating me. My mom prefers seeing me dead, but she does not understand that I am not guilty,” says Petros, who is 25 years old now. He left home to avoid his father’s wrath.
“It is very difficult to get a job here; as soon as they [employers] think that you are gay, they fire you to save their reputation from disgrace,” says Petros, explaining the reason he became a prostitute.
“Every time you, do not know what will happen to you. There were even cases when people entered the park with a group and beat everybody severely right and left. If you are lucky enough, you may flee, but if not - you would be better dead,” Petros says.
It is rare in Armenia that homosexuals report abuse to police, because they are subjected to even more severe violence and pressure there.
“The attitude is really very cruel, it is eventually necessary to understand that people are born with a sexual preference, and it is necessary to be more tolerant,” says Danielyan.
According to research by the Republican HIV/AIDS Prevention Center of Armenia, there are about 12,000 gays in Armenia; however, the number is believed to be far less than reality.
Armen (the name is changed), 21 years old, realized his homosexuality, when he was a schoolchild.
“I was suffering, I did not understand myself, I felt that I was interested in boys more than in girls, but I could not understand what it was,” says the Yerevan State University student of five languages.
Through internet research, Armen found information and support, but nothing that tempered the conflict between his natural feelings and the conflict of feeling that he was abnormal.
“My mother may be the greatest homophobe in the world. Every time she saw [homosexuals] on TV, she said that it was necessary to burn them, to kill and hang them, etc.” Nonetheless, Armen dared to confess to his mother. “She cried, became furious, now we do not talk about it, but I feel that she has kind of put up with it,” Armen says.
Davit Gevorgyan, Head of the Center of Applied Psychology of Yerevan State University, who deals with homosexual patients, says that their primary problem is to be accepted by their relatives.
“Otherwise, homosexuals are subject to social isolation, which may result in different types of depression, and in some cases, even suicide,” says psychotherapist Gevorgyan.
Homosexuals, however, say that there is little progress. Under the pressure of NGOs, the Children’s Park has been lightened recently; some police officers are patrolling there every day, preventing attacks of different groups against homosexuals.
“Now when such group attacks are registered, the police interfere, defending us. Of course they [attackers] do not eventually face a punishment, but, at least, they understand that we are also people and we also have rights,” Petros says.