First symbolical Gay wedding in Armenia
SubjectFirst symbolical Gay wedding in Armenia
Your name (or the name of your organisation)Nikolay Alekseev, Human Rights LGBT Project GayRussia.ru
MessageFirst symbolical Gay wedding in Armenia
"There are absolutely no obstacles to forbid a gay marriage in Armenia (...) I believe that in 10-15 years gay marriages will be celebrated in Armenia" says Misha
While Russia celebrated last May 27th, the 13th anniversary of decriminalization of male homosexuality, the same, happenned in Armenia less than 3 years ago. Thanks to its entrance in the Council of Europe, the ex Soviet Republic had to amend its criminal code. The big fight for gay rights is only rising in this small country of 3 million inhabitants. With its tiny gay community, Armenia is not yet thinking of holding a gay pride festival in Yerevan. Homophobia is still high like in any emerging country. Although gay Armenian activists regularly take part to LGBT conferences in Europe, some have decided to go further. A few gays and lesbians Armenians living in France have created their own organization (AGLA) in which they try to promote tolerance towards LGBT in their home country. They have their web site. They also have their float every year at the Paris Gays Pride.
Misha and Harut, who both live in France where they became lovers, have decided to symbolically seal their love in their home country. Last week, they both returned to Echmiadzin's Cathedral, an equivalent to Vatican for Armenian Christians, and organized their own wedding ceremony.
Misha is part of this new wave of Eastern European activists who do not want anymore to maintain the "status quo" : "If during the last 30 years, the situation of GLBT people has improved in the Western world, because each year queers walked in the streets and stood up for their dignity. You cannot achieve any improvement just by sitting there and waiting for better time. Nobody will never give anything to us. There will be no gifts. We should fight for our rights".
Read below our interview with Misha.
GayRussia : How it was possible to make this ceremony in a church ?
In January 2006 I met Arnaud here in Paris. He came to our association's monthly gathering in the Gay Center. He is a French-Armenian. We liked each other and started dating. Two months later we decided to move to a new apartment and live together. I'm atheist and have no religion, though my family has Christian background. Arnaud is a believer and he always wanted that we celebrate our union in a church. I love him and I know how important it was for him to seal our commitment in a religious place. So I said that I'd agree to go to a church and exchange the rings, no matter if our marriage is approved by the priest or not. Arnaud somehow hoped that priests would accept our marriage, so he called the Armenian church in Paris and introduced himself under his Armenian name - Harout. He asked the priest if we can marry in the church. The cleric cursed and hang up on him. He was very upset. I said : damn the priest, we're going to make it our way. I suggested that we make a trip to Armenia and get married in Echmiadzin's Cathedral without any cleric's authorization or approval. For Arnaud this plan was very exciting and it was more than symbolic trip. Echmiadzin is the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is an equivalent of Vatican for Armenian Christians. So we bought tickets and went to Armenia. On June 19, we came to the Cathedral. I asked Arnaud if he accepts to be the man of my life for the best and the worst, until the death separates us. I knew the answer, but it was still a very nervous moment. We kissed each other after exchanging the rings that we had prepared for each other in secrecy. That's how I became a married man. It was a very memorable day.
GR : Did many people attended your ceremony ?
We didn't look for publicity trying to make this ceremony in a very confidential way. We were taking risks by going to Echmiadzin. I kind of a feared the religious fanatics who could agress us if they knew what we were doing there. So we have chosen Monday morning, so the Cathedral would be not crowded. I called some friends among local gays and lesbians to assist us and be our witnesses. I invited also my sister who lives in Yerevan and a couple of straight friends. We were seven. A lesbian friend was filming the ceremony with a video camera and my sister was taking the pictures. She was so touched by the event that she missed the moment when we exchanged rings and kissed each other. So we have no pics of our kiss, but we have it on the tape. Ouf!
GR : What was the reaction in your city ?
As I said above we didn't publicize the event in Yerevan. My family, my mom, sister and nephew still live there. My mom asked me to be very discreet and avoid any move that can put their lives in danger. We agreed to give an interview to an online weekly called ArmeniaNow.com
This was our only contact with a media outlet in Yerevan. We asked the reporter to publish his article after we leave the country.
GR : You both live in France and this ceremony was only symbolic. Did you want to provoke a reflexion in the Armenian society ?
Since December 1, 2001 the day our association was founded in Paris we strive to promote queer issues in the Armenian society. Our first action was to put pressure on the Armenian authorities so they would abolish the anti-gay article in the penal code. We have constantly protested against any homophobic move from the Armenian government or mass media. In October 2004, we organized a protest picketing in front of the Armenian Embassy in Paris when the country was caught by homophobic hysteria provoked by extreme right activists. We sent open letter to the president and PM of Armenia by demanding them to take legislative mesures which will punish hatred towards gays the same way racism and xenophobia are condemned by law in Armenia. There was no reply from the President neither from the PM. But we know that they had read our letter, because it was published in the newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak.
We realize that our action has limits. We are in Diaspora and not in Armenia. We do the pressure from outside and nothing happens inside the country. That's why we strongly boosted and favoured any move from local gays and lesbians to get organized. This year a group of local queer activists has created "Menk". It is the first organisation of its kind aimed at supporting gays and lesbians but also working in the area of AIDS prevention. We hope that this group will start growing because there is a huge need for it in Armenia. The reality is that the Armenian society remains extremely homophobic where the homosexuality is still considered a disease. Whenever the media outlet speaks about gays, it presents homosexuality as a depravation or immorality. This subject is always approched from a negative point of view. Until the country's political class and the mainstream intelligentsia view homosexuality as a threat there won't be any debate in this country. The few intellectuals who speak out in our support are gently silenced or ignored. For the time being nor the governement neither the Armenian society is open for a public debate on the queer issue. And our marriage will not provoke any reflexion, because nobody will let the debate take place.
GR : Did you get a coverage in the Armenian papers ?
Not in the papers, but on the website of ArmeniaNow.com - it is a bilingual Armenian/English weekly. They have interviewed us and published an article about our wedding. You may read the article here.
GR : Does Armenian law says that marriage is only between a man and a woman ?
The Armenian constitution doesn't precise if the civil marriage should be held between a woman and a man. So legally, there are absolutely no obstacles to forbid a gay marriage in Armenia. But who will dare to marry in Armenia ? I mean gays in Armenia are just starting to come out of a closet. Speaking of marriage is a little bit pre-mature. But I beleive that in 10-15 years gay marriages will be celebrated in Armenia without being considered as a phenomenon.
GR : In Russia, some says that organizing gay prides is a provocation to the society as well as any other form of fight that involve the medias. Do you consider your action as a provocation ?
Those who think that Gay Pride is a provocation, may be before making such quick and stupid statements they should learn the history of the gay movement. The first Gay Pride march took place in New York in the end of 60s. There were gay riots due to police harassement. In 1970, a year after the riots, gays and lesbians organised a March commemorating those events. The New York has launched the gay movement in the West. Today, the LGBT people around the world organise a Gay Pride march eahc year. It is a pacific way for us to express our anger and claim our civil rights. If during the last 30 years, the situation of GLBT people has improved in the Western world, because each year queers walked in the streets and stood up for their dignity. You cannot achieve any improvement just by sitting there and waiting for better time.
Nobody will never give anything to us. There will be no gifts. We should fight for our rights. Here in France, the gay movement has achieved a relative improvement, but the gay couples are still considered as a second-zone citizens. The gays can still be beaten and insulted in Paris. The only thing that has changed in France is that now the State (along with the public opinion) condemns the violence towards gays, but it is not yet ready to accept gays as equal citizens. I'd say there is no place on earth where gays do not have to fight for their rights. Would it be in Moscow, in New York, in Paris, in Yerevan, in Tokyo or in Baghdad, it is difficult to be gay. We are still considered as outcasts. Everywhere we endure the violence. The only difference is in the ways the violence is expressed towards us. In Russia and in Armenia the anti-gay violence is brutal, because the governement, intelligentsia and the media are all together homophobic, in France, in the US, in the West, in general, the violence is more delicate and sophisticated, but it exists.
When it comes to our marriage being a provocation. I don't care anymore what people think about us. I don't care if the church or the public opinion in Armenia approve our marriage. What counts for me is that we decided to celebrate our love in a sympbolic way, in a symbolic place. And we did it. We did it for us, first of all. There is no possibility for us to marry in a religious or in a civil way. So when you have no possibility, you improvise. And the advantage of improvising is that you do not need any authorisation. Any gay couple can enter the church, synagoge or mosque and celebrate its union the way it considers to be acceptable for them. Any way, when you live in a society where the straight majority rules, whatever you do as a gay person it will be considered as a provocation or subversion. So if being free in this world means to be subversive, than let us be provocative.
GR : Do you think it can be possible to hold a gay pride in Armenia ?
In the year 2020 may be (laugh). I honestly do not think that Gay Pride march should take place everywhere. Each gay movement has to be specific to the society in which it brews. It is up to the local gays to decide. If the gays and lesbians in Armenia will need to do a march, I'm sure they will have all our support. If they don't, we won't push them. All I know for the time being is that the Armenian gays and lesbians need to get organized. When there will be many gay organisations, I'm sure the movement will find its own way of fighting. For the time being, the gays in Armenia lack courage and solidarity.
GR : How big is estimated the Armenian gay and lesbian community ?
I think it is a desperate affair to give any figures in this matter. I never beleived in gay statistics. Some people in the Western world beleive that 10% of the human population is gay. I suspect it to be introduced by some smart ass marketeers willing to sell products and services to gay clientele. If we follow this ridiculous assumption than there should be 300.000 gays in Armenia. For me, it is just a nonsense. I think that sexuality is a very incertain and fluide matter and we will never have even the aproximatively fair statistics about it. How about they gays who ignore that they are gay ? And what about those gays who refuse to admit that they are fags ? Should we count them or not ?
GR : What is the legal status of homosexuality in Armenia ?
Armenia was part of the USSR up until 1991. In 1936, when Armenia became the Armenian SSR, it has copied the Stalin-era soviet penal code. So, according to the article 116 of the old penal code the homosexual relations between men were punishable up to 5 years of imprisonement. After the break-down of the Soviet Union, almost all ex-Soviet republics have abolished the anti-gay law in their new penal code. This was not the case in Armenia. When Armenia decided to join the Council of Europe in 2001, one of its accession conditions was the abolition of the article 116. Officially, the anti-gay law has disappeared in August 2003. As you see, the gay liberation movement started in this country only 3 years ago. Still a long way to go.
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