Written by Hanna B. Mardikian
In the most recent statements by Brooke Ashjian, the current president of the board for Fresno Unified School District, he equated the movement for the rights and well-being of the LGBT community to the actions of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, when they massacred over a million Armenian people.
The Armenian community is an important aspect of the diverse community of Fresno and the central valley. Recognition for the Armenian Genocide is an important movement, of itself. Much as other communities have deep historical scars from institutional and systematic oppression, the people of Armenia faced massacre, exile, and diaspora. They arrived in America seeking freedom from discrimination and from oppression.
Here in Fresno, the Armenian community has established itself in the form of churches and annual events such as the Blessing of the Grapes which has a history of over a century. Local businesses such as Armenian bakeries enrich the cultural landscape of this city. At my own middle school, there was an Armenian club. It is notably common to meet people with last names like Ashjian, Hakopyan, Agbashian, Andresian … Or my own, Mardikian.
I am the grand-daughter of the late superior court judge Robert Z. Mardikian, a prominent contemporary figure in Fresno’s Armenian community. I am also a lesbian. I disagree wholeheartedly with Brooke Ashjian’s message.
The Armenian community and the LGBT community have a great deal in common. To be LGBT does not mean that one belongs to a specific nationality, ethnicity, or race – that is an important difference. Like myself, a person can be of both groups. From my vantage point, I can see that the histories of the international LGBT population and the diasporic Armenian population have several important similarities. Just as the Armenian population has been subjected to atrocities at the hand of a dominant social group, so have various populations of LGBT people around the world. In Germany during the Holocaust gay men were placed in concentration camps alongside Jewish people and other marginalized groups such as the Romani people. In a number of countries around the world today being homosexual or transgender is punishable by death, and in nearly every country our population experiences a level of oppression, suppression, and marginalization. As we speak, LGBT people are being detained and tortured in Chechnya.
Here in California, where we are perceived as having a peculiar amount of power, it was only quite recently that conversion “therapy” was made illegal – despite being near unanimously denounced by every professional psychiatric and psychological association. Parents are still able to remove their children from their lives and send them to various institutions throughout the country to be systematically abused into renouncing an inherent part of themselves. More commonly, it is still legal to physically, spiritually, and emotionally abuse LGBT children at home. It is legal to ostracize someone for being LGBT in several spheres – at home, at church, and in private schools. I won’t speak of legal philosophy, and I don’t advocate applying legislative intervention to churches. That will not be my point here.
My point in mentioning that is that our population, the LGBT population, is not a group that is in institutional power. Much like the Armenian population in 1915, though to a different degree and in a different way, we are a group at the mercy of institutional power. We can wage no wars, we have no army – our recourse is through the proper channels of the judicial system and through advocacy utilizing our fundamental rights as Americans. (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press) Armenians did not have that. It would’ve been a very different history if the Armenian population had the right to self-advocate as the LGBT community does.
Read more: A Response to Brooke Ashjian Regarding the Armenian and LGBT Communities