Each issue, we chat with readers of Facing Fundamentalisms and share a brief summary of recent events relating to religion, tradition, culture and rights-based organizing in your contexts. (If you have an idea you’d like to see featured in this space, please reach out!)
Thank you to Anna Nikoghosyan, Executive Director of Society Without Violence (SWV), an organization working on women’s rights and gender equality in Armenia, for collaborating on this issue’s A Reader Writes.
Women’s and human rights organizations in Armenia are increasingly becoming targets of attacks by neo-nationalist extremist groups claiming that rights groups are advancing ‘anti-family’ and anti-Armenian agendas and are a threat to the nation. In order to spread hate against women’s human rights organizations and activists, these groups manipulate the meaning of “gender equality”, associating it with ‘homosexual propaganda’, paedophilia and incest. Women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs) are called “traitors to the nation”, “destroyers of families”, “a threat to Armenian values” and promoters of sexual abuse of children.
Last April, an attack took place at a closed roundtable event where SWV planned to officially present our research and recommendations on integrating a gender component into the social science curriculum in schools. Even though it was not a public event, registration was required, and only specific media were invited, somehow around 20 neo-nationalist extremists arrived at the meeting venue with “No to anti-family propaganda” and “Homo-fascism will not pass” placards. Some tried to enter the meeting, and verbally and physically attacked participants and hotel staff. The incident was filmed by some uninvited media, who later falsely reported that SWV had initiated the violence.
This attack once again demonstrates that awareness of gender issues is very low in Armenia. Growing extremism is posing a huge challenge for WHRDs, putting their security and well-being at risk. It is critical to note that these right-wing groups are very pro-Russian and seek to influence Armenia’s relations with Moscow and prevent closer ties with the EU.
This attack also comes in a period when official discussions of gay propaganda bans and pro-natalist policies are growing, indicating a broader attack on basic rights that will affect everyone. The greatest challenge for rights-based groups in Armenia is to come together across our sectors and issues to strengthen collective resistance.