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Friday, 24 June 2016

Remain. #Brexit

I never had any doubts re where I stand on this question. I was a voter. And I voted for Remain. Here is my #VoteRemain.


I strongly believe with all its issues and problems, the positive of the EU far outweighs the negative. And if you did follow the debate in the UK, and if you do follow my blogs and Twitter updates, you would know that I could never ever support those behind the campaign to leave. The most prominent #Brexit campaigners were nationalists, racists, full of hate towards migrants, and their vision of the UK and the worldview is totally opposite to mine.

In the early hours of the morning, it became clear that nationalism, racism, isolationism, hate - i.e. #Brexit - narrowly won this EU referendum.

The United Kingdom is a country that includes England (voted Leave), Scotland (voted Remain), Wales (voted Leave), and Northern Ireland (voted Remain).

This "Kingdom" is anything but "United".

As Edward Snowden tweeted: "No matter the outcome, #Brexit polls demonstrate how quickly half of any population can be convinced to vote against itself. Quite a lesson."

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Armenia and Orlando

*Also on Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Armenia president Serj Sargsyan strongly condemns “horrendous manifestation of intolerance” and “any expression of hatred”. At least, this is how he formulated his reaction to Orlando in a letter of condolences to the US president Obama following attack on LGBT club Pulse.
President Serzh Sargsyan sent a letter of condolences to the President of the United States Barack Obama on a horrible terrorist act which took place at a club in Orlando, claiming several dozens of innocent lives and wounded. The President of Armenia strongly condemned this horrendous manifestation of intolerance and underscored that the misfortune, that has befallen the friendly American people, proves once again that any expression of hatred is still a serious challenge to the humanity and it is our shared responsibility and mission to address them.

ՑԱՎԱԿՑԱԿԱՆ ՆԱԽԱԳԱՀ ՍԵՐԺ ՍԱՐԳՍՅԱՆԸ ՑԱՎԱԿՑԱԿԱՆ ՀԵՌԱԳԻՐ Է ՀՂԵԼ ԱՄՆ ՆԱԽԱԳԱՀ ԲԱՐԱՔ ՕԲԱՄԱՅԻՆ 13.06.2016 Նախագահ Սերժ Սարգսյանը ցավակցական հեռագիր է հղել Ամերիկայի Միացյալ Նահանգների Նախագահ Բարաք Օբամային՝ Օռլանդո քաղաքի ակումբում տեղի ունեցած սահմռկեցուցիչ ահաբեկչության կապակցությամբ, որի հետևանքով զոհվել և վիրավորվել են մի քանի տասնյակ անմեղ մարդիկ: Հանրապետության Նախագահը խստորեն դատապարտել է անհանդուրժողականության այս զարհուրելի երևույթը և ընդգծել, որ բարեկամ ամերիկացի ժողովրդին պատուհասած այդ դժբախտությունը կրկին ապացուցեց, որ ատելության բոլոր դրսևորումները, որոնց հաղթահարումը բոլորի հավաքական պարտքն ու առաքելությունն է, նույնիսկ 21-րդ դարում շարունակում են մնալ լրջագույն մարտահրավեր մարդկության համար:
4 years ago his party spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov (currently deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament) endorsed firebombers of gay friendly DIY bar in Armenia capital Yerevan.
“All those who are trying to protect homosexuals, who are perverting our society, are defaming the Armenian national identity. As an Armenian citizen and member of a national-conservative party, I find the rebellion of the two young Armenian people against the homosexuals, who have created a den of perversion in our country and have a goal of alienating the society from its moral values, completely right and justified. And those human rights defenders, who are trying to earn cheap dividends from this incident, I urge them first and foremost to protect the national and universal values”, said Eduard Sharmazanov.
He echoed his colleague, MP from ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Artsvik Minasyan (currently minister of economy) who justified the attack towards LGBT friendly bar, saying the firebombers acted in accordance with the "context of our societal & national ideology, in the right way”. It was then revealed that Armenian MPs from the ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Artsvik Minasyan and Hrayr Karapetyan bailed out one of the detained arsonists, while the other one was released on signature that he won’t leave the country.

DIY firebombers were effectively pardoned. They got conditional sentencing and a symbolic fine.

And now Armenia president condemns Orlando using pretty strong wording, albeit without the mention of “LGBT”. A change of heart or simply a hypocrisy directed at outside world? How genuine Armenia president was when condemning Orlando would be determined by whether his regime would indeed crack down on anti-LGBT hatred inside Armenia.

Following Orlando, a significant proportion of users (not just trolls) on Armenian social networks, particularly the Armenian segment of Facebook, either kept silence or could not resist their ‘happiness’ at killing of LGBT people.

They were effectively proclaiming the killer a hero. These are the same people who change their profile pictures demanding the world to recognise the Armenian Genocide. These are the same people who were outraged when an axe murderer of Armenian was pardoned by Azeri president and turned into a ‘national hero’.


One of the organisers of Orlando solidarity event in Yerevan, executive director of PINK Armenia Mamikon Hovsepyan, said “it was painful for him to witness Armenians’ reaction to the attack, which included advocacy of hatred and insults targeting the LGBT+ community.”
“People without the elementary capacity to think began to justify the criminal. I do not understand how a crime against humanity can be justified. Many in Armenia have been aggressive and have even expressed support for the terrorists, inviting them to Armenia, which is very sad and inhumane. Today we came here to express our solidarity with the families of the victims.” Hovsepyan said.

The activist added that he was left “dumbstruck” by Armenian President, head of ruling Republican Party Serzh Sargsyan sending his condolences to U.S. President Barack Obama in connection with the shooting; “It would have been great had [the condolences] been genuine and heartfelt. But I don’t believe it; because the same party that justified 4 years ago [the attack on a LGBT-friendly pub in Yerevan] today extended its condolences in connection with a similar act. I do find it ironic, and yet I’d like to believe that they’ve changed.” 
It was disheartening to read PINK Armenia calling fellow Armenians ‘to respect innocent victims & not defend terrorist acts’.
We call on our fellow Armenian friends and citizens to respect the innocent victims, and not to defend terrorism and terrorist acts.

Կոչ ենք անում մեր հայրենակիցներին հարգել անմեղ զոհերին, այլ ոչ թե պաշտպանել ահաբեկչությունն ու ահաբեկչական գործողությունները։
Even two main US-based Diaspora Armenian publications (Asbarez and The Armenian Weekly) kept silence on Orlando for 3 days, before posting a more general op-ed or a report from Yerevan. As my Facebook friends noted, it's because no straight Armenian was killed.

I have to say that mainstream media in Armenia, at least on this occasion, overall reported on the events respectfully, including regarding LGBT people (example).

As was mentioned on the Russian service of BBC, in relation to reactions in Russia, this event showed that not everyone in our society a homophobe ("У нас есть четкое понимание того, что общество уже не едино в гомофобии.”). This is applicable to Armenia too. Not necessarily the most optimistic conclusion but a basis for hope.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Defeated in Armenia

P.S. re Armenia fraudulent referendum for new constitution

Regime built on fraud, fear, lies and corruption fits perfectly with the fraud constitution

Yesterday I lost.

I was defeated because I was hoping for the possibility of changes in Armenia using democratic elections and voting. Of course, there was no much hope to start with. A decade of election fraud, corruption and lost opportunities did not leave much space for that hope. But there was this tiny-tiny ray of hope that a breakthrough was nevertheless possible. But no. It was not.

The main reason of imposed by regime changes in the constitution was for current president Serj Sargsyan and his circle to stay in power in a foreseeable future. This referendum served only one goal - regime survival.

Even with artificially inflated by regime participation numbers, such a low official turnout (just above 50%) for constitutional referendum proves just how much this new constitution issue was imposed on people rather than generated by population demand.

This tweet @Kolya_H summed-up the mood on the day of referendum pretty well:
We don't #vote today to make our future brighter, but not to make it inevitably worse. #NO #ArmRef15
It was great to see so many friends, including LGBT, being involved in monitoring of constitutional referendum as observers.

@LusineSaghumyan:
"Though I don't like to emphasize people's sexuality, but need to say many #LGBTQA people are actively involved in observation at #ArmRef15

They fight for a better future in their country"
Local independent election observers and media reps did outstanding job exposing the fraud and fighting for each single vote of citizens to be count. They are my heroes of the day.

But what can intelligent non-corrupted observers do in the face of sheer brutality and attacks?! Culture of intimidation and violence ruled the referendum day, with many observers threatened, bullied, beaten, in the presence of police.

More and more people coming to the conclusion that it is impossible to get rid of current ruling regime in Armenia via elections. I am among those people.

I personally lost any faith in the election system in the presence of current regime.

I am now of opinion that as long as this ruling regime is in place, there is no longer a point in elections or voting. To hope that it will be possible to achieve clean votes for 2017 parliamentary elections is self-deceitful. The very reason why ruling regime imposed this constitution in the first place is to have at least 7 more years (and counting) of steady reign beyond their current formal end dates of 2017/18.

Of course, in 2017 more than 1 party will make it to the parliament. They need a cover of ‘multi-party democracy’. They will also ‘allow’ a proportion of votes for the Diaspora affiliated ARF Dashnaktsutyun political party that served them so well. [read also: Why ARF Dashnaktsutyun in Armenia suck big time] This will also aim to silence the voices of discontent in the Diaspora. Not that those voices were particularly loud, and in some cases instead serving as apologists for current regime, ‘justifying’ their support for referendum by support for parliamentary republic, conveniently 'blinding' themselves re referendum’s real implications.

We were defeated yesterday. I am saying “we" because it includes me, my friends, all those people who want a better future in free independent Armenia. We were gradually and continuously losing it over the last decade. But we don't have to keep losing. In the meantime, Armenia will continue its steady decline until something changes. Until people wake-up. Until public revolt. Youth revolt. Resistance.

I do not know yet which exact strategy will work the best, but I am sure smart creative Armenians, especially of younger generation, will find the right way. Sooner or later.


In the news:

Telling headline on BBC News: Armenia fraud claims mar referendum on constitution

Council of Europe - PACE: Referendum in Armenia was driven by political interests [full statement - here]

Observers statement: ARMENIA: REFERENDUM ASSESSED AS ILLEGITIMATE BY CITIZEN OBSERVERS AND EPDE

Preliminary statement on the conduct of the Constitutional Referendum Citizen Observer Initiative and European Platform for Democratic Elections


For background reading on additional implications of this constitutional referendum:
New draft of Armenia Constitution effectively bans same-sex marriage

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Yoko Ono's "petition for peace", MoMA, NYC

A very diverse, and very current exhibit in MoMA, NYC, of Yoko Ono's works and performances.

Most of the works on display were from 60s but themes touched there, such as gender inequality, human rights, anti-war/for peace movements, are as current, as ever... Powerful stuff.

*Film No. 4, "petition for peace" against gender inequality and war

*"War is Over!", by Yoko Ono and John Lennon

*"Cut Piece" performance by Yoko Ono

*"Touch Poem for Group of People"

*"Bag Piece" performance

*"Apple"



Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Do your homework! Lessons and observations from my UK election experience

This was the second time I voted during British elections, but the first for the UK parliament. I am not a member nor a passionate supporter of any political party. During the course of election campaign, I was certain I would be voting for Labour, but on the election day I ended up voting for the Greens.

A night before going to the polling station I suddenly realised that I was lacking a very crucial piece of information. Although I wanted to vote for Labour (the party), I had no idea who I was going to vote for (the MP candidate, that is) !! It’s like I suddenly woke up, my brain re-started functioning and my vision became clearer.

If you follow the UK election campaign, it's all about political parties (and their leaders) fighting each other for your vote. It’s very easy to forget that there is an important caveat there: even though you may wish to vote for a particular party, in fact you vote for a particular candidate who represents that party in your constituency (formally speaking, “represents you”). While it is expected that MPs support their party’s election manifesto and key values, they are not bound by party’s decisions, they can rebel and break the ranks during the voting in the parliament (this can be a very good thing, but a very bad thing too).

So yes, while MPs represent their party, their own position matters and can influence an outcome of issues that matter to you. That’s why, as much as you support any particular party during the election, it is so important to do a homework and check candidates’ views re at least some of the key issues that matter to you. Of course, if they are former MPs, their voting record is easy to check, but even if they are not MPs, google search is the least we can do to get an insight on the candidates before deciding who to vote for.

Luckily (well, sort of), a Labour candidate in my 'safe Labour' constituency was a long serving MP. Disappointingly though, what I discovered while studying his voting record was his pretty poor gay rights records. Just imagine how would I feel afterwards if unwittingly voted for him. Here we are. The lesson. Never trust parties for their selection (and not only). All they care is a ‘safe seat’. Always check candidate’s profile and views. Had I just went blindly for 'vote Labour', I would end up voting for a bigoted person.

Among other observations, I’d mention the abundance of personal attacks and negative campaigning during the whole pre-election period. It’s part of the tradition, I suppose. It can be entertaining, but only to an extent. Even for a person who have lived in the UK for a decade already and is used to parliamentary debates here, the sheer volume of personal attacks during  the campaign was way too much and up-your-face for my liking. Forget about cliche British reservedness and politeness. When it comes to politics and election campaign, it’s an opposite of that cliche.

What surprised me most during the actual election day in the UK, there are no ID checks at polling stations. You do not even need to show a polling card. They just ask for your address and "confirm your name, please” (verbally!). In theory, anyone who knows your name and address can easily come and vote instead of you.

Also, you could see the representatives of some candidates outside the polling station PR-ing for their candidate on the day of election too, distributing leaflets, trying to convince you to vote for their candidate just before your enter the polling station. This may be legal but unexpected for me and annoying.

And most of the main British media end up supporting (explicitly or implicitly) particular party(ies), even The Independent…

But regardless, even with this abundance of populism and negative campaigning, with all these shortcomings, the election campaign in the UK is an exercise of democracy. At times it’s pretty entertaining and hilarious; at other times - totally uninspiring, boring and disappointing; occasionally - very stimulating, when party leaders challenge each other on their ideas and programmes.

This all affects your decisions, of course, but at the end of the day you vote with your free will. You are responsible for the decisions and choices you make. And your vote counts. Something that substantial proportion of the world’s population is still deprived of.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Maxim Gorky theatre in Berlin delivers impressively designed programme re the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

This was perhaps, the most impressive, diverse and arty programme I have ever seen in any country re the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. From the outside installation to the in-house design, from the leaflets and posters to the impressive variety of performances, concerts, films and events, including concert by Arto Tunçboyacıyan and world preview premiere of the Armenian Genocide themed film "1915" (see my brief reflections towards the end).

I am a big fan of independent cinemas and venues, and Maxim Gorky theatre in Berlin is exactly my type of the venue.


The influence of one of my all-time fave couples Atom Egoyan and Arsinée Khanjian was palpable, with the design themes à la Parajanov.

















Concert by Arto Tunçboyacıyan was enjoyable, albeit somewhat lacklustre, lacking usual Arto's drive. I was told that his luggage didn't arrive in time. Not sure if this affected his mood.



There was also a world preview premiere of the new Armenian Genocide themed film "1915" by Garin Hovannisian [son of Armenia's ex-FM Raffi Hovannisian and grandson of well known historian Richard Hovannisian] and Alec Mouhibian. I thought it was mainly directed at Diaspora Armenians. Kudos to directors for attempting at portraying it in an unconventional way, raising some challenging questions. However, I am not convinced re the overall execution of the film, with unstable narratives and performances. But it will certainly generate discussions. [in picture above: Alec Mouhibian, Garin Hovannisian and Nikolai Kinski during the Q&A]

Saturday, 18 April 2015

London march to mark the centenary of the Armenian Genocide

Today, the Armenian community in London and friends were marching to mark the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.

Turnout was relatively good. The route of the march was initially via 'backyard' streets, and for a while we were marching along almost empty streets. This has changed when we reached Trafalgar sq, and from there march continued along the busy streets, filled with tourists and locals enjoying the glorious weather in London.

Marchers were bearing flags of the nations that formally recognised the Armenian Genocide. According to the programme, a handing in the Centenary Petition at 10 Downing Street was planned too (I missed it but I assume it did happen).

When we reached the final destination - St Paul's cathedral, a representative of the St Paul's addressed the public on a PA system from the top of the Western Stairs. It was a heart-warming speech with references to sharing the pain of the Armenians and commemorating the anniversary. She announced that the bishop will travel to Yerevan to participate in April 24th commemorative events.
***

Start of the march - Green park:










Reaching Trafalgar sq:




At the Cenotaph:
















Marching along Westminster, Big Ben, river Thames:









Final destination - St Paul's cathedral: