“This is our American volunteer– her name is Liz”
“Come in Come in (hugs). Pleased to meet you. What will you have to eat?”
“But you’ll have something? Chai? Coffee?”
“Tea would be nice but don’t go to any trouble — we ate already”
Interlude to prepare blackberries, peaches, watermelon, hon, homemade halva, and tea served black in ornate glass cups with frilled edges and sapphire beading– exquisite.
” My Aunt has a beautiful voice. She sings at the Culture House. People love her”
“Will you sing something now?
She does. Keeping time by tapping her thumb and the side of her fist on the coffee table. She does indeed have a beautiful voice.
” This is a beautiful home”
” My uncle did it. He is a master designer. Come outside and see what he did”
We walk across a huge, covered deck and sit at the back of the house overlooking a large garden full of fruit and vegetables and with a fabulous view of the forest and mountains.
“When I was a child I was as welcome here as at my own home”
“Did you hear about Shurnukh?”
We all nod
” We do not like those type of people here”
“It wasn’t good. People should live in peace and respect each other”
“Things are different in America…Do you have more LBGT there?”
“Not more. The same amount. It is just that people there are free to be themselves. Whoever they are. They do not have to hide from their family and neighbors. It is not right to threaten and fight”
“But the way they act. The life they choose”
“It is how they are. How they were born. Like left or right handed”
“Do you have a law?”
“Yes we have a law that says everyone is equal. Religion, race, sexuality, eye color, left or right handed we all deserve the same treatment”
“It is not good. God made a man and a woman”.
“God made all creatures. Every species has homosexuals. It is not bad it is just different.”
“But men and men getting married… Women and women getting married… No children”
“Some people adopt children”
“Two men bringing up a child…”
” We do not like that here. We wish there were not these people here. We do not want your law here”
“People are the same all over the world”
Uncle appears from the back of the garden and hands me a small tomato.
“You should have some more”
“No, no– we ate”
Aunt goes to the kitchen and returns with a handful of tomatoes and baby cucumbers. She washes them under the garden tap. We eat them.
” Your Aunt has beautiful eyes. Very unusual to see green eyes here”
“My brother has them too”
“This is a beautiful place. The mountain and the rocks are lovely”
” You are welcome in my house any time. Come back again. Come back and eat”
We walk to the front of the balcony to admire the view over the city
“It is so different there. All types of people. Here if we saw a Turk we would kill him. There –all types of people in one country”
“Here we have only Armenians and tourists. We are the only people here. It is good I think. The same kind of people. We are all the same in our country”
“You can keep an eye on everything from here. Know what everyone is doing”
“We should go. I will call a taxi.”
“Let me give you some candy–to take to the office”
Aunt goes into the house and returns with two handfuls of wrapped sweets she stuffs into my friend’s purse.
“Thank you. We don’t need it. But thank you”
“Thank you Thank you. You are very kind. I am pleased to meet you”
” Come back. Come back anytime. You are always welcome here. Careful on the stairs. Goodbye. Good luck. Goodbye”
” I have no problem with gays. I know gay people– Europeans. Americans. But he just wants to provoke trouble. He is so…. disrespectful”
“I don’t know him but I believe that’s true. But a mob going to someone’s house. Fighting. People in hospital…”
“You know some of the mob were women?”
“Shame on them whoever they were. Hounding people out of their own home. Hurting them. That is no way to behave”
“He asks for trouble… people say you know that he only got like this after he met a Peace Corps Volunteer”
“A woman. They were friends. And then he started to make trouble. It is ok to be gay but he makes everyone have to know it. Since they were friends. I wonder: did she make him gay?”
“People are born gay. You can’t make anyone gay–or straight. Maybe she gave him the confidence to be truly himself”
“But the way he chooses to live his life. He does it to provoke trouble”
“Maybe. But ignore him. No need to hurt him”.
“No one should get hurt. But disrespectful…”
“They told me when I went to the States I would have a culture shock but I had no problem. But Sweden. I had a culture shock. I try to accept everyone, respect everyone but some of it was hard to understand…”
” I think I might have culture shock in Sweden too. But the more people we meet the more we learn I suppose”
” My professor in the States was lesbian. I got to know her. I respect her. So intelligent. I know lesbians here. After Shurnukh I put a message on my website. Said we have to respect everyone. Human rights. Honestly I was surprised at some of the messages I got. One from a Doctor saying it is unnatural. Wrong. Says it is in the Bible. I don’t read the Bible much. Do you know what it says?”
“No idea. I think we are all good at reading it the way we want to. And it was written a long time ago. We change the way we see things all the time. We learn. ”
” I don’t want to go against God”
“Love one another. Respect. Do the right thing. The brave thing. I admire the way you think. I really do”.
96% of people in Armenia report that they do not approve of homosexuality. In the last couple of weeks, this led to an attack on a house party of men in a village close to where I live. You can read a report of the incident here. https://www.civilnet.am/news/2018/08/06/LGBT-Activists-Attacked-in-Shurnukh-Village/342671
You can find more data in these recent reports.
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/world_report_download/201801world_report_web.pdf (from page 41)