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Teenager takes own life in Armenia after being outed online

17 November 2023
A tribute to the victim left at the site of his death.

A 17-year-old boy has taken his own life in Armenia, reportedly after being outed by a popular local Telegram channel and kicked out of his home by his family.

Reports of the boy’s death emerged on Wednesday. ‘The last time I saw him was four days ago in our office. He knocked on my office door and said, I want to thank you for doing so much for our community,’ wrote Lilit Martirosyan, the founder of Right Side, an Armenian group defending the rights of trans people and sex workers.

Andranik Shirinyan, the Armenia country representative at Freedom House, wrote on Wednesday that the boy had been evicted by his family after they discovered he was queer.

Pink Armenia, a local queer rights group, corroborated this the following day, stating that the boy had taken his life after being bullied because of his sexual orientation. They added that the teenager’s pictures had appeared on a Telegram channel ‘that continues to spread hate and calls for violence against various individuals’. 

The group told OC Media that photos of the teenager were published around a month ago on xᴀʏᴛᴀʀᴀᴋ 18+ (‘disgraceful’), a private Telegram channel. 

The channel’s Russian description says its aim is to ‘preserve Armenian traditions and values’. Despite recently being blocked by Telegram, a new channel with the same name has appeared. According to TGStat, before the block, the channel had 43,000 subscribers, making it one of the top 10 channels in Armenia. 

A spokesperson for the Armenian Investigative Committee, Gor Abrahamyan, told OC Media that a criminal investigation had been launched for incitement to suicide, which in the case of a minor, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

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Abrahamyan added that the victim was an ethnic Armenian but not a citizen of the Republic of Armenia.

‘Law enforcement lacks both the sensitivity and willingness to help the victims’

Mamikon Hovsepyan, communications manager of Pink Armenia, told OC Media that the authorities had not made any information available and that what they knew so far had come from the victim’s friends.

‘His acquaintances said that after that publication [on Telegram], he was kicked out of the house’, Hovsepyan said, adding that he had also lost his job as a result of the post. ‘He was in a tough and depressed state’, he added.

Pink Armenia verified that photos of the boy taken in the street were published on the channel, stating that the post received numerous hateful comments in response. 

Hovsepyan said he believed the police were attempting to hide the incident, ‘probably at the request of their parents’. 

He added that it was common for Armenian police to support abusers more than the victims. ‘In these cases, the families usually get along easily with the police’, he said.

Incidents of bullying and violence against queer people are frequently reported in Armenia. Last year, a young queer couple took their own life after reportedly receiving abuse from the mother of one of the couple. Earlier this year, a transgender woman was brutally murdered in her flat in the centre of Yerevan.

[Read on OC Media: ‘You learn to hide your identity’: being queer in the Armenian army]

Andranik Shirinyan from Freedom House criticised the government’s record on protecting queer rights, stating that the Armenian government ‘bears the responsibility to safeguard the rights of LGBT people’, adding that ‘national human rights institutions are completely ineffective’. 

‘Armenia has yet to adopt an anti-discrimination law or initiate reforms to eliminate impunity and educate society. Law enforcement lacks both the sensitivity and willingness to help the victims’, he said.

‘What kind of democracy is it when the most vulnerable in our society are left unprotected by the state and abandoned by their families and community?’