Fierce public debate around transgender woman’s address to Armenian parliament
The recent address of a transgender woman to the Armenian parliament has caused quite the controversy in Armenia, with the issue being discussed in the parliament, in the media and on Facebook.
Lilit Martirosyan’s historic address
Lilit Martirosyan’s address to the Armenian parliament was the first time a transgender individual has addressed the country’s highest legislative body.
The speech was made on 5 April, during public hearings on the topic of National Agenda for Human Rights.
Public organizations and NGOs were invited to the hearing, including the NGO Right Side, headed by Lilit Martirosyan.
“I ask you to look at me as the collective image of tortured, raped, physically abused, burned, stabbed, killed, emigrated, subjected to discrimination, poor and unemployed transgender people,” she told MPs and others gathered at the discussion.
Anger within the parliament
Martirosyan’s address at first caused a mixed reaction in parliament among the participants of the discussions themselves.
First, the head of the Human Rights Commission and a Prosperous Armenia party MP, Naira Zohrabyan, expressed her dissatisfaction with the content of the speech.
She allowed Martirosyan to complete her speech and did not interrupt her, but later she expressed her indignation as to why she was present in the hall that day, and moreover, questioned whether her address was relevant to the discussion of the day.
The head of the parliamentary commission said that the topic of discussion was reforms in the judicial and legal sphere, and the rights of people with disabilities and children. Therefore, she said, Martirosyan’s address was disrespectful towards both her and the parliament as a whole.
“No one is violating your rights, but we have a clear agenda and you are violating it. This is disrespectful towards the commission and for human rights,” said Zohrabyan.
Her position was supported by the Prosperous Armenia party leader, Gagik Tsarukyan.
“I will tell everyone … as the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party, as the head of a family brought up in Armenian traditions and faith, this is unacceptable for us … This is a vice, and we must hide the vice as it was before. We will never allow this phenomenon to spread,” Tsarukyan said.
Other Prosperous Armenia party members also spoke on this issue.
“It is an embarrassment to give the most important political platform of the country to such people. If you want to bring European values to Armenia, then you are very mistaken. There are people who are against it – most of the people in fact. Europe is emptying today, because women live with each other, and men live with men, they do not have children … There are statistics that show that within 10 years, Europe will become empty,” said MP Vardan Gukasyan.
Anger outside the parliament
On 8 April, a protest was held against Martirosyan’s speech outside the Armenian parliament building.
Its participants, among whom were representatives of the clergy, demanded a meeting with government officials, as well as a ‘ban on sexual minorities’ at the legislative level.
They offered to “consecrate” the National Assembly hall in order to “clear it of the transgender [individual’s] presence”.
The issue reached the prime minister, who said he had studied the details of the case, right up to the biography of the speaker who spoke in parliament.
Nikol Pashinyan called the speech of Lilit Martirosyan “a carefully planned political provocation” by the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia in relation to the new government.
While discussing Lilit Martirosyan’s speeh in parliament, representatives of the former ruling party accused the new authorities of ‘fostering sexual minorities’.
In response to these statements, Pashinyan said that it was during the rule of the Republican Party that Armenian citizen Vagarshak Martirosyan had received a passport in the name of Lilit Martirosyan:
“In 2015, the so-called conservative authorities of Armenia, represented by the Republican Party, gave a young man by the name of Vagharshak an Armenian passport with the name Lilit Martirosyan, and in the column ‘gender’, they indicated this person as a man. I would like ask if there are many men among the Republicans with the name Lilit Martirosyan? When the Republican Party gave this man – Lilit Martirosyan – his passport and included him on electoral lists, they gave him all the rights and obligations of a citizen … I was correct in saying that the Republicans are gay activists.”
The prime minister also found out that the list of participants in the parliamentary discussions, in which Martirosyan was included, was signed by the chair of the parliamentary commission on human rights, Naira Zohrabyan. Thus, he said, her indignation at the appearance of this speaker at the rostrum of the parliament is baseless.
Pashinyan appealed to the Prosperous Armenia party:
“The behavior that the chair of the parliamentary commission on human rights manifested in this situation calls into question the situation with human rights … Prosperous Armenia should think whether Zohrabyan can remain a representative of this commission.”
The reaction on social media
Facebook users are divided into two camps.
Some believe that Martirosyan had the right to speak from the rostrum of the parliament, while others say it is an embarrassment to the country.
A few noteworthy comments:
“Lilit Martirosyan is a national hero!”
“Where are we going? Previously, people wouldn’t have the brazen courage to say something about being LGBT, but now they are speaking from the rostrum of the parliament!”
“This is The Divine Comedy.”
“What a circus.”
“Now if our country had its own Ramzan Kadyrov or Habib Nurmagomedov, such mistakes of nature would not have gotten there even for a second.”
“Is there any law prohibiting a man to have the name Lilith?”