Nine Armenian LGBT activists were attacked by a group of 30 men, with two activists seriously injured. The nine assaulted are calling the act of aggression the worst attack against LGBTQ Armenians in memory.
Hayk Oprah Hakobyan, founder of the Rainbow Armenia Initiative, was having a drink with friends when someone showed up outside his house in the village of Shurnukh. The person claimed he only wanted to talk to Hayk and his friends. and when the activist refused, the stranger jumped over Hayk’s fence.
“We told the man there was nothing to talk about,” Elvira Meliksetyan, one of the victims, said. “He then broke into the house and began to swear at us.”
“He started to threaten us. We had to leave our house immediately because they were gathering villagers to lynch us,” Hayk said.
The activists had experienced consistent harassment from people in the village for months prior to the attack, and two of the nine were assaulted in the city of Goris earlier this year, according to Pink Armenia, a Yerevan-based NGO.
Hayk and his friends rushed inside to collect their things so that they could escape. When they exited the house, they found 30 angry villagers waiting for them, chanting “homosexuals can’t live here” before punching and kicking the activists.
“In the beginning, they were just shouting that homosexuals can’t live in this village, but it became violent very fast. We started running for our lives,” Hayk said. “They followed us and started to beat us up and throw rocks. We all got hurt, but two of my friends are seriously injured and had to go to the hospital immediately. We ran up to the highway where they couldn’t follow us anymore.”
The group made multiple attempts at calling the police.
“We had to wait for more than an hour for [the police] to show up,” Hayk said. “But we are hopeful that the attackers will be punished since we recognized a lot of them and we were also able to somehow film them.”
Hayk claims he saw Hakob Arshakyan, a former mayor of the village, among the attackers.
“I don’t know yet if I dare to go back to my village,” Hayk said. “So many people showed up and tried to get me out of there. But on the other hand, we shouldn’t just leave, because then they would win.”
Three days after the attack, there has been no statement from senior officials regarding the incident.
“We expected some kind of statement or condemnation from the government but there has been nothing so far,” Mamikon Hovsepyan, executive director of Pink Armenia, said. “The government is downplaying LGBT issues for the present in order to concentrate on Electoral Code reform and cracking down on corruption so they are unlikely to be particularly vocal on such issues for the time being.”
The Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society offered sympathy for the activists on their Facebook page, which included a picture of the one the victims.
“Our hearts go out to our friends at PINK Armenia who have been senselessly beaten and fallen victim to violence,” the organization wrote.
On August 4, the Goris Police Department issued a statement saying that an investigation to find the attackers are underway, and several suspects have already been detained.
Local authorities have proved sympathetic to the attackers. Meliksetyan posted a photo on Facebook of the mayor of Shurnukh “talking warmly with the main actor involved in the attacks on us.”
“Since the revolution, a lot of social movements are positive about the future in Armenia, but this is not the same for the LGBT community,” political scientist and LGBT activist Remy Bonny said.
“The anti-discrimination legislation which excludes LGBT people is still not off the table and nobody knows what’s going to happen with it. It is important that the EU and Western embassies put pressure on the Armenian government to include the LGBT community in this legislation. Because if they are not explicitly in the law, they will be outlawed,” Bonny said.