When contextualizing its report on transphobic death threats received by an Armenian activist, The Guardian somehow forgets to mention religion

Lilit Martirosyan’s speech in the Armenian parliament has gone viral.

Addressing a panel on human rights, Martirosyan described the plight of the trans community in Armenia. She explained how her own experience of threats and violence reflect the challenges that she and other trans people face in the country:

I encompass in myself — tortured, raped, kidnapped, subjected to physical violence, burned, immolated, knifed, subjected to murder attempt, killed, emigrated, robbed, subjected to stigma and discrimination in social, medical, legal, economic areas and in every aspect of a dignified life, unemployed, poor, and morally abandoned — the Armenian Transgender’s image.

While Armenia has passed legislation to decriminalize homosexuality, there are no laws to prohibit discrimination against LGBT persons. The government disqualifies LGBT people from joining the military. Same-sex couples are not allowed to marry, or to adopt.

ILGA, a globally renowned NGO, ranks Armenia 48th out of 49 European countries for LGBT rights. In the ‘Hate Crime & Hate Speech’ category, Armenia finishes (joint) bottom of the pile, with a score of zero percent. The past year has seen a surge in violent anti-LGBT attacks in the country.

Therefore, perhaps it was no surprise when Martirosyan’s truly historic and brave speech sparked an immediate backlash from Armenian conservatives. It started even before she left the podium. Panel chair, Naira Zohrabyan, decried Martirosyan’s speech for having (allegedly) deviated from the official debate schedule and ordered her to leave the chamber, shouting “You have violated the agenda!” at her as she walked away. Some of the MPs applauded this verdict, shouting “Bravo, Ms Zohrabyan!

Pic: YouTube

The Guardian reported on the death threats today:

The speech, two weeks ago, has since sparked a backlash in Armenia, where homosexuality has been decriminalised but discrimination against LGBTI people is rife. There have been anti-LGBTI protests in front of the national assembly and verbal attacks made by some parliamentarians have included calls for her to be burned alive…

Martirosyan said the home addresses of several people who work for Right Side, the transgender rights organisation she created in 2016, have been leaked and that her own home address has been spread across the internet by extremist groups who have threatened to “kill them if we find them”. Nationalists, she said, have gathered outside her house, raising Armenian flags…

And so on, and so on.

Pic: Aysor.am

Strangely, across its 760-word report, The Guardian entirely avoids pointing out why these Armenian protesters want LGBT persons to be “burned alive” so much that there are pickets outside parliament and — more disturbingly — attempted lynchings in rural Armenian villages.

They fail to even refer to the fact that the protests are spearheaded by Armenian church figures and clerics, and that much of the inflammatory language used in the protests is infused with religious diatribes.

The leader of the Prosperous Armenia party, Gagik Tsarukyan, invoked “Armenian traditions and faith” to declare Martirosyan’s address a “vice,” adding that “we must hide the vice as it was before.”

Protesters were led to parliament by religious groups and individual clerics, who called for a “ban on sexual minorities” at the legislative level. The clerics included Ghazar Petrosyan, a priest who once berated the Armenian president for being a “friend” of Elton John, on the basis that “nothing can alleviate the sin of being gay.

One of their schticks was to declare that Martirosyan’s speech had “desecrated” the parliamentary podium, and that the chamber needed now to be cleansed. They brought incense, which they said was needed in order to “sanctify” the podium at which Martirosyan had stood. The protesters were told that this would set off the fire alarm in parliament, so they offered to bless the podium with holy water instead. Some of the religious groups even brought a new podium to replace the one that Martirosyan had tainted.

In Armenia, religious attacks on the LGBT community go right to the top. Last year, the supreme leader of the Armenian Church decried “the phenomenon of homosexuality” as “unacceptable to the way of human nature” and, literally, “a threat to our nation’s survival.”

The fact that The Guardian can report on these protests without even mentioning their religious underpinnings — in a country such as Armenia, where church-led conservatism has long been a source of concern — is, frankly, nothing less than bizarre.

The obvious question to raise is: would The Guardian have mentioned religion had these protests taken place in a Muslim country?

Well, when The Guardian reports on transphobia and homophobia in places like Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Iran, for example, it seems to me that they are quite quick to refer to sharia law, clerics, and other religious frames of reference by way of context. The fact they avoid doing so when describing Christian protests in Armenia certainly stands out.

I note that the Guardian’s Armenia report is “supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

I wonder does this mean that certain terms and conditions apply?

Maybe not, but it’s worth remembering all the same that, even in The Guardian, paid-for content is exactly what it says it is.

Paid for.

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