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Owner of fire-bombed queer bar wins ECHR case against Armenia

17 May 2022
The entrance to the former DIY bar in Yerevan was defaced with Nazi graffiti after it was set on fire. Photo: NG, via ianyanmag.

The former co-owner of a queer-friendly bar in Armenia which was fire-bombed in 2012 has won a case against the government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The court ordered Armenia to pay Armine Oganezova, who co-owned and managed the DIY bar in Yerevan, €12,000 ($12,600) in compensation plus legal costs for failing to protect her from homophobic abuse.

The ruling on Tuesday coincided with International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, marked annually on 17 May.

DIY bar was set alight in 2012. In the weeks that followed, Oganezova was subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation by nationalists, who protested in front of the pub and vandalised what remained after the fire.  After receiving death threats, Oganezova sought asylum in Sweden. 

Two brothers who were members of a neo-Nazi group called Black Ravens Armenia were found guilty of setting the fire. A court in Armenia sentenced them to a two-year suspended prison sentence in 2013, and they were subsequently granted an amnesty.

Oganezova had appealed to the ECHR complaining that the authorities failed to protect her from harassment, attacks, and threats because of her sexual orientation or to investigate her complaints effectively.

She also claimed that the attack was backed by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a nationalist  Armenian party․

The lawyer of one of the men convicted was a member of the party, while ARF MP Artsvik Minasyan paid his bail.

The court noted that the attack on the bar was publicly condoned by leading political figures in Armenia.

‘The importance of the judgement is that it sets a precedent for Armenia’, said Mamikon Hovsepyan, a Yerevan-based queer rights activist. He added that the decision may be significant for the whole of Europe. 

‘We hope that this will force the state to adopt new and relevant laws and the courts to consider the possible consequences before trying to ignore or cover up such cases’, Hovsepyan told OC Media.

‘It’s hard for LGBT people to live in this society’

Ten years since the arson attack, minority groups in Armenia continue to lack legal protections while queer people are regularly discriminated against and subject to violence and hate speech.

Hovsepyan said that the current government’s pledge to make human rights a priority and to amend laws to this end could at least improve the legal environment for queer people in Armenia. 

The adoption of an anti-discrimination law would be a ‘proper’ response to the European court’s decision, he said. 

‘At present, the overall situation in Armenia is not good [for queer people]’, Hovsepyan said. ‘It’s still very hard for LGBTQ people to live in this society. But we still hope that changes will come with more communication and awareness’. 

‘DIY was a unique place’, he said, adding that more such safe spaces for queer people could make a positive change in the country. 

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