Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A gay-friendly bar in Armenia attacked by "fascist nationalists"

An early morning arson attack on the popular Yerevan-based bar, DIY last week has led to an outpouring of support from concerned citizens, activists and customers who frequented the relatively new establishment, but also anxiously renewed fears in the country’s LGBTQ population, who have kept a relatively low profile and faced discrimination for years.

DIY, which bills itself as a bar for alternative thinkers, was frequented by many in Armenia’s gay community, a place considered a safe haven, free of judgment or discrimination. The violent act, which caused around $4,000 of damage according to well-informed sources, is being said to have been motivated by nationalistic and fascist ideology – the bar’s gay-friendly atmosphere as well as owner Tsomak Oganesova’s attendance at Istanbul’s Gay Pride Parade in neighboring Turkey have been cited as two key factors that have categorized the attack as a hate crime.

Two Iranian-Armenian men were detained in relation to the attack and allegedly confessed to their crime. Though it has not been confirmed, sources say the men are tied to a larger fascist organization in the country. At a press conference today, it was revealed that Artsvik Minasyan, a Dashnak member of parliament, paid the 1 million dram ($2535) bail to release one of the detained men free, a headline that local media have started to run wild with. The other, according to Oganesova, was released on signature that he will not leave the country.

Her sentiments and the rise of neo-nazi nationalist groups in Europe as well as the former Soviet Union come at a time when some in the country are feeling fearful, many for the first time.

Nationalistic sentiments are common in the South Caucasus country, which is almost mono-ethnic and still reeling from the psychological effects of genocide and war. Its isolation, where borders with both Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed and distrust of much of what falls outside the realm of the status quo have been discussed as underlying reasons as to the rise of hate groups whose violent actions have left many fearful.

“Fascism has reached our door and is now saying I’m here,” Aslikyan said in Armenian. She regretfully emphasized that the stifling of freedom of expression in the country is growing, while Hakobyan pointed out that the groups, mostly consisting of young men in their late teens and early 20s define their “Armenian-ness” by spreading hate towards groups that perceive as threats to national interest. These conditions, he continued, are a regression for the country, whose time on the world map could be in danger if it continues down this path.


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