Nine LGBTQ people were attacked by a mob of Armenian villagers on Friday night in a brutal assault that left at least two hospitalized.
The incident began earlier in the day, when two teenagers approached a house in the remote southern village of Shurnukh that was being visited by LGBTQ activists and advocates for women’s rights and environmental causes. They began screaming homophobic slurs at the residence and peppering it with fireworks.
Although the activists reported the harassment to police, local authorities were unable to locate those responsible.
Later that very same evening, a mob of approximately 30 townsfolk descended upon the home and demanded an audience with the activists, as the news website Open Caucasus Media originally reported.
When the group of LGBTQ gathered in the house attempted to leave the premises, reports allege that they were pelted with rocks by the mob — who berated them with anti-LGBTQ obscenities and claimed they were “Turks.” Armenia and its Turkish neighbors have a long history of conflict dating back to the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which 1.5 million were slaughtered.
Police didn’t arrive on the scene for close to an hour and a half. LGBTQ activists didn’t receive help from authorities until they fled the mob and attempted to flag down passing cars for assistance.
The attackers allegedly instructed those driving by to ignore the pleas for help. “Don’t stop, these are gays,” they said.
Because law enforcement didn’t bring enough vehicles to ensure safe passage for all nine of the victims, police had to ask a bus to take the LGBTQ activists to a police station in Goris — which is more than two hours away.
While a majority of the injuries were minor, two survivors of the attack were taken to the hospital for medical treatment. According to OC Media, one of the activists, Robert, received stitches on his head. He also sustained severe bruises, scratches, and a swollen ankle as a result.
🏳️🌈🇦🇲 9 LGBTI People got attacked by 30 villagers in a small Armenian village. 2 of them are seriously injured. This is something that should not be happening in the 21st century. Fortunately, this people can still tell what happened. Let's commemorate all those who can't! pic.twitter.com/AeKhAAxEga
— Rémy Bonny (@RemyBonny) August 4, 2018
Robert tells the local publication, however, that “the psychological damage” he has suffered in the aftermath “is worse.”
Although local advocates say this attack is the most severe the LGBTQ community has witnessed in recent years, the advocacy group ILGA-Europe claimed it’s far from the first. In a statement, the organization said it’s just one of a string of assaults on LGBTQ people — which includes a similar attack in Goris four months ago.
Two of the individuals targeted on Friday were also involved in that incident — and one was beaten in the face.
ILGA-Europe called for a full investigation into the attacks.
“LGBTQ people are part of Armenian society and should be able to live fully and freely, without fear,” the group claimed in a press release. “We call on local police officers, national law enforcement agencies and policymakers to find the perpetrators, fully investigate this incident without delay, and introduce laws to protect LGBTQ people against bias-motivated crimes.”
The violence was also condemned by the U.S. Embassy in the Armenian capital of Yerevan in a tweet.
Armenian police often decline to pursue charges in cases of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, but authorities have reportedly begun investigating the August 3 assault. Several suspects were brought in for questioning over the weekend.
Activists, though, are not hopeful justice will be served. Elvira Meliksetyan, former media manager of the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia, posted a photo on Facebook which she claims depicts former Shurnukh mayor Hakob Arshakyan conversing “warmly” with one of the alleged attackers.
Armenia — a former Soviet republic bordering Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran — has struggled to embrace its LGBTQ population following independence from the USSR.
According to a 2012 report from the advocacy organization Pink Armenia, 19 percent of respondents in Armenia’s three largest cities believe LGBTQ people are “diseased.” Thirteen percent claimed homosexuality was brought to the country by the West, while 11 percent felt same-sex attractions are a “result of upbringing.”
Meanwhile, more than half (55 percent) said they would cut off connection with a friend, family member, or acquaintance if they discovered that individual was LGBTQ.
Armenia finished in the bottom three in ILGA’s 2017 Rainbow Europe report — which ranks the continent’s most and least LGBTQ-friendly nations. The only countries which fared worse in the survey were Russia and Azerbaijan.