March 28, 2009

TB/HIV, universal access, and human rights key items

The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Mr Michel Sidibé, was in Brazil promoting greater awareness of the interlinked epidemics of HIV and tuberculosis, the need for universal access to HIV services for all people in need, and the necessity to address stigma and discrimination in Brazils response to HIV.

On March 24, 2009 in Rio de Janeiro, Mr Sidibé joined the international launch of the World Health Organizations (WHO) annual report on global TB control.

Although it is mostly preventable and curable, tuberculosis (TB) is one of the leading causes of death among people living with HIV globally. Of the 33 million people who are living with HIV, only 20% of know their status, and only a tiny fraction, 2% in 2007, were screened for TB according to the Global TB Control 2009 report.

"We have to stop people living with HIV from dying of tuberculosis. Universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support must include TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment. When HIV and TB services are combined, they save lives," said Mr Sidibé.

March 25, 2009

We lost him...

Our best friend, professional lawyer, father of two daughter, wonderful husband for his wife, amazing person passed away on March 24, 2009.
More than 2 months he was at the hospital No. 6. He was receiveing treatment of lungs as he caught cold at the beginning of winter. This is not the first time when doctors don't have enough knowledge and professionalizm to treat people well, usually they treat only the symptoms.
Last month I visited Davit, he was feeling good and his doctor already let him to go home. After a week, maybe more, I heard that he had strange headache and he went back to the hospital. Later I tried to call him but his phone was turned off.

He helped so many people, he saved so many lifes but nobody could save his life...

Davit was a human right activist, he was worried about everybody's safety. He was doing his best for equality, freedom and democracy.
David was working in Tavush region with a human rights NGO, also he was keeping in touch with us all the time, protecting rights of our members and beneficiaries.

I am sorry that I couldn't see you long time, couldn't hug you and say: "Thank you Davit for being our friend, thank you for your great work".

We love you Davit, you are in our hearts

Mamikon Hovsepyan and all PINK members

March 18, 2009

Young guy could be raped at the army

We were informed by e-mail that a young guy ran away from the army on March 17th, because officers understood that he is gay and they wanted to rape him. The situation is out of control, he is hidden somewhere now and waiting that in the morning police will make a search.
We are trying to clearify and in case to protect him.
Unfortunatly we still don't have any news, can't find him and don't know what's going on. Just we know that the guy is really scared, he didn't leave any contact that we can find him.

March 19

As we were informed, the guy was taken to military police, lawers and human rights office were taking care. There was a problem with his relative who couldn't understand who is helping the guy, who is trying to rape, they offended wrong people.
They will change his place and he will contitue his military service in a different place. Yes he will continue, as he announced that he is not homosexual.
The truth of this story is still in the darkness, who is who and what was going on, the officer(s) will be punished or not?

this is not the first case, we advise you to watch the video material from AGLA NY

March 17, 2009

The 1st Golden Okra Awards in Turkey

Turkish NGOs and movie ciritics evaluating movies and givin "Golden Okra Award"
The Golden Okra is an award that has emerged as a result of our desire to speak out in resistance and criticism against the overwhelming predominance of the patriarchal perspective and male gaze, the continuing constriction of space for women, the fostering of false myths about and perceptions of women, the re-production and re-presentation of sexist perspectives, and the force-feeding of this discrimination to the point that it is perceived as a natural and common truth, in Turkish cinema.
Evaluating Turkish films released during 2008 from this point of view, the Golden Okra preliminary jury has announced its candidates for the 1st Golden Okra Awards.
It is their hope that sexism in Turkish Cinema will decrease, with help in part from the Golden Okra Awards, and that in the years to come, they will be unable to find any candidates for this symbolic award...

March 14, 2009

IWPR: Armenia gays face long walk to freedom

Society remains as relentlessly homophobic here as elsewhere in the Caucasus, but activists say there some grounds for hope.

By Vahan Ishkhanian in Yerevan (March 13, 2009)

The recent publication of Azeri writer Alekper Aliev’s gay novel Artush and Zaur, dealing with an Armenian-Azeri love affair, rocked the conservative and mainly Muslim society of Azerbaijan.

It broke a double taboo – love between Armenians and Azeris and same-sex love, at the same time.

But while the furor cast a harsh spotlight on homophobia in Azerbaijan, on the other side of the ethnic and religious divide, in Armenia, gays face just as much prejudice.

Hovhannes Minasian found this out to his cost. Now 27, he is one of a small minority of gay men in Armenia who do not fear to give out their real names in interviews.

He gained this freedom – involuntarily – after being sent to jail for his sexual orientation. After that, the whole of his former neighbourhood and his relatives learnt about it and there was nothing to hide.

His nightmare began in 1999, when police arrested him and accused him of sodomy. A man who had once had an affair with him apparently betrayed him, and four others, to the authorities.

Minasian, then 17, says he immediately admitted he had had a sexual relationship with a man. “I never thought it was a crime, so when they asked me if I did it, I confirmed it,” he said.

He says the police who arrested him beat him violently, demanding that he name other homosexuals, which he refused to do.

He was one of six persons charged for the then crime of sodomy under Article 116 of the Armenian penal code, receiving a relatively short jail sentence of three months as he was under age.

While in prison, Minasian says he came under constant pressure.
“The prisoners were as cruel to me as the jailors, I was like a toy for them, they used to bully me and throw me around the cell,” he said.

After his release, the lads living next door to him chased him around, throwing stones at him and screaming “gay” at his back.

That is not all. He says a policeman tried to blackmail him into confessing the names of wealthy homosexuals he knew about.

When he failed to extract this information, he told the manager of the bar where Hovhannes worked of his sexual orientation, and Hovhannes and his gay friend were fired.

Nine years since his conviction, the local boys have stopped chasing Hovhannes. They got used to him. He has a job. Still, he is going to leave the country, tired of the general climate of hostility.

In 1922, a few years after the Bolshevik revolution, homosexuality ceased to be a penal offence in the newly formed Soviet Union.

But it was reintroduced as a crime in 1933, and eventually removed from the penal code in 2003.

In spite of the official change in the letter of the law, discrimination and intolerance against Armenian gays remains widespread.

A year ago, Khachik, a 21-year-old student at university, was thrown out of his home when his parents found out about his sexual orientation.

Khachik says he realised he was different from the rest when he was 13 or 14 and accepted he was more interested in boys than girls.

“At that age, when you start to masturbate, I used to imagine guys,” he confessed. “I thought I was alone with all this but then I found people just like me on the Internet.”

He waited until he was 20 to have his first sexual encounter with a man whom he met on the Internet and introduced to his family as a friend.

Trouble erupted after Khachik’s mother discovered that their relationship was not entirely innocent.

“We were watching a film in my room and I didn’t know the door was open. Mother came and saw us kissing,” he recalled.

At first, she wept, but later, once his father was home, the two of them became far more aggressive.

“Dad got really angry and said, ‘Aren’t girls enough for you? You want to start dating guys? My son can’t do that!’

“Mother started screaming that it would be better if I died. It would be better not to have a son than to know he was gay.

“She even tried to hit me. I tried to hold her back, but dad began to help her. Then they told me I was no longer their son and that I had to leave the house. So I went away.”

Khachik has been living in lodgings ever since and has to work in two jobs to support his studies.

Two months after being thrown out, he was exempted from military service because of his “deviant” sexual orientation.

According to the Helsinki Rights Committee in Armenia, in 2004 an internal defence ministry code effectively bans homosexuals from serving in the armed forces.

“When I told the army psychologist I was a gay, he threw the pen on the table and exclaimed ‘Damn it!’” Khachik recalled.

He says another officer struck him with a folder, saying, “You are not a man! How can an Armenian claim he’s limp wristed?”

He was then dispatched to a medical institution for official diagnosis – which duly described him as possessing a “non-traditional sexual orientation”.

On the subject of the deferment of conscription for homosexuals, Colonel Seyram Shahsuvaryan, representing the defence ministry, sent a written response to IWPR.

In it, the colonel denied the existence of any unofficial ban on homosexuals serving in the army, “The law on compulsory military service in Armenia does not allow the exemption from military service of homosexuals.”

In Aliev’s controversial novel, Artush and Zaur, the two lovers eventually decide to take their own lives, jumping from Baku’s Maiden Tower, a symbol of doomed love in Azerbaijan.

Psychologist Davit Galstian says societal pressures in Armenia have driven some gays to take their own lives in a similar desperate fashion.

Within the past three years, he knows of at least ten homosexual men who threw themselves off the Kiev bridge in Yerevan, the capital’s biggest.

He cites several tragic cases that he has come across in his practice. A man’s life that was destroyed when his family discovered his orientation; a woman who rejected her own children and sent them to an orphanage after learning that their father, her husband, is gay; and a father who threw his 14-year-old gay son out of the house, who then turned to street prostitution.

“There is a real phobia against homosexuals in our society, people consider them beasts,” he said.

“My [gay] patients learn about me from each other and come here. They say at least I listen to them.”

Politicians do little to dispel the fog of ignorance and prejudice around the subject. Indeed, some make it worse.

One former member of parliament, Emma Khudabashian, even used to say that people should throw stones at homosexuals.

Armen Avetisian, head of Armenian Arian Union, an ultra-nationalist grouping, issued a bizarre attack on homosexuals – and on Europe – in July 2006, which was published in three newspapers.

“We should form a community for them, called Hamaserashen (literally, ‘Homosex-burg’),” he said.

“Of course, it should be located in Europe, as homosexuality is a part of the European values, so let them gather there.”

The church is another conservative factor. The Armenian Apostolic Church – like most traditional Christian churches in the world – views homosexuality as a grave sin.

Gay bashing is a popular pastime among Yerevan yobs. In the city’s Komaygi park, where homosexuals sometimes gather, groups often attack and beat them.

Galstian says homophobia is harmful to society, depriving it of potential talent.

“We lost a talented singer, a computer programmer and an excellent student who could have become a chemist,” he said, mulling past suicides. Others have simply left the country.

Yet, on December, 9, 2008, the Armenian government endorsed a United Nations statement outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

That only prompted a greater outcry from homophobic elements in Armenia, however.

“This is a global plan worked out by masonic structures to destroy the world,” Khachik Stambolcian, a well known figure said in one public discussion.

The right-wing Iskakan Iravunk newspaper accused the UN document of glorifying what it termed “human driftwood - those sodomites and lesbians”.

Hrair, a 26-year-old activist, says the government’s endorsement of the UN statement may not have helped gays much in Armenia in the short term.

“Before that, we just lived our lives and worked but then they made a fuss, and it became tense,” he noted.

Avetik Ishkhanyan, chair of the Helsinki Rights Committee of Armenia, and member of Independent Observers’ Group of Penitentiary departments, says homosexuals experience the worst troubles within closed spaces like prisons and barracks.

“In prison, they have a separate cell and it’s a taboo to shake their hands, take cigarettes from them or even touch their stuff,” he said.

“If a detainee uses homosexual’s plates, even by accident, the criminals consider him а ‘pervert’ too.

“They are given the most humiliating work to do, like cleaning toilets and drains.”

According to Ishkhanian, it is hard to defend homosexuals, as few are willing to publicly complain about their lack of status.

Arsen Babayan, of the justice ministry’s penitentiary service, denies gay detainees in prison are singled out for the most humiliating tasks. Every prisoner, he says, chooses his own type of work.

“The fact that gays live separately in penitentiary departments is due to their wish. It’s the same with Jehovah’s witnesses, who also live separate lives,” he said.

Meanwhile, Galstian says things may be starting to change – albeit slowly.

Since Armenia became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001, people generally have started to more actively defend their rights, and more and more homosexuals are open about their identity.

The NGO PINK, short for Public Information and Need for Knowledge, founded in 2007, openly advocates for gay rights, as well specialising in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

PINK member Hrair broke up with his Iranian boyfriend when the latter wanted to leave for Europe.

“He couldn’t live in Iran, as they hang homosexuals there, but he felt depressed here too, so he was trying to talk me into going to Europe, but I didn’t want to,” he said.

Though well aware of the climate of intolerance in Armenia, Hrair says he is not ready to abandon his homeland now things are starting to shift a little.

“When I was a child, I suffered, trying to understand myself and nobody was there to help me,” he recalled.

“But now we are a big team, and we are trying to help the weaker ones to stand up.

“This is very important to me. I would feel defeated if I went to live in a European country, hiding my head in the sand like an ostrich.”

Vahan Ishkhanian is a freelance journalist and correspondent for Armenianow.

source: Institute for War & Peace Reporting
By Vahan Ishkhanian

March 10, 2009

Burying the Red Apple

Armenia celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 in pretty much the same way it always does. As a patriarchal society, women are expected to dress up and men present them with flowers. Forget talk about women’s rights and equality, although one small group of activists from Armenia and the Diaspora had other ideas. Instead of observing the day in the traditional way, they were going to hand out leaflets informing women of their rights in a country where domestic violence remains a problem and patriarchy is the norm. Afterwards, the group was going to bury the “red apple.”

Known locally as "garmir khndzor," the tradition is perhaps one of Armenia’s most controversial. Referring to the virginal bloodstains left by a bride on her wedding night, challenging the custom remains somewhat of a taboo. Although many families instead present an actual red apple rather than hang out stained bed linen for all to see, the tradition is still observed in some form. Simply put, most Armenian men expect to marry a virgin and double standards governing gender and sexuality in the country.

Recently, an MP from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, 35-year-old Karen Avagyan, even publicly stated that he would never marry a woman who wasn’t a virgin, and he is not alone. Most Armenian men are believed to feel the same, and many Armenian women comply. For this reason, the Women's Resource Center of Armenia, WOW, Utopiana and other NGOs decided to stage their march. Although initially planned as a mock funeral for the “red apple,” plans appear to have been changed at the last moment, perhaps because of local sensitivities.

Instead, the organizers issued a press release stating that their message was not that it was wrong to be a virgin, but that it was a matter of individual choice and not one to be dictated by society. The mock burial was later staged in a private event at the Women’s Resource Center.

Even so, the day was not without its incidents. A group of pro-government bloggers, for example, turned up to mock the event. Indeed, at one stage they effectively disrupted the march by shouting out slogans such as “Struggle, struggle, until sex,” a direct play on that used by the extra-parliamentary opposition (“Struggle, struggle, until the end”) during last year’s disputed presidential election. One even said that he believed such marches should be illegal. “Let them march and the next thing you know, narcotics addicts will want to stage their own demonstrations too,” he said.

Equating narcotics use to women’s rights was a little strange, I pointed out, but he remained unconvinced. “It’s not about women’s rights,” he responded. “It’s about destroying Armenian culture and tradition.”

As if such an attitude wasn’t enough, a police van blocked the path of the demonstrators a few minutes later with officers demanding to know why people were marching. Although the law explicitly states that no authorization is required for rallies if the number of participants is less than 100, the authorities are obviously nervous about the post-election situation in the country. After speaking to the organizers, the march was allowed to continue with a plain clothes policeman walking alongside about 30 women and a few male supporters.

That is, until the march hit the central Moscow Cinema where another group of policemen told the marchers they could not continue on to Republic Square. True, permission was eventually given, but there is no basis in law for their actions, and the police riot van and policemen that had been called in to follow the demonstration was just a little too much. It was, after all, International Women’s Day.

On the other hand, the day illustrated how tradition and patriarchal attitudes are slow to die out in countries such as Armenia. Basically, if anyone is expecting a female liberation movement, let alone a sexual revolution, to occur anytime soon, well, don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile, one small group of activists tried to change something and educate the population that International Women’s Day should be more than about simply handing out flowers.

As one male observer from the Diaspora commented sarcastically, “the men can give presents today, and continue to beat and cheat on their wives tomorrow…”

March 6, 2009

Armenian human rights activist Lilit Poghosyan is chosen as the face for the EU anti-discrimination poster

Do you know your rights?

53% of Europeans don’t know they’re protected from discrimination in the workplace. [Eurobarometer survey on discrimination in the European Union – Perceptions, experiences and attitudes (July 2008)]

Laws exist throughout the EU to protect everyone against discrimination based on race or ethnic origin, age, disability, religion or belief, or sexual orientation in the workplace.

*This poster has been produced as part of the EU-wide “For Diversity. Against Discrimination” information campaign. Organised by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, the campaign aims to raise awareness of discrimination and the EU laws which exist to combat it, and to promote the benefits of diversity.

What is even more pleasing for me regarding this poster is that Lilit Poghosyan is a good friend of mine. Well done, Lilit jan! I am proud of you and of being your friend.

Lilit joined Europe’s main gay rights group - ILGA-Europe (as Programmes & Policy Officer) in October 2008.

Lilit is responsible for the Advocacy Project which aims to strengthen the advocacy capacities and competences of project partners. She also monitors the developments in the field of human rights of LGBT people in Western Balkans and Turkey and channels the information on human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity to relevant EU institutions in order to ensure that LGBT people enjoy equal rights and protection in candidate and potential candidate countries for the accession to the EU.

Lilit holds a degree in Psychology and Education and has completed her MSc in Human Rights at London School of Economics in 2005. She has eight years work experience in field of sexual, reproductive and mental health of which around six years in Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) field projects in Armenia, Kashmir/Pakistan, Zambia and Uganda.