A transgender human rights activist was asked to leave Armenia’s parliament, the National Assembly, after giving an impassioned speech to MP’s calling for more protection for transgender people in the country.
Lilit Martirosyan made her speech from the chair of the National Assembly on 5 April during a parliamentary hearing on the Human Rights in Armenia.
‘I appeal to you from the chair of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, as a transgender woman’, Martirosyan said. She asked that as a member of Armenia’s transgender community and the president of local rights group Right Side, that MPs see her as the sum of the ‘tortured, raped, kidnapped, burnt, stabbed, murdered, and assaulted’ Armenians who were forced to emigrate due to the stigma and discrimination against transgender people.
Following the speech, Naira Zohrabyan, an MP from the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party who chairs the Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs, requested that Martirosyan leave the hall, calling the speech ‘disrespectful’ as the topic had nothing to do with that day’s agenda.
‘We cannot violate the agenda: this is not an issue of discrimination. If the question was addressed to you, we would invite you, and you would speak’, Zohrabyan said, after which Martirosyan and several other participants left the hall.
The parliamentary hearing was initiated by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and was meant to cover issues of judicial reform and disability rights.
According to Zohrabyan, Martirosyan was invited to the National Assembly by Maria Karapetyan, an MP from the ruling My Step bloc.
Karapetyan denied this claim, stating in parliament that she had ‘not arranged any speeches for anyone’ and that the hearings ‘were open to all NGOs’ that registered with the committee.
Karapetyan accused Zohrabyan of lying when she said that NGOs were instructed to register only if they had speeches on the agenda topics. ‘This is a lie because, as I said, there were just no topics at the time of registration’.
She added that the representatives from the NGOs only saw the agenda when they arrived at the National Assembly on 5 April.
Zohrabyan countered on Facebook, writing that Karapetyan was lying and spreading disinformation.
‘Conservative in a negative sense’
Footage of Martirosyan’s speech was spread widely across social media provoking discussion among users. Some expressed the view that everyone should be equal before the law no matter their gender identity and sexuality, while others said that Martirosyan and everyone like her should be burned.
Touching upon the issue on Factor TV, Avetik Ishkhanyan, the president of rights group the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, stated that he preferred to refer to the speech in a philosophical manner.
‘Our society is based on stereotypes, we are conservative in a negative sense. Concerning that speech, I would say that it was the cry of someone who is suffering, but our society, relying on stereotypes, could not imagine that it could hear such a speech.’
‘What happened and is still happening around the speech, reminds me of the Inquisition’, Ishkhanyan said. He added that Zohrabyan was forced to react the way she did in order to save face in a society that does not accept sexual minorities.
On 8 April, a protest was held in front of the National Assembly against Martirosyan and her speech. Speakers including former freedom fighters and clergymen told protestors of the ‘reputation’ the Armenian nation has. Ghazar Petrosyan, a priest, brought incense with him to sanctify the tribune where Martirosyan had spoken.
Several MPs also joined the demonstrators. Gevorg Petrosyan, a member of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, told journalists that the National Assembly chair had become a transgender platform.
‘There is no need to look like a “European”; this is a state-destroying process. We need to stimulate the birth rate: do you know such a case where a child is born from sexual intercourse between two males? I don’t know such a case’, Petrosyan said.
‘Questionable’ human rights
Vice President of the National Assembly Alen Simonyan told journalists that whatever happened during the protest was not the position of the My Step alliance.
‘There is no need to blame any political party, even deputy Naira Zohrabyan, for anything’, he said, adding that the commission was invited to listen to issues raised by NGOs and human rights groups.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan also touched upon the speech in an interview with journalists on 9 April.
‘The behaviour of the Chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights Protection shows that the situation of human rights in Armenia is questionable in general. I think the Prosperous Armenia Party should think about whether they meet the minimum standards required to chair the Human Rights protection commission’.