Diaspora Activist Endures Discrimination in Armenia

Kyle Khandikian (Source: Facebook)
Kyle Khandikian (Source: Facebook)

Kyle Khandikian (Source: Facebook)

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.

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22 Comments

  1. Albertino said:

    You just answered the question you are asking in the preceding paragraph: “oppressive homo-transphobic nationalism exists in Armenian communities everywhere, and is not something unique to the Republic of Armenia”

    If you believe that is the consensus, then you would think that “the majority” is the answer to “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?”

    Demokratia.

    ” I love being gay, and I will dance again.” – good for you. Who cares?

  2. Maya said:

    Oh lord let the guy dance! Maybe his gayness might rub on someone. Why are we so prejudice against people that are not like us.

  3. Deborah Devedjian said:

    Sometimes I wonder whether the Armenian community, which has endured so much intolerance in its own history, can’t help itself but to be intolerant of others–and at other times, more generous and welcoming than imaginable. We are a schizophrenic global nation which still has much healing to do. We can be our own problem, or we can be our own solution. It’s our decision.

    Barenk?

  4. David Karamian said:

    Kyle, Don’t let a few ignorant people kill your love and passion for your homeland and our culture. We have the same type of people here in US and other major Western countries. Keep dancing and don’t stop loving Armenia, it’s the best place in the world!!

  5. Alex said:

    Good luck to you Kyle, I’m really sorry you’re going through this and I’m ashamed and embarrassed to read this article. Unfortunately some Armenians insist on behaving like backwards ass village people like it’s something to be proud of. The sad thing is they don’t even realize how repugnant they are.

  6. Artin Terhakopian said:

    Kyle, don’t give up. Be who you are. Only you determine your destiny. I know that this message is already part of your outlook but I wanted to say it just to reinforce your optimism and courage. It is a shame that your instructor couldn’t accept you as a dancer like the rest of the troop. Surround yourself with people who are nurturing and supportive without preconditions.

  7. Hilda Grigorian said:

    Dear Kyle: I applaud you for your courage and bravery to raise your voice. I am an American Armenian and repatriated to the motherland three years ago. While I LOVE Armenia with all it’s good and bad, but this kind of actions doesn’t resonate well with me. This is a progress resistant society, caught up in their past with limited notion to move onto present, and this is when, people like you are a major instrument to bring awareness to masses. Armenian is a progress-resistant society with bunch of narrow minded people who will remain as SMALL PEOPLE.., so, stay away from these people. Don’t let their behavior get on your way, don’t allow anyone to STOP your passion. Ironically, Gay and Lesbian population is growing in Armenia but it’s swept under the rug, it will be a matter of time before it comes on surface. Stay away from negative… focus on positive side of what Armenia has to offer… Thanks for your volunteerism to the Motherland… GOOD ON YOU.

  8. Hovo said:

    I believe there is no discrimination in Armenia in regards of diaspora, however acceptance of homosexuals in Armenia have long way to go mainly because Armenia is one of the most conservative Christian state/nation with strong religion believers.

  9. Gabriel Armas-Cardona said:

    Props for posting this op-ed! Homophobia in the Armenian community, both in Hayastan and in the Diaspora, is a big problem. I hope this op-ed will start some discussions on how one can both be gay and Armenian.

  10. Karine said:

    Don’t let foolish people hurt you. Good luck with dancing, I’m sure you’re doing great :)

  11. Joseph Zakarian said:

    Why don’t you start your own Armenian gay dance group. People are different and yes there’s discrimination everywhere you go.

  12. Justme said:

    Kyle, you have our full support. You are certainly more Armenian than that corrupt official who buys a 70000 dollar range rover for his wife in Yerevan while Armenians in villages and small towns go to bed hungry. Being Armenian is not about your gender, color or sexual orientation. Being Armenian is about your commitment to your homeland and your people. Sadly, it will take time, probably generational change, to get rid of homophobia in Armenia and even diaspora. Personally, I am a conservative and I am against a lot of things that target family values in West but sexual orientation is not a choice. It is idiotic to force people into marriages that will end up with pain.

  13. Gabriel Ohanian Hagopian said:

    Gracias a google trductor pude leer la nota ya que no se leer ni escribir en Ingles. Opino en español y vosotros podreis utiizar el google traductor igualmente. Soy Armenio naci en Uruguay en 1973, soy casado, padre de dos hijos y Juez es mi ocupación. Realmente es para preocuparse que en Armenia -madre patria que he visitado y pienso volver pronto- alguien se atreva a impedir bailar a una persona por su orientacion sexual. Lo que no comparto es que se afirme que en la diaspora, por lo menos en Argentina y Uruguay nunca vi discriminacion por la orientacion sexual. Ahora bien, dejo planteado otro tema : Cuando estuve en Armenia el año pasado, me senti muy bien tratado, pero no como un “Armenio” sino como un “Turista”. Me gustaria saber cual es el sentimiento de los Armenios hacia la dispora. Yo se que America del Sur queda lejos, pero deben saber que nosotros no nacimos aca por eleccion, somos los nietos de las victimas del genocidio, en el caso mis abuelos eran de Lapach, Kahiseri y Nigde (armenia occidental, hoy turquia). Muchos saludos, suerte.

  14. Shakeh said:

    These few people who THINK they get to decide are the same people who have said no self- respecting father would ever bring his daughter to soccer practice. Your courage and strength to be who you are makes you more Armenian than any of those cowards. There are plenty of Armenians who would be proud to stand by you and have you represent Armenian dance, people, and spirit. Dance on!

  15. Hovo said:

    I believe there is no discrimination in Armenia in regards of diaspora, however acceptance of homosexuals in Armenia have long way to go mainly because Armenia is one of the most conservative Christian state/nation with strong religion believers.

  16. Yashua said:

    It’s sad to hear these sort of stories but at the same time not surprised. Homosexuality in Armenia is not something entirely respected and if gay , you’re a shame to ones family. Armenians are proud people and have suffered greatly in the last 100 years which brings forth nationalistic ideologies that cannot comprehend the western acceptance ,who are a bit too tolerant at times. Things take time , generations change , but that shouldn’t change the way you think. Put it this way. One of our greatest Kings was gay. Ara keghetsig wasn’t named “Keghetsig ” because he was beautiful . It was an insult in those days to be called Keghetsig as a King. I mean he didn’t want Queen Shamirams hand , who was described as stunningly sexy.. Which guy wouldn’t want someone so hot ?Bottom line is , It’s all work in process. Just 25 years ago Armenia was part of the Soviet Union , suffered an Earthquake and a large war. You cannot expect it to be understanding of your Western freedom’s. Wipe your tears away Kyle and take a jab to your chin. Your not the only one that struggles in life. No need to paint Armenia as Homophobic because Armenia has freedom’s for its LGBT people’s , unlike many other nations.

  17. Stefan Dallakian said:

    Kyle, this is not an Armenian problem, but a post-Soviet problem. I am a true Armenian and I accept you as my equal. And that’s all that matters. Every nation is in a different social state and this one has a lot of growing to do. Thank you for speaking out about your struggle.

  18. hye said:

    You are Armenian if you feel you are an Armenian. Armenia is yours as much as it is theirs, you are part of Armenia and Armenia is part of you.

  19. Hovo said:

    I believe there is no discrimination in Armenia in regards of diaspora, however acceptance of homosexuals in Armenia have long way to go mainly because Armenia is one of the most conservative Christian state/nation with strong religion believers…

  20. Christina said:

    Dear Kyle, I just wanted to tell you that I’m Armenian myself, and I would accept you for who you are no questions asked!

    Not all Armenians are as ignorant as the ones you had to deal with.

    Cheers!
    Christina

  21. Nishan said:

    Kyle, here’s a deal, you teach me the yarkhushta this September and I’ll dance with you in Republic Square during Independence Day celebrations. Keep loving Armenia because it DOES love us back in so many ways. (I already sent you a FB message and I’m serious about the beer.)

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