Affiliated with the Women’s Resource Center (WReC) in Yerevan, Armenia, the Women-Oriented Women’s (WOW) collective—a group of Armenian queer and straight artists, writers, and activists—is planning the publication of two years of its online electronic correspondence, beginning from its inception in 2007.
The correspondence includes original emails (in Armenian and in English) written by members of WOW discussing the foundation of the collective, the conceptual details and debates about outreach, awareness, art projects such as “Coming To You To Not Be With You” (August 3-4, 2008), and other important conversations on LGBT issues in Armenia. Some discussion threads include the translation and coining of new phrases in Armenian regarding gender and sexuality, accounts of coming out to self and family, and arguments on the goals of a feminist art collective to present radical views on gender. The book is scheduled for publication in August 2010.
Queer women are just beginning to come out to each other in Armenia; this project arises out of discussions last year by some members who have longstanding working relationships with each other and more recent collaborations within the WReC in Yerevan, such as round table discussions on sexuality and homophobia, LGBT film screenings open to the public, and articles, interviews, essays in the Feminist, a quarterly magazine published by the WReC. The group has also started an experimental collective blog under the title “Queering Yerevan,” which can be accessed at: http://queeringyerevan.blogspot.com.
The publication of the WOW correspondence is an unprecedented project, which requires a brief explanation of the situation for queer women in Armenia. Homosexuality and any non-heteronormative lifestyle has been consistently punished throughout the modern history of Armenia, and from 1936 till 2003 homosexuals were shamed, criminalized and imprisoned on account of Article 116 of the Armenian Criminal Code. The laws have become more tolerant towards the LGBT community since then; however, non-heteronormativity is still heavily condemned in most strata of Armenian society. In present-day Armenia, where women’s goals and objectives are slowly becoming heard by Armenian society, the voices of queer women are still being silenced and erased due to societal ignorance and homophobia.
WOW’s ability to create and foster a safe environment for queer women has answered an urgent need for several reasons:
- Queer women are displaced or misrecognized in the Armenian society as non-heteronormativity is predominantly associated with men—our goal is to demystify such myths, and establish a presence of and place for queer women.
- While homosexuality is generally stigmatized in Armenia, queer women are doubly oppressed by the burdens of women’s traditional roles of marriage and motherhood, and they have scarce means to avoid this oppression; coming out to their families and society in general is inconceivable for many queer women due to these impediments crystallized by tradition.
- Whereas Armenian society is somewhat familiar with the gay culture through Sergei Parajanov, Vahan Tekeyan, Yeghishe Charents, and other prominent queer men, queer women and their culture, on the other hand, is yet unknown and has left no mark in Armenian society.
One of the goals of this book project is to historicize the presence of queer women in the Armenian culture and to raise awareness among various communities. In the long run, working towards progressive social change, the WOW collective envisions a revival (by recovering queer women’s lives and histories), reinterpretation (through art) and sustenance (through -collaborative effort) of the modern and contemporary cultural heritage of queer Armenian women.
The book will be launched through a series of readings and events in Yerevan next summer (August 2010), after which it will be available in Armenia and abroad through Armenian women’s networks in the diaspora in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. All proceeds from sales of the book will fund future projects of the WOW collective.
Editors: Shushan Avagyan & Lara Aharonian
Book Design: Lusine Talalyan
To date we have raised $1,500 of the $3,500 we need to fund the design and printing of the book. We currently need to raise $2,000 more by January 2010 to continue the project.
We have set up a fund via AGLA New York (http://aglany.org), and this Kickstarter Project so that members and friends can help contribute to the publication of the WOW correspondence. All of your donations will be tax deductible. Please join us in the endeavor!
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