The Perils of Bigotry

Vartan Matiossian

More than two dozen prominent Armenians in the Diaspora (essentially from the United States and Canada) have signed a statement supporting equality and justice for all in Armenia, reported "The Armenian Weekly" on November 1, 2013. Among the signatories are poet Diana Der Hovanessian, filmmaker Atom Egoyan, actor and producer Arsinée Khanjian, musician Serge Tankian, and photographer Scout Tufankjian. This array of Armenian artists, intellectuals and professionals felt moved to release this statement in the light of anti-gay legislation that was recently proposed, and later withdrawn, in Yerevan.

Below is the statement and the list of signatories.
“In response to repots of draft ‘anti-propaganda’ legislation in Armenia, modeled on Russia’s recently passed and widely condemned bill, we, the undersigned members of the global Armenian community, say such attempts to codify anti-gay prejudice into law are contrary to our values. We believe in dignity, equality and the right to self-expression for all people regardless of religion, sexual orientation, gender, or race.”
Signed: Nancy Agabian; Mika Artyan; Arlene Avakian; Peter Balakian; Anthony Barsamian; David Barsamian; Eve Beglarian; Chris Bohjalian; Melissa Boyajian; Diana Der Hovanessian; Atom Egoyan; Dahlia Elsayed; Houry Geudelekian; Veken Gueyikian; Nonny Hogrogian; Aris Janigian; Nina Katchadourian; Nishan Kazazian; Arsinee Khanjian; David Kherdian; Nancy Kricorian; Micheline Aharonian Marcom; Neery Melkonian; Arthur Nersesian; Joan Aghajanian Quinn; Aram Saroyan; Serj Tankian; Scout Tufankjian; Hrag Vartanian.
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So far the news. Now it is interesting to quote some of the online comments to this report. As of November 8 in the evening, they amounted to twenty and, most interestingly, some of them seemed to come from the Republic of Armenia. Here are the most relevant ones:
1) Aram Gharibian: "Inversely, these “prominent Armenians in the Diaspora” (aka: agents) should be ignored and shunned publicly.
They are anti-Christian, anti-Family and anti-Armenian. Their advice taken will crumble the family and ultimately the nation.
They should keep their advice and opinions in the west, where they belong.
If they’re unhappy, they’re welcomed to change their names, adopt their host country’s identity and culture and embrace their beliefs privately in their own families, whatever “family” they have—otherwise, they have no right to stick their noses in Armenia’s affairs.
The Armenian church and government also needs to show strength and leadership or they will allow infiltrators to further destroy the nation. Also, the Armenian Christian marriage and family needs to be reinforced and ready to stand as it has much to lose with these western ideals.
God help Armenia."
2) Movses Movsesian: "The Armenian government must NOT recognize an entity of gay(queer)people.This movement would be unChristian and ridicules our Holy Bible.As in other countries this will lead to and promote marriages of same sex couples. If gays want to co-habitate and/or perform their unorthodox behaviors they can do so in private."
4) Aram Gharibian: "Michael,
At hand is an issue that must be addressed autonomously by the Armenian people within Armenia– they know what is in their best interest. This is not an issue for prominent Armenians acting as agents of destructions for NGO’s with ulterior motives.
You diaspora “Armenians” have become corrupted by the west and you have corrupted yourselves with the wickedness available to you. What a shame that the most famously known “part Armenian” in your country has gained recognition from a sex tape.
It has become politically expedient for you to divide and control the people in the west by breaking down your marriages and families. But stay away from our marriages, families and children in Armenia. We’ve suffered enough under the Ottomans and communism and don’t need it from diaspora “Armenians” who fled when times got tough only to come back and meddle in our affairs. You are all odars to us now. The irony is that you diaspora “Armenians’ beat the ceremonious genocide recognition drums each year while you yourselves actively seek to commit a self-inflicted genocide on your fellow Armenians in Armenia. The enemy is within our own culture, not the Turk or Azeri, and you are that enemy.
So is your wish to turn the whole country homosexual? If so, prepare to see the country disintegrate to the point that the Turks and Azeri’s push through in only a few generations—what you encourage is a threat to Armenia’s national security. Rest assured, we Armenians are steadfast and won’t let that happen.
You’ve also failed to show any shame and restraint in how you openly push your lifestyles on children. In crafty speech, we’re continuously taught how we’re bad when we object to you—no, it is your agenda that is a threat to our lives and is bad.
Feminism, idolatry, wickedness and godlessness have infiltrated you diaspora “Armenians” and your clergy are both weak and corrupted—so it is no wonder why you diaspora Armenians are no different than the odars.
If you want to live in sin, live it in your society but don’t tell us that we have no right to reject it when you openly push it upon us."
11) Panos: "These signers are not family people nor do they comprehend what has kept the Armenian Family together for generations. Just because they are “Prominent Diasporans” does not mean they have the right to preach anti-Armenian sentiments."
13) Ararat: "What’s next, legalizing same sex marriages? There is no question all people must be considered equal in the eyes of the law but NEVER at the expense of our traditional values. Let’s keep certain western values that are detrimental to our culture away and out of our culture for good."
18) Harutik: "Diaspora “representatives” in the US are doing their best to alienate their community from Armenia. Do these “democratically” driven people realize that a vast majority of Armenians in Armenia want absolutely nothing to do with their “western values”? Where is the democracy in that? Do Armenians have the right to choose to live in a nation that does not promote homosexuality and multiculturalism? I visit Armenia every year. With each passing year I feel more and more ashamed to be an Armenian-American…"

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I am not going to discuss in detail either the declaration or these online comments, which are basically (and sadly) the result of two decades of siege mentality, plus an incredible anti-Western hysteria that sees an anti-Armenian agent behind any tree... in the person of fellow Armenians (even seen by people who declare themselves to be "ashamed to be an Armenian-American"...)
Only some highlights, in no particular order:
1) The people who signed the declaration, with reason or without it, are "agents." (On the payroll of what secret or not secret service?)
2) Most of them have families, but they're "anti-family." (Can you have a family and be anti-family? And is it necessary to have a family to be pro-family?)
3) If someone speaks about issues of human rights (respects for the rights of people, whether we like their sexual orientation or not), he or she "preaches anti-Armenian sentiments." (Are we Armenian human beings or not?)
4) Armenians of the Diaspora have no right to stick their noses in Armenia's affairs. (They're just good to foot bills for charity affairs?)
5) Human rights are "western ideals"  (Do human beings have rights in the eastern side of the world?)
6) Homosexuals are allowed to have a life "in private" (If they want to have any right as human beings (aka "civil rights"), that's "public" and thus shunned.)
7) "Diaspora 'Armenians' ... fled when times got tough." (Now the genocide is called "tough times," and Diaspora Armenians are... quote unquote)
8) The clergy of the Diaspora is weak and corrupt. (There is a saying in Spanish: "El muerto se rie del degollado" [The dead laughs at the beheaded].) 
9) "Diaspora Armenians are all odars [foreigners] . . . who actively seek to commit a self-inflicted genocide on your fellow Armenians in Armenia. The enemy is within our own culture, not the Turk or Azeri, and you are that enemy." NO COMMENTS
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As someone who has known Armenia before setting foot there for the first time and as someone who has been in close touch with the country over the past 24 years, including 11 visits (the last one in October 2013), I know that narrow-mindedness and bigotry have their share over there, but I also know that open-mindedness and fairness, as well as a welcoming look at the Diaspora are much more common. Let's hope that the latter will continue to be predominant, and that new times will bring fresh and brighter minds to the forefront.


  1. I am an Armenian American who, I think, is quite thoughtful, and not anti-homosexual at all. But like all my forbears for thousands of years, and most of the world even today, I oppose same sex marriage. This makes me a bigot? Same sex marriage is a new experiment. Traditional marriage, or male - female coupling, with the resultant family, in most cases, is thousands of years old, pre-dating all major religions. This is not a mere detail like alimony. Wow, you would throw out thousands of years of tradition?
    Same sex marriage is not truly necessary. Most important marriage rights can be obtained by civil contracts. The fact is that in the US the gay movement goes far, far beyond gay marriage. There are now programs in the lowest grades in public schools that teach kids about gay sex (yes, the actual mechanics), and these programs bring in frightening transgendered and cross-dressing people that would scare me, an adult, never mind small children. I know about these things because I pay attention, just as I pay attention to Turkey. Most people do not know these things because they read the mainstream media which will not report them.
    This is all uncharted territory, and I would be very cautious about Armenian American gays and liberals trying to impose, in fact imperialistically, this very unusual culture on Armenia. It's not like corruption which is and has been universally abhorred by all and which we all agree is wrong and unproductive.
    How about multiple partner marriage? 3 guys and 3 women? 2 men and 5 women? Why not? People with that sexual orientation want equal rights too, and love each other. They make the same claims as homosexuals make.
    No gay person or anyone really has ever been able to answer that question cogently. No Armenian either.
    Let's concentrate on helping Armenia, not arguing over newly-invented and unproved social institutions.

  2. Thank your for your thoughtful comment. Let me only add that the gist of my article was to bring attention to the need to overcome narrow-mindedness, which lately has become a way for ridiculous "hyperventilation" about Diasporans being "foreign agents" and/or "people sticking their noses in Armenia." All other issues, including the ones you raise in your comment, are open to discussion, including same-sex marriage, which was not mentioned in the article.