Dozens of people held a candlelight vigil on June 13 evening in front of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan in memory of the victims of the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse gay night club on Saturday night which left 50 people dead and dozens of others injured. The gunman behind the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS) in a call to 911 during the attack.Subsequently, ISIS also issued a statement on its Amaq news agency, claiming responsibility for the massacre.
One of the organizers of the event, Public Information and Need of Knowledge NGO (PINK Armenia) executive director Mamikon Hovsepyan, said in conversation with Epress.am that it was painful for him to witness Armenians’ reaction to the attack, which included advocacy of hatred and insults targeting the LGBT+ community.
“People without the elementary capacity to think began to justify the criminal. I do not understand how a crime against humanity can be justified. Many in Armenia have been aggressive and have even expressed support for the terrorists, inviting them to Armenia, which is very sad and inhumane. Today we came here to express our solidarity with the families of the victims.” Hovsepyan said.
The activist added that he was left “dumbstruck” by Armenian President, head of ruling Republican Party Serzh Sargsyan sending his condolences to U.S. President Barack Obama in connection with the shooting; “It would have been great had [the condolences] been genuine and heartfelt. But I don’t believe it; because the same party that justified 4 years ago [the attack on a LGBT-friendly pub in Yerevan] today extended its condolences in connection with a similar act. I do find it ironic, and yet I’d like to believe that they’ve changed.”
Participant Romik Danielyan, for his part, said Sargsyan’s message to the U.S. President was “ridiculous.” “There was no reaction from him whatsoever in connection with the DIY events, and only a few years later he sends a very kind letter to a foreign country, calling for tolerance. Meanwhile, there is no such attitude towards LGBT+ people living in Armenia.”
Union of Informed Citizens NGO coordinator Daniel Ioannisyan, who had also come to express his solidarity with the victims, stressed that Armenians’ reaction to the attack underlined the exsiting homophobia in the country.
“Fortunately, homophobia in Armenia has not turned to terrorism. However, this is a sign that homophobic attitudes in the country should be fought against since they have reached alarming levels. There should be a shift in state policy in this regard,” Ioannisyan said.