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Modern Armenia » 2010 » September

 

  •    IWPR roundtable – ‘I would rather be labeled crazy than be raped in the army’: gay men in Armenia (survey)   

    *via Epress.am

    The roundtable on LGBT issues in Armenia organized by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) Armenia took place today. IWPR representative Sara Khojoyan opened the session by introducing the organization’s activities and mentioning that this roundtable was organized as a sort of follow-up to an article she had written earlier which described some of the issues LGBT people face in Armenia.

    Then, Mamikon Hovsepyan from PINK Armenia (Public Information and Need of Knowledge) NGO introduced the research his organization had conducted and presented in May this year.

    The project, called “We and Our Rights,” aimed to collect data concerning cases of discrimination and rights violation toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people in Armenia and to find out to what extent legislation of Republic of Armenia regulates LGBT rights protection and their responsibilities.

    Hovsepyan mentioned that discrimination against LGBT people occurs in all facets of life: at school and at work, in military service, while seeking healthcare services, and so on. He also mentioned that discrimination also occurs in the media — through news stories that ridicule, criticize and demean the lives and experiences of LGBT people in Armenia.

    The PINK Armenia representative also referred to incidents of rape and violence in Armenia’s armed forces. Despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homsexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1990, according to Hovespyan, Armenia does not prescribe to the WHO criteria and still labels homosexuality as a mental disorder. Thus, gay men in Armenia can be exempt from military service if they state their sexual orientation.

    According to the men surveyed in the report (as women in Armenia don’t serve in the military), they would rather be labelled “crazy” than be subject to rape or violence at the hands of their fellow soldiers or officers.

    Tags: Armenia, IWPR, LGBT, Mamikon Hovsepyan, NGO, PINK, Sara Khojoyan, World Health Organization

  •    IWPR roundtable on LGBT issues in Armenia: ‘Why does Ombudsman trust police and not appeal by citizen?’ asks Hovsepyan   

    *via Epress.am

    Though Armenia signed the UN Declaration Against Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in December 2008, there are still no actual laws in Armenia that protect the rights of LGBT people and prohibit discrimination based on sexual identity and gender orientation, said Mamikon Hovsepyan from PINK Armenia (Public Information and Need of Knowledge) NGO at a roundtable on LGBT issues organized by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) Armenia today.

    Hovsepyan also added that Armenia, along with Azerbaijan, didn’t sign (adopt) the April 2010 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Resolution on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

    The PINK Armenia representative also discussed the research the organization had conducted on discrimination and rights violation toward LGBT people in Armenia.

    Hovsepyan noted that the majority of respondents noted that they have never and will never go to the police and law enforcement bodies for protecting their rights, since not only do they not resolve the issues at hand, but they also become cause for new issues to arise.

    Hovsepyan recalled an occasion when a group of officers had called out derogatory terms referring to gays to a man on the street who had then actually filed a complaint with the Ombdusman on July 1, 2009 (complaint no. 1–0508). However, the RA Police also sent a letter to the police in which they described the incident much more mildly saying the man was simply brought in for questioning for 5 minutes and had his identity checked by checking his passport. According to Hovsepyan, the Ombudsman believed the police’s word over the victim’s even though the man didn’t even have his passport on him that day.

    “Why do they trust the letter by the police and not by the citizen?” Hovsepyan asked.

    Furthermore, he said that when IWPR representative Sara Khojoyan asked the Ombudsman if there were any complaints by LGBT people registered with their office, the Human Rights Defender had said no. Drawing on the incident he mentioned, Hovsepyan said, “Let them not say there were no complaints.”

    Tags: Armenia, Europe, Human Rights Defender, IWPR, LGBT, Mamikon Hovsepyan, NGO, PACE, PINK, RA, Sara Khojoyan, Though Armenia, UN

  •    Exposed online. First – denial. Now – confirmation. Sadistic officer in Armenia army arrested and faces up to 5 years in prison for abuse of soldiers   

    When we first exposed the video, they said it was ‘fabricated’ without even preliminary investigation. In an initial statement by MoD there were even threats to those who made and disseminate the video with partly successful but inevitably unsuccessful attempts to erase the video from the Internet.
    “The Ministry of Defence of Armenia strongly condemns preparation and deliberate dissemination of such materials aimed at discrediting and diminishing the reputation of the armed forces of Armenia.”

    Speaking before the parliament, Minister of Defence Seyran Ohanyan called the video a “disinformation”. “It’s a disinformation about our army, and I do not believe what was captured on that video has really taken place”, he said. Some pseudo-patriotic circles immediately pointed fingers towards the ‘enemy side’.

    However… Only hours after the Minister’s statement, sadistic officer was identified and detained, and we received an official confirmation of the authenticity of the video.

    In its latest statement, “the Armenian Defense Ministry officially confirmed on Wednesday the identity of an army officer who was arrested last week for abusing his soldiers and is now facing up to five years in prison.”

    The arrest followed the circulation of an amateur Youtube video that shows a uniform-clad man hitting and humiliating two army conscripts during what looks like a picnic. The footage caused public outrage, prompting the Armenian military to order an inquiry.

    The Defense Ministry initially questioned its veracity and said those who posted it on the Internet are keen to “discredit” the Armed Forces. Subsequent media reports said military investigators tracked down the officer shown in the clip. He was identified as Major Sasun Galstian, deputy commander of an army unit deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh.

    In a written statement, the ministry said Galstian was arrested and formally charged last Friday under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with abuse of power committed by servicemen. It carries between two and five years’ imprisonment.

    The ministry statement also identified the two soldiers allegedly mistreated by Galstian, saying that they both will be examined by forensic medics. It said the video was shot in July on a mobile phone belonging to another serviceman, in the presence of his father and brother.

    The video was re-uploaded the video on YouTube (after it was removed) by someone else  who has consequently faced threats of violence and demands to remove the video:

    What is the most important and key here is to eradicate and fight the root cause of the problem. We all know very well, without the need of videos to prove, that bullying and hazing do exist and widespread in the armed forces and need urgent intervention. Emerging videos or reports simply highlight this disturbing reality and should be taken as a call for actions. Status quo is a violation of human rights of servicemen and consequently a real threat to the national security of Armenia.

    While current developments may be considered as a victory for online activists who exposed and distributed the video in the first place, this will only become a real victory for all of us, including MoD, if Armenian officials face up the widespread problems of corruption and abuse in the army and initiate radical reforms to ensure that similar displays of sadism as well as “suicides” and non combat deaths are prevented and dealt with. In the world of Internet, cover up is an outdated concept.

    Tags: Armed Forces, Armenia, Armenian Defense Ministry, Criminal Code, Defense Ministry, Major Sasun Galstian, Nagorno Karabakh

  •    Jhangiryan and… human rights   

    So did I miss something? Where was the promised ‘breaking news’ during the opposition rally in Yerevan? Not that I expected any not alone ‘breaking’ news taking into account past experiences and trend… Same old speeches, no inspiration, no drive to move people, no real alternative. Disappointing. Boring.

    And please, someone ask Jhangiryan to shut up. Former military prosecutor was himself accused in human rights violations and torture. And now he is ‘lecturing’ about human rights:

    “For me the army is a most delicate subject, as I worked with the army for ten years and know about progress in army construction and all the aspects of army life. However, what we have been witnessing over recent months sometimes defies imagination of even experienced people. “I could never imagine that an Armenian soldier’s dignity and life might be so valueless that he would be regularly humiliated and beaten up and get pleasure from it [the Youtube video is meant],” Jhangiryan said. “It is criminal and permissiveness that is the real enemy,” he said.”

    RFE/RL report, April 2007:

    A court in Yerevan on Monday gave military prosecutors the green light to continue their investigation into mysterious killings of two Armenian soldiers that has been dogged by allegations of a cover-up and grave human rights abuses. [...]

    The case against the now demobilized soldiers is essentially based on an April 2004 “confession” made by one of them, Razmik Sargsian. The latter retracted the testimony shortly afterwards, saying that it was extracted by force. The two other soldiers also claim to have been badly ill-treated in custody.

    Sargsian insisted on Monday that he incriminated himself and his comrades after being brutally tortured by investigators, including Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, who led the probe in his previous capacity as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor. “Gagik Jahangirian personally slapped me when I was taken to his office,” he said. “He was angry because I was unable to raise my head and look him in the eyes due to the beatings. He cracked one of my teeth and dislocated my jaw.”

    Tags: Armenia, Gagik Jahangirian, Razmik Sargsian, RFE, RL

  •    Disgusting. New video allegedly shows bullying and violence in the Armenian army   

    UPDATE 23 September 2010: Exposed online. First – denial. Now – confirmation. Sadistic officer in Armenia army arrested and faces up to 5 years in prison for abuse of soldiers.
    UPDATE 17 September 2010: Armenia MoD confirms that those depicted in army hazing video were identified and detained. More details to be provided.

    UPDATE 16 September 2010: Video was removed from Dailymotion too, but available elsewhere, e.g. on YouTube. It keeps getting removed and reappearing again. What is more important is that according to the media reports, the sadistic officer on the video was identified, and soon Armenian MoD will make a statement. MoD refused so far to confirm media reports. Will keep you posted on developments.

    UPDATE 12 September 2010: Video was removed from YouTube “due to terms of use violation”, but re-appeared on Dailymotion.
    ***

    This video was put on YouTube today and started circulating on Facebook. It titled (AM) Բանակի իրական դեմքը (‘The real face of the army’) and allegedly shows bullying and physical violence in the Armenian army. No description for the video is provided, and it’s not known when and where this video was taken. I can only assume it was taken via mobile phone.

    Urgent investigation is needed to reveal the full details of this incident. What is depicted in this video is simply disgusting. This follows recent cases of “suicides” and non combat deaths in the Armenian army. Over the last couple of days there were more reports on “suicide” and non combat violence in the Armenian army.

    The Ministry of Defence of Armenia was quick today to respond to the video.

    Quote: “The Ministry of Defence of Armenia strongly condemns preparation and deliberate dissemination of such materials aimed at discrediting and diminishing the reputation of the armed forces of Armenia.”

    Basically, what this statement says is that the MoD considers this video material a fabrication. However, before making such statement, the MoD must carry out the investigation to reveal the full circumstances of the incident. And they pledged to do exactly that in the last paragraph of the statement.

    Quote: “The Ministry of Defence of Armenia has taken appropriate steps to clarify the authenticity of the video, identify those captured on the video, reveal the authors, punish those who used the violence.”

    What is the most important and key is to eradicate and fight the root cause of the problem. We all know very well, without the need of videos to prove, that bullying and hazing do exist and widespread in the armed forces and need urgent intervention. Emerging videos or reports simply highlight this disturbing reality and should be taken as a call for actions. Status quo is a violation of human rights of servicemen and consequently a real threat to the national security of Armenia.

    Tags: AM, Armenia, UPDATE

  •    Army Non-Combat Deaths Prompt Calls for Reform   

    The Caucasus country has a mandatory two-year conscription service. (Photo: Defense Ministry, Armenia)
    Armenian troops march in step during a military parade in Yerevan for the 15th anniversary of the independence of Armenia. The Caucasus country has a mandatory two-year conscription service.

    The Caucasus country has a mandatory two-year conscription service. (Photo: Defense Ministry, Armenia)

    Armenian troops march in step during a military parade in Yerevan for the 15th anniversary of the independence of Armenia. The Caucasus country has a mandatory two-year conscription service.
    (Photo: Defense Ministry, Armenia)

    After the deaths of seven soldiers this summer in non-combat-related shootings, public pressure for reform is coming to bear on one of Armenia’s most closed institutions — its armed forces.

    Reports of physical abuse and suicides in the Armenian army are not new. Such incidents are in part connected to a tradition of hazing, known as dedovshchina, which was practiced in the Soviet Army before Armenia regained independence in 1991. But Armenia’s army in the past month-and-a-half has undergone a greater number of non-combat-related shooting deaths than at any time since the Soviet Union’s collapse. The shootings have focused public attention on the military abuse issue.

    On July 28, a conscript stationed in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh shot dead two lieutenants and three privates before killing himself. Less than a month later, on August 17, the process repeated itself when 26-year-old Junior Sergeant Haroutiun Vardanian shot dead a fellow non-commissioned officer, 44-year-old Junior Sergeant Arsen Chobanian. Vardanian was arrested and charged with premeditated murder.

    The July incident was preceded by the alleged suicide of a 30-year-old lieutenant, Artak Nazarian, in northeast Armenia — a death that relatives claim was the result of physical abuse.

    In connection with the July 28 shooting, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian fired eight officers, demoted 10 commanders and department heads and issued formal warnings to another 20 officers.

    The Armenian army, a pillar of the Armenian ruling establishment, in the past has largely escaped heated general public criticism about physical abuse and non-combat deaths. Criticizing the army can often be portrayed as questioning Armenia’s own statehood – a portrayal fueled by longstanding tensions with the neighboring states of Turkey and Azerbaijan, which media often present as bent on Armenia’s destruction.

    In the past, the parents, relatives and friends of soldiers who died due to suspected abuse have borne the onus for organizing protests and calling attention to the problem. Some of these parents now say that they sense a certain change in the military’s attitude on the abuse issue.

    Under the supervision of Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, a public oversight body comprising human rights activists, soldiers’ rights advocates, doctors and psychologists has been established to monitor treatment of soldiers. “We felt that he wants to change something,” commented Robert Mirzoian, whose 21-year-old son, Gegham Sergoian, was killed by his commanding officer in 2007. “It is very difficult, but he tries.”

    Some human rights activists question whether such measures are enough. The military has lacked the will to forcefully address the problem, they say. In most non-combat army deaths, “those responsible … are not prosecuted, and often weaker [people in the chain of command] become scapegoats, innocent people are convicted, cases are covered up, and all this generates new crimes,” claimed activist Avetik Ishkhanian, president of the Helsinki Committee, a Yerevan-based human rights watchdog group.

    Defense Minister Ohanian counters that a seven-year reform program, launched in 2008, is addressing the problem head-on. The average number of soldiers killed each year in non-combat situations, or who committed suicide, has decreased significantly in recent years, in comparison to figures for the period 1998-2005.

    “Of course, there is still a lot to be done, but the number of death cases decreases with each passing year,” Ohanian said in a written response to questions posed by EurasiaNet.org. “Criminal cases are filed for each … case, with grave consequences. The guilty are punished in accordance with their crimes.” Punishments include arrests and discharges.

    Apart from the deaths this summer, the army has not yet released statistics on non-combat deaths for this year. For 2009, the United States Department of State’s annual human rights report recorded 42 non-combat deaths in Armenia’s armed forces; 11 of which were reported suicides.

    The minister’s words provide little comfort to the families of those soldiers killed. “I sent my child to defend his motherland. If my son died in combat, I wouldn’t be suffering so much. But he was simply executed, and no one even knows why,” said Sargis Sarkisian, the father of one of the July 28 victims, 19-year-old Private Andranik Sarkisian.

    The perpetrator, 21-year-old Private Karo Aivazian, was inducted into the army despite an alleged criminal record in the United States that reportedly prompted his deportation to Armenia in 2009, a relative says.

    Aivazian’s grandfather, Jivan Mikayelian, claims that enlistment officers demanded payment to prevent Aivazian’s induction into the army; the youngster’s criminal record was no deterrent. “They shouldn’t have taken [him] into the army. I showed all his papers at the military registration and enlistment office, … told them that he had been convicted for weapons theft, escaped from prison, was put into a mental health institution,” recounted Mikayelian. “They asked me for $4,000 [to drop Aivazian from the registration roster]. I didn’t have it, so they took him.” (Aivazian’s criminal record in the United States could not be independently verified).

    Defense Ministry officials declined to discuss Aivazian’s case with EurasiaNet.org; an investigation into the July 28 shooting incident is ongoing.

    Another human rights activist, Mikayel Danielian, president of the Helsinki Association, argues that corruption should be as much a target for reform as physical abuse of conscripts. “The army is completely drenched in corruption; this very case is a vivid example,” Danielian said in reference to Aivazian.

    “Someone with such a criminal record shouldn’t have been conscripted into the army, but since some other boys were freed from army service in exchange for a bribe, they had to secure a headcount, so they took him into the army.”

    While opposition politicians have called for the resignation of both Defense Minister Ohanian and President Serzh Sargsyan (who served as defense minister from 1993 to 1995) over the deaths, pro-government politicians continue to stoutly defend the military establishment.

    In comments to EurasiaNet.org, the leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia’s parliamentary faction called on journalists and human rights activists to refrain from “raising unnecessary hysteria and slandering the Armenian army.” While the violence is “certainly regrettable” and “terrible,” it is not “common,” asserted Galust Sahakian. “It’s wrong to cast stones at our army and sow seeds of distrust towards it. … This is a question of our security.”

    Tags: Armenia, Artak Nazarian, Avetik Ishkhanian, Defense Minister Ohanian, Defense Ministry, Galust Sahakian, Gegham Sergoian, Helsinki Association, Jivan Mikayelian, Mikayel Danielian, Nagorno Karabakh, Photo Defense Ministry, president, Private Andranik Sarkisian, Private Karo Aivazian, Robert Mirzoian, Sargis Sarkisian, Soviet Union, Turkey, United States


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