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Intersections: An explosive reminder of intolerance

June 26, 2013|By Liana Aghajanian | By Liana Aghajanian
  • Liana Aghajanian
Liana Aghajanian

When I lived in Armenia during the summer of 2011, there was a new bar down the street from my apartment. I found myself there most nights when I stayed within the confines of the capital.

On those warm, sweltering evenings, it acted as one of the only places in the city that gave refuge to and brought together a wide array of people. With its local beer, bands and sandwiches bused in from a nearby café, it was an open, comfortable space, where intellectuals, music-loving youth, diplomats, journalists and activists mingled into the early morning hours.

New friendships were formed, old friends christened it as their new meeting place. The owners of the bar doubled as musicians who stood in to provide the soundtrack for the night.

The conversations and connections that I formed in that bar were unforgettable but they all seem slightly bittersweet now.

Roughly a year after I left, the bar was bombed in the middle of the night by two youth who belonged to a nationalist right-wing group. The bar was destroyed, and so was the spirit of those who sought its sanctuary during those warm months.

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The bombing, which sparked a national conversation, was carried out as an act of revenge against the gay and lesbian community — a group that frequented the bar and is still very much subject to discrimination in Armenia.

It was a message to say, "We not only don't want your kind around, but we certainly don't want your kind out in the open, mingling and having a good time."

It left a big impression on me. It was the first time I had had a physical, adult connection to a place that was impacted by violence.

Looking at the blackened insides of a place where I once sat, enjoyed a few drinks and, by chance, met fascinating people was surreal. The windows were blown out, the air conditioner was a mangled mess, a calculator that had been left on the counter was completely melted.

I felt an indirect connection to intolerance. What if people had been there? What if my friends had been hurt? What if the boys who carried out their hate crime hadn't waited an entire year and I had been caught in the middle of it?

Another year has passed since the bombing and the bar no longer exists. Its owners, from what I can tell, have left, too. Of course, there are still so many places to spend those warm Yerevan summer nights — places I remember and places I'll get to explore when I make my way back this year.

But that special bar was on my mind this week as Supreme Court rulings delivered landmark decisions that bolstered the gay marriage movement.

The news took me back to it, transporting me to a better time when the bar's walls were painted with reproductions of Lichtenstein pop art, its bathroom that had no mirror but had a painted square outline above the sink that said, "You are beautiful," and its comfortable atmosphere full of people who were able to treat each other with mutual respect despite different lifestyles, outlooks and preferences.

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LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at liana.agh@gmail.com.

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