The organizers of a Christian LGBT forum in Armenia have canceled the event after it became a political football ahead of next month’s elections.
In a statement issued November 6, New Generation, a Yerevan-based NGO that was helping to organize the conference, cited “constant threats” and “organized intimidation.” They also said that the Armenian police had shown a “lack of sufficient readiness” to protect them.
“I don’t consider it appropriate to hold the forum in Armenia, considering the risks and security considerations,” Armenia’s police chief Valeriy Osipyan told journalists the same day. “We advised that the forum should not be held in Armenia.”
Pashinyan’s government “fails to protect the rights of its citizens,” wrote Mika Artyan, an Armenian LGBT activist, on Twitter. “Basically they failed to carry on their duties when it comes to rights of #LGBT citizens. Unacceptable.”
The conference was announced in August, and organizers said it had been planned long before the government transition in the spring that brought to power Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Having previously held thirteen similar events across the region, organizers said they expected little trouble. A Gospel verse was chosen as the event’s theme. “The spirit of our Forum is love in Christ which knows no boundaries, be it country, denomination, gender or anything else,” said the announcement.
But over the following months, the event became a subject of heated discussions around Armenia and, eventually, even on the floor of parliament. It was condemned by the Armenian church and occasioned handwringing about the destiny of Armenia’s traditional family.
It was the potential for violence, however, that forced the organizers to cancel the event. In correspondence obtained by Eurasianet, Yerevan-based LGBT activists helping put on the event reported violent threats and said their cars were followed. The activists said that after reporting threats to the authorities, the police appeared willing to guarantee the event’s safety. But the organizers said that while officers were largely helpful, they privately suggested postponing the event “for after the election” and couldn’t provide the activists the protection they sought.
Parliamentary elections are to be held on December 9. With Pashinyan enjoying sky high approval ratings, his allies are expected to win easily, cementing the political transition that began in the spring. In response, forces aligned with the former government appear to have seized on LGBT issues as a cudgel against the new regime. “It’s hard to avoid the impression that some officials are using Armenia’s pervasive homophobia to mobilize the public against … Pashinyan,” wrote Anahit Chilingaryan of Human Rights Watch.
With so much at stake in the December vote, Pashinyan has appeared wary of taking a strong position. When he was grilled in parliament on the issue, including on the forum, he dexterously avoided giving a definitive answer. “For me as prime minister and for our government, the less this issue comes up, the better,” said Pashinyan. “It’s a headache.”
Still, Pashinyan’s evasive answer didn’t mollify critics. A column from the local service of the Russian state news service Sputnik called out the government for “recusing itself” from dealing with what the article claims is the issue that “the Christian religion considers to be one of the gravest sins.” The column endorsed a bill, introduced by the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia, to ban “homosexual propaganda.”
On November 1, the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, the top figure in the Armenian church, condemned the plans to hold the conference, calling same-sex relations “a sin.”
Grigor Atanesian is a freelance journalist who covers Armenia.