Arpa Film Festival Gives Platform to LGBT Voices in Armenian Filmmaking

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Two LGBT-themed films featured at the Arpa International Film Festival

Two LGBT-themed films featured at the Arpa International Film Festival

BY LOUSINE SHAMAMIAN

This past weekend’s Arpa International Film Festival was a momentous occasion for the arts and Armenia. It is probably not news to many how difficult it can be to be openly LGBT within our Armenian community. Film is an opportunity to give voice to the voiceless, bringing to the center those who are marginalized and allowing those voices to be heard. The 2017 Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival in Armenia was originally slated to include two Armenian films with LGBT themes, “Listen To Me” and “Apricot Groves,” but they were dropped due to pressure from the Cinematographers Union. This past weekend, we in LA were lucky enough to be able to screen these two films at the Arpa International Film Festival.

When the Golden Apricot Festival censored  these films, it squandered the opportunity to participate in one of the most meaningful traditions of filmmaking: being a catalyzing force for social and cultural change. Aside from this lost opportunity, the censorship at Golden Apricot has a larger impact on our Armenian community as a whole. What could have been a moment of growing tolerance and acceptance instead harkened back to a darker time.

As Armenians we know all too well what it means to be censored. Having lived in our native land of Anatolia for so many centuries, many of those as minorities ruled by unforgiving empires, we know the delicate intricacies of conforming in order not to raise the ire of the dominant power.

Our fear and compromise of our freedom, liberty, and identity reaches far back, well before the Genocide. When LGBT Armenians claim their existence, the resistance from the broader Armenian community stems from centuries of needing to assimilate and avoid being a target.

It shows up in every household that is more preoccupied with what their Armenian friends, family, and neighbors think or will say than with their own genuine thoughts, interests or motivations. We live in fear of not fitting the mold that has been deemed acceptable by our community’s patriarchs and matriarchs.

Film has the power to shift these perceptions, to normalize what for so many is taboo. This is why this weekend’s line up at Arpa International Film Festival is breathtakingly profound: two LGBT themed Armenian films in one Armenian film festival. Had Armenia’s Golden Apricot Film Festival stood bravely behind their original programming decisions, they unquestionably would have expedited the tide of progress.

In Avo Kambourian’s film “Echoes of Survival,” renowned oud player Ara Dinkjian says “the Armenians in Turkey are heroes to me, because I don’t know of any place where it is as difficult to remain Armenian. They have held that torch and I think they should be recognized and praised.” I agree with Ara and I can’t help but take it a step further. I would contend that the second most difficult place for Armenians to remain Armenian is Armenia – if you are LGBT. The same way the Armenian community as a minority in Turkey can’t act freely, must calculate their every move because essentially they are villainized, so must the LGBT Armenians in Armenia.

This struggle is at the heart of Gagik Ghazareh’s intimate documentary “Listen To Me” about LGBT Armenians in Armenia. One of the participants of “Listen To Me” eloquently asks “Are we asking for any special treatments? No, we want the same rights as everyone else: to be given the freedom and respect to live our lives as everyone else. At the end of the day, we are all human.” Which is why “Listen To Me” should be essential viewing for all Armenians both in and outside of Armenia. This beautiful documentary presents the spectrum of the LGBT experience in Armenia through candid interviews with brave souls who have risked making themselves targets in order to speak their truth. They share their humanity and as a result, make it easier for all those who live in fear, silence, and lies because frankly, sometimes their lives depend on it.

It is due time that hatred towards the LGBT community in Armenia and the diaspora ceases to exist. Of course, the culture is slowly shifting thanks to brave people like the ones who are featured in “Listen To Me” and are a part of the organization Pink Armenia, which fights for human rights in Armenia. GALAS, the Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society, is trying to do the same here in Los Angeles.

In this work, we need to understand that it is human nature to fear what is different. Without strong counter narratives, can you blame the Turks growing up in Turkey for the views they hold, who for decades were taught that Armenians are evil, conniving, and not to be trusted? Ultimately, our limitations as people lay in our inability to see one another’s humanity. Our shared humanity should prevail. Allowing another man or woman to live their life, to love who they love, to express their gender identity in the way that feels true to who they are, should not be up for communal debate. Just as respect and freedom for the existence of Armenians in Turkey or immigrants in America shouldn’t be up for debate, neither should LGBT identity be under attack in Armenia.

I commend Arpa for screening the two films that were censored at the Golden Apricot Festival. The Golden Apricot Festival should redeem itself by screening “Listen To Me” and “Apricot Groves” at next year’s festival and celebrate the essential duty of all Armenians to respect one another’s humanity. We as a people need more films like these, not fewer.

Learn more about the Arpa International Film Festival and GALAS.

Lousine Shamamian is a comedian, performer and originator of the web series “Lousine: Lesbian Matchmaker To The Straights.” A television editor and board member of GALAS – The Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society, she was born in Armenia, raised in Brooklyn and now resides in Los Angeles.

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5 Comments

  1. Onnik Kiremitlian said:

    Golden Apricot Festival had every right to censor the films that promote LGBT depravity. This is not an issue of human rights, but it is about upholding human morality and decency.

  2. Houry Geudelekian said:

    Thank you Lousine for so eloquently highlighting the plight of LGBTQ community and the daily struggle they face in Armenia. I do hope Golden Apricot will heed your advice and screen these movies next year or better yet make a public statement about the lack of sensitivity they demonstrated last year when they censored them in the first place. We are but a small population in this world and if we want to advance in any way we can’t leave anyone behind. We must embrace all Armenians no matter how they want to identify.

  3. Nick Z. said:

    I’m wondering what is so brave about a man deciding that he would like to indulge in sexual relations with another man? How is me recognizing and not tolerating this “depriving them of their humanity”? It seems to me this entire article was built on the idea of emotion. What identity? Are you gay or are you Armenian first? Choose one.

    “Without strong counter narratives, can you blame the Turks growing up in Turkey for the views they hold, who for decades were taught that Armenians are evil, conniving, and not to be trusted? Ultimately, our limitations as people lay in our inability to see one another’s humanity. Our shared humanity should prevail. Allowing another man or woman to live their life, to love who they love, to express their gender identity in the way that feels true to who they are, should not be up for communal debate. ”

    It’s small steps like these that devolve a moral society into a secular and immoral one like the ones that exist in Western society. It’s small “feeling” based articles like this that slowly poison a nation. First it starts off as “accept the gays and lesbians” then it moves onto how “a biological male is actually a female if he says so”. You haven’t provided any reason as to why people should accept them in the first place other than your subjective feelings. This isn’t a slippery slope as the US is currently going through this exact scenario. Love the last sentence, “should not be up for debate”. Forceful with your views onto others, but hate it when people do the same exact thing back to you.

    “As Armenians we know all too well what it means to be censored. Having lived in our native land of Anatolia for so many centuries, many of those as minorities ruled by unforgiving empires, we know the delicate intricacies of conforming in order not to raise the ire of the dominant power.”

    So if someone is a minority, their voice should automatically be deemed as worthy? Pedophiles might be a minority in a population too, should we listen to them as well? Also you make it seem like we were sheep and never fought back. History begs to differ. Yes, people ruled over us, but they never conquered us.

    Seriously, this entire article was an appeal to emotion. Then again, what do you expect from a leftist. Take your virtue signaling somewhere else.

    • Mike G said:

      Armenia is a secular country and it’s not immoral at all. The vast majority of the people are indifferent to religion and are only Christian by name to avoid social stigma. The last time Armenia was religious was before the soviet union which was a century ago. I understand you have your personal prejudice against lgbt but they’re here stay. And as this old hetamnac generation dies lgbt will become more and more accepted by mainstream Armenian society because today’s generation could give two f’s what two consenting adults do in the bedroom.

  4. Lousine Shamamian said:

    For those who use God, Jesus, or Christianity as their justification to judge LGBT individuals:
    You do not own claim to religion or Christianity.  Jesus did not judge his neighbors.  He died for OUR collective sins.  Under Christianity,  we are all sinners.  Before you judge the spec in your neighbor’s eye,  look at the plank in your own.  The point of Christ wasn’t to sit and judge his neighbors, but to love and treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated.  Please do not hide your hate, judgement, or lack of compassion under the guise of Christ or religion.  If you are Christian, let this not get lost on you:

    James 4:11-12
    Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?

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