Armenia was rocked last week with the suicide of a young homosexual couple. On the evening of October 20th, the two young men jumped off the Davitashen Bridge in Yerevan, the capital, where both died.
Before jumping to their death together, the boys posted photos on their Instagram account with the caption: “Happy End. Decisions about sharing photos and our next steps were taken by both of us together.”
In one of the Instagram photos, the couple shows their wedding bands, indicating that they were married. In another, they applied face masks in what seems to be a happy moment for both.
The couple immediately faced harassment online. Some even went as far as to justify their death because of their sexual orientation.
'Happy end…we decided all our actions together' – they wrote in this last post.
Both of them very young.
Rest in peace angels 🙏 pic.twitter.com/dENfg4Y3I4
— 🎃sam martirosyan🕸️ (@sammartirosyan9) October 21, 2022
Gay couple’s suicide refocuses attention on homophobia
Homophobia remains widespread in Armenia, and members of the LGBTQ+ community in the country regularly face discrimination, harassment, and violence. Yet, seeking help from mental health services remains taboo in Armenian society.
Pink Armenia, a prominent LGBTQ+ rights group, said of the gay couple’s suicide, “We consider it unacceptable to justify the loss of human life. The young men still had many years of life ahead of them. Nevertheless, because of the intolerance they felt towards them, they decided to take an irreversibly tragic step.
LGBT people are very familiar with the feeling of being isolated and misunderstood by family members and society. This tragic case proves once again that LGBT people in Armenia are neither safe nor protected by the society or state.
“We call on the public to refrain from insults, humiliating expressions, distorting the details of the incident in the form of hateful messages and comments, and spreading hatred,” Pink Armenia added.
Tbilisi Pride, another queer rights organization in Georgia, tweeted a public message of support towards the young gay couple.
Homophobia, hate & violence have no place in any society! https://t.co/XtbNEoi3dD
— Tbilisi Pride (@TbilisiPride) October 21, 2022
The country’s poor track record on LGBTQ+ rights was most recently captured in an annual Rainbow Europe Map and Index. According to the index, Armenia was near the bottom of the list, ranking forty-seventh out of forty-nine countries on the list. In May 2017, a survey by the Pew Research Center in Eastern European countries showed that ninety-seven percent of Armenians believed that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.
Reflecting on the tragedy, Mika Artyan, author of Gay Armenia and Unzipped blogs, wrote on his blog, “It’s not a ‘good time’—we hear or say to ourselves. It is always a good time to speak up about human rights. Or else, that ‘good time’ will never come.”
Lack of laws against discrimination in Armenia
The LGBTQ+ community in Armenia faces legal and social challenges mainly because of the lack of laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation as well as the negative attitudes prevailing in Armenian society.
Even though homosexuality has been legal in Armenia since 2003, many keep their identity a secret out of fear of being socially outcast by their friends and families. Moreover, homosexuality continues to remain a taboo topic.
In a 2012 study, fifty-five percent of Armenians stated that they would cease their relationship with a friend or relative if they were to come out as gay. Furthermore, the same study found that seventy percent of Armenians find LGBTQ+ people to be “strange.” Consequently, as there is no legal protection for LGBTQ+ people, their human rights are often violated.
LGBTQ+ community in Armenia still facing challenges
Armenia signed the “joint statement on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity” in 2011 at the United Nations, condemning violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.
On July 3, 2017, the Ministry of Justice stated that same-sex marriages by gay couples performed abroad would be recognized. However, as of 2022, no such recognition has yet been officially documented.
Despite some minor efforts, the community still faces intense discrimination even when it comes to freedom of speech. A most notable example is that of transgender woman Lilit Martirosyan.
On April 5, 2019, Lilit Martirosyan, a transgender woman, took the floor at the National Assembly of Armenia. She gave a speech about the hopes for a better and more secure future for the LGBTQ+ community in Armenia.
It marked the first time in the history of Armenia that a transgender person had openly addressed the National Assembly. She described herself as “the embodiment of a tortured, raped, kidnapped, physically assaulted, burnt, murdered, robbed and unemployed Armenian transgender.”
Her bravery faced severe backlash, however, specifically from MP Naira Zohrabyan. The MP went as far as to quit the National Assembly in protest during the speech. MP Vartan Ghukasian also threatened to burn Martirosyan alive. To this day, according to the Human Rights Watch, LGBTQ+ activists still face threats, violence, and even public humiliation.
In August 2018, a crowd of about thirty men violently assaulted activists in Shurnoukh, a village in southern Armenia. The crowd shouted homophobic slurs and threats, demanding the activists leave the village. They chased members of the group, hitting, kicking, and throwing stones at them. At least six were injured, including one person who sustained a broken nose.