France 24
May 25 2012

AFP - The acrid stench of burnt plastic still hangs in the air at the
devastated basement bar, its walls blackened and fixtures melted by
intense heat after the fire-bombers staged their nocturnal raid.

The alleged "hate crime" bombing this month of alternative music bar
DIY -- popular with Yerevan's young liberals and gays -- has sparked
fear and anger in Armenia's small gay community and highlighted
deep-rooted homophobia in the conservative Christian ex-Soviet state.

"By terrorising me, they want to give a lesson to others too," said
owner Armine "Tsomak" Oganezova amid the ruin of the once-vibrant
underground hotspot.

She alleged that the attack was staged by "members of a fascist
organisation" who had repeatedly harassed the bar since it opened.

"It seems that today the life of anyone that is different in our
country is under threat," she said.

After being caught on surveillance cameras, two Iranian-Armenian
brothers aged 19 and 20 were arrested for alleged arson, police said
without specifying any political motives.

But within days of the blaze, extremists attacked the bar again,
this time spraying swastikas on the walls and burning "No to Fascism"
posters put up by well-wishers.

The scandal quickly turned political when local media reported that
two lawmakers from the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation
(Dashnaktsutiun) party had paid the bomb suspects' bail.

One of them, Artsvik Minasian, was reported as saying that causing
damage was wrong but the attackers "acted the right way, in the
context of our societal and national ideals".

Minasian later denied the lawmakers paid bail, but told AFP that he
did petition the court on the attackers' behalf and accused DIY's owner
of trying to "artificially aggravate the situation, to become famous".

The political row escalated when the deputy speaker of parliament,
Eduard Sharmazanov, gave an interview to local media that appeared
to justify the violence.

"As an Armenian citizen and member of (the ruling)
national-conservative party, I find the rebellion of the two young
Armenian people against the homosexuals... completely right and
justified," he was reported as saying, although he did not respond
to AFP's requests for clarification.

Leading blogger Mika Artyan said on his Unzipped: Gay Armenia site
that the statement "effectively encourages terrorism".

Rights group Amnesty International meanwhile lamented that "the
official response to the firebombing in Yerevan is utterly shocking."

Worryingly for Yerevan's lesbians and gays, extremists seemingly
untroubled by the possibility of arrest have kept returning to the
gutted bar to spit on the walls and throw cigarette butts.

One of them, 17-year-old Hovsep, wearing a swastika pendant over a
death's head T-shirt, said he would keep harassing DIY until "these
perverts" leave.

"People like Tsomak (Oganezova) should not live among us. She
participated in a gay parade in Turkey. She perverts teenagers,"
he said.

His friend Vahag, 18, accused the bar of being engaged in "open
propaganda" for gay rights and said homosexuals should "be shut in
their homes".

Civil rights campaigners say there are serious divisions between the
conservative majority and the small liberal minority in the small
Caucasus state.

"Our society has created certain criteria of what a human should be
like. It despises and does not accept those who diverge a little bit
from these criteria," said Mamikon Hovsepian, head of campaign group
PINK Armenia.

He said that incidents of gay-bashing were common, but the victims
are often too afraid to go to the police.

"In the nation's value system, a man and a woman have defined roles and
any deviation provokes alarm and resistance," said Narine Khachatrian,
a psychology professor at Yerevan State University.

But she said she did not believe that there were organised neo-Nazi
movements in Armenia and the recent attacks were the work of

However a small march supporting "diversity" in Yerevan this week was
stopped by around 100 young nationalists singing patriotic songs and
hurling abuse -- even though it was not a gay pride event.

"Do not promote perversion in our country," demanded one. "You
are not Armenians," shouted another, before a priest intervened to
prevent clashes.

Despite the bombing of her bar and the possibility of further violence,
Oganezova vowed to remain defiant.

"It's impossible to scare me," she said. "I will fight."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress