Editor’s Note: Kyle Khandikian, a former Editorial Assistant at Asbarez’s English Section, left to volunteer for a year as a part of Birthright Armenia. Below is a Facebook “status” he posted about being discriminated in Armenia 5 months into his trip.
I was kicked out of the Armenian dance group I have been practicing with for the last 5 months today because the instructor spotted one of my writings online and found out that I’m gay. Part of the reason why I came to Armenia was to do and feel the sort of thing that those dances make me feel: strong, and connected with the culture and identity I’ve always drawn strength from my entire life. I was told that I’m not Armenian, that I don’t belong to this “nation,” and that I don’t have the right to dance Armenian dance because I’m gay. He’s making sure that every dance instructor in his circle knows my name and does not let me dance.
I LOVE Armenian dance. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve been a part of in Armenia, so this comes as a real heartbreak to me. It also comes as a reminder of the type of rejection, shame, and violence I feared from Armenians growing up, which ultimately led me to reject my Armenian identity and the community I come from. One of the other reasons why I came to Armenia was to reconcile these identities that seemed to be at odds–gay and Armenian–and fall in love again with this little homeland of mine. I have fallen in love with Armenia again, but days like today make it hard to be here and to be who I am–someone who loves Armenia but who Armenia doesn’t love back. I came to Armenia to understand better and struggle against the poisonous ethno-nationalism that’s at the root of the homophobia and transphobia Armenians around the world experience (an important point to be made: oppressive homo-transphobic nationalism exists in Armenian communities everywhere, and is not something unique to the Republic of Armenia). Experiencing it so explicitly today has shaken me, but it won’t stop me.
I would like to know who exactly these people are that decide who is and isn’t Armenian? Who gave them the authority and legitimacy to control and recognize who we are, what our values are, what we believe in, what our “nation” is? Where did they get this power from to subject us to this violence? I’m not just talking about my dance instructor. I’m talking about all the people in our lives who attempt to define us, our bodies, our sexuality, our genders, our identities, who try to define what “Armenia” is–the parents, the teachers, the schools, the priests, the churches, the boards, the committees, the political parties, the “revolutionaries.” Who are they? What gives them the right? How DARE they, after everything our people have gone through–are still going through? I know who and what I am. I know I’m Armenian, and I love being Armenian, and I love being gay, and I will dance again.