Why is the Human Rights Agenda So Attractive to Right-Wing Groups?

After the Second World War, the second half of the 20th century can be considered the “golden age” of human rights. Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, almost all states of the world added human rights provisions and normative acts to the content of their national Constitutions. In the second half of the 20th century, the idea and perspectives of human rights were quite promising at the normative level. However, it would be naive to believe that the legal provisions of human rights on paper eliminated violence, genocides, and human rights violations.[1] The concept of human rights as a basis for public consolidation has faced many challenges in recent years. In this context, various experts raise questions such as “can human rights survive?”[2] “is the age of human rights over?” [3] while the other part already foretells the death of human rights. This is also driven by the geopolitical changes, wars, and terrorism taking place in the world as well as the increasing gap between human rights standards and social reality.

Traditionally, human rights have been a tool for marginalized and vulnerable groups to combat their own vulnerability, lead their existential struggle, voice their problems, formulate them, and live a more dignified life. However, in recent years, a new tendency is observed in the world, whereby the tools to speak about and voice the protection of human rights of vulnerable groups, injustices, inequality, and other issues have begun to be widely used by conservative and anti-democratic groups: a phenomenon that can have far-reaching negative effects on the perceptions and content of human rights. It goes without saying that the concept of human rights is not the property of any group, however, the use and active circulation of the concept of human rights by conservative, right-wing, nationalist, and some fascist groups, gives rise to some questions such as “to what extent are the activities of these actors in line with human rights norms and standards?” “is the use of human rights discourse by these groups legitimate and justified?” and “does the reference to human rights in the framework of anti-democratic, conservative issues actually benefit or harm the protection of human rights?”[4] In this context, one of the fundamental issues of human rights is not its so-called “weakness” but the “unintended consequences of the success” of human rights, as a result of which reactionary, conservative and anti-democratic groups have adopted and widely use the human rights discourse.[5] In view of this, it is important to state that in recent years the right-wing, conservative, nationalist groups, among them also anti-gender groups spreading misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric, have been politically expanding in many countries across the world. In the span of these expansions, the above groups target progressive civil society, individual activists, and human rights defenders on a variety of occasions and in diverse contexts.

These phenomena are not new in Armenia where these campaigns and initiatives gained more momentum and intensity after the Velvet Revolution in 2018.[6] After the Revolution, anti-gender campaigns in Armenia aggressively manipulate issues of public sensitivity, target human rights defenders and representatives of civil society dealing with those issues in order to fight against the ruling power, develop anti-government sentiments and increase their own role in domestic political life.[7] As in many countries in the world, in Armenia also, transformations and changes have been observed in the strategies and activities of these campaigns in recent years. They attempt to present themselves as a real civil society questioning the agency and actual objectives of the organizations and human rights defenders who have been active in the field of human rights protection for years. “Anti-movements,” conservative, right-wing campaigns and movements are relatively new trends in the context of classic movements – the feminist movement, social movements for labor, political and civil rights.

In the framework of this article, we will try to understand why “newcomers” position themselves as representatives of civil society and what objectives they pursue, why they use specifically human rights, the language and framework of human rights to achieve their objectives, how and why they choose this or that issue and this or that method of influencing the public and decision-makers on those issues. To reveal these, we have applied Ron Dudai’s analytical classification of conservative and right-wing campaigns on the issue of human rights: entryism, mimicry, and victimhood work.[8] Within this article, we closely focus on the speculation on the issue of women’s rights identifying and analyzing the political positions, objectives, methods, and forms of struggle of these groups.

Entryism, or How Human Rights Conceal Political Objectives

Before the 2018 Velvet Revolution many human rights defenders, activists, and civil society representatives pictured and presented the environment of the civil society as “shrinking.” The bases for such qualification were not only the analysis of the environment in which civil society was functioning but also the legislative changes initiated in 2017-2018, initiatives implying negative consequences,[9] as well as the amendment of the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations in 2017 due to which, for instance, the possibility of environmental NGOs in Armenian courts was practically limited for protecting the public interest.[10] The shrinking of the space of civil society took place generally in the presence of formal democracy and relative free speech. In the context of the pre-revolutionary setting of civil society activity, it is essential to view the influence of Russia, local and international business organizations, as well as various state agencies and their financial resources in relation to forming an alternative, controlled civil society loyal to the authorities of the time that were promoting conservative agendas. These policies were implemented through the formation and enforcement of RONGO, BONGO, GONGO (Russian-Organized, Business-Organized, and Government-Organized NGO) type of civil society aimed at reproducing conservative ideology and values, paternalistic morals, anti-democratic and Russian controlling policy among the general public, as well as the patronage of some large business interests.[11]

The phenomenon of government- and business-organized civil society has been the focus of researchers’ attention over many years. Social scientists have conducted many studies on this issue, and the literature on the topic is diverse. “State marionettes,” and “ghost organizations” are very common across the world. They are usually organized, founded and supported by non-democratic regimes whose aim is to present an image of a free and viable civil society to the international community, silencing the voice of the “real civil society.” This was a particularly common practice in pre-revolutionary Armenia. Hence, representatives of various non-governmental organizations have repeatedly stated that the authorities of the time apparently talked in their meetings with various international institutions and organizations about the need for discussions of changes put forward by the government with all political forces and non-governmental organizations,[12] and signed memorandums[13] on ensuring the participation of civil society in the process of drafting laws but in practice, not only did they not consider the issues raised by the real civil society, but instead of resolving the raised issues, they introduced mechanisms to fight against the civil society and created GONGOs.[14] These organizations saw “positive changes”[15][16] in the elections with obvious electoral violations, met with the Government representatives at the highest level to promote their business interests, “presented the outcomes of their studies, made recommendations”,[17] “expressed satisfaction with appreciating their recommendations being included in the action plans,”[18] “received awards” for the contribution to the education of young people in a military-patriotic spirit”[19] and so on. These organizations signed memorandums of cooperation with the state and the authorities of the time at different levels which later the state presented in various instances as “real cooperation with the civil society,” or as evidence that the civil society was involved in the implementation of this or that reform.[20] It is noteworthy that the state, in the person of the RA President’s office, financed some non-governmental organizations to implement projects related to the fight against smoking, reproductive health, development of rural communities, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, glorification of the present-day heroes, environmental protection and other topics.[21] However, later on, we learned from investigative journalists that the NGOs that received the largest grants from the RA President’s Office were founded and run[22] by people with the same name and surname, the legal address of the registration of some of the different NGOs was the same, but the latter did not operate,[23] they did not provide any activities or services[24] under the announced and granted projects, etc.

Some non-governmental organizations which did not have any significant contribution or activities in the field of human rights or democracy, presented counterfeit grant projects to the office of the European Union delegation, after which they plundered particularly large amounts of money allocated to grant projects.[25] And it was a long-standing practice that the authorities presented the interactions with these NGOs, GONGOs in various formats in international instances, in discussions about the implementation of recommendations, as cooperation with civil society.

Since the authorities preferred to present the interaction with the NGOs they created and financed as “real cooperation with the civil society,” they left out the representatives of the progressive civil society from potential processes, and fought against them, shrinking the space of ​​their free activity. In such conditions, the activists and groups engaged in the protection of human rights, the human rights civil society raised the issues in the country through the relevant international organizations and advocated that these international organizations issue recommendations to the state for the introduction of various international mechanisms aimed at improving human rights. Subsequently, civil society monitored their implementation at the local level through international tools. This tactic, however, was constantly criticized by right-wing groups and the authorities of the time for “bringing a goon squad” on the country and “airing the dirty laundry.”[26] It is interesting to note that after the Velvet Revolution in 2018, some former officials started to establish non-governmental organizations.[27][28] Politicians critical of this tactic of the civil society are now repeating this practice,[29] using the mechanisms and tools[30] of the fight for human rights to advance their narrow political interests but intruding and packaging them under the guise of protecting human rights and freedoms. It is also interesting to note that in their reports, these newly created non-governmental organizations not only criticize the policies of the authorities or the lack of them but also refer to the reports of the progressive civil society and try to counterbalance them, presenting themselves as a real civil society.[31]

Another common form of intrusion is when new organizations and initiatives formed by satellites of the former political elite positioned to the right from center, participate in human rights or progressive civil society events to promote their own agendas through speeches or acts of protest. Usually, they video-record everything and leave, after which they actively share the videos on their social media pages. On the one hand, such actions aim to “spoil” the events of the progressive civil society, while on the other hand, these groups try to reach the audience of the progressive civil society and the wider public with this practice, therefore video recording is a mandatory accompaniment to all these acts.

It is important to consider that these forms of encroachment acquired a continuous nature and solid from 2013 when anti-gender campaigns became part of the Armenian political agenda. In 2014, a number of neo-nationalist and extremist groups with “No to anti-family propaganda,” “Homofascism will not pass” and other posters tried to encroach and disrupt the round table discussion organized by Society Without Violence NGO on the topic of “Inclusion of the Gender Component in the Textbooks of the Subject “Sociology.”[32] People from the same group later encroached and recorded various discussions organized by civil society organizations and international organizations mainly related to women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexuality and gender issues, and LGBT rights. After the Revolution, these groups continued the practice of intrusion in the context of anti-gender, anti-Soros campaigns. Thus, after the Revolution, we witness how these groups regularly appear at the events organized by civil society (especially when Open Society Foundations-Armenia is involved in the organization or implementation of these events), give speeches accusing civil society organizations of “being a foreign agent,”[33] “instructing the police and promoting the interests of their group.” [34] They also tried to encroach on the social rights initiatives (e.g. alongside the activist initiative against the flat income tax bill, the right-wingers also began to fight against it).[35] as well as on the environmental movement to support activists fighting against the Amulsar gold mining project[36] (which they were not allowed to do). It is noteworthy, however, that a year ago the representatives of the same group presented those activists as “Sorosians and Soros daredevils[37] who, pretending to be environmentalists, were trying to take up the voicing of the Amulsar issue, but in fact, instead of the Amulsar issue, they were trying to start negotiations for the freedom of their murderous friends.”[38]

In the scope of women’s issues and gender equality topics, representatives of anti-gender campaigns encroached on public events organized on the topics of gender equality and women’s rights, gave speeches, and disrupted their normal course.

One of the most salient intrusions was into the public debate on the draft Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence in 2017. The Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia published the draft Law of the Republic of Armenia on Prevention of Violence Within the Family, Protection of Victims of Violence within the Family and Restoration of Peace in the Family and initiated a public debate on the law, invited the civil society working in the field, representatives of organizations engaged in the protection of general human rights, and other interested citizens to raise their questions about the law, voice concerns, make recommendations and discuss them. During the public debate, the Minister of Justice, and the Human Rights Defender presented the draft law justifying the need for the adoption of the law, and after the official speeches, in the Q&A session, the representatives of anti-gender campaigns started a disturbance and dragging. They demanded that the moderators give them a right to make a speech as “they represented the opposing side,” and “they had no questions but speeches.”[39] Thus, disrupting the course of the event, “intruding into the stage,” pulling the microphone, and demanding to speak, four representatives of these groups were given time to make a speech. After the end of one of the speeches, the representatives of the anti-gender groups were not satisfied, they tried to continue their speeches, as a result of which the event finally went off course, the participants eventually left the hall, the discussion was discontinued, the speakers did not have a chance to speak. And the representatives of the civil society who had been advocating the adoption and importance of the law against domestic violence, working with the victims of domestic violence and their families for years, had in-depth knowledge of the latter’s problems, did not have the opportunity to raise their questions, present their concerns, make recommendations, as, to put it mildly, the text of the presented law was quite problematic and did not address the fundamental issues in the field of domestic violence.[40]

A similar practice of intrusion is quite common and continues even after the Revolution, and the targets of these intrusions are often the civil society organizations dealing with women’s rights and gender issues, the events organized by them during which the rhetoric of violence has also turned into physical violence in some episodes. One such example was the launch of the book “My Body is Private” organized by the Sexual Assault Crisis Center NGO during which the initiators of anti-gender campaigns intruded into the event area, disrupted the event, threw eggs at the organizers of the event insulting and ridiculing them which resulted in a scandal. Due to this, further launches and book discussions were canceled shrinking the space of civil society working on such sensitive topics as sexuality and gender.[41]

Mimicry and Copying

Right-wing and far-right groups in Armenia periodically selectively speculate on the concept of human rights in various situations mainly to serve their narrow political and economic interests. Moreover, these groups often refer to human rights in cases and circumstances where they try to force the state to promote the legal system to make decisions in their favor and to create some favorable conditions for them. Studies of various social movements, anti-gender or anti-legal campaigns show that center-right groups, representatives of anti-gender campaigns copy, mimic, and replicate the activities, methods, and tools of other groups engaged in the protection of human rights and representatives of progressive civil society considering them effective.

Mimicry and copying of practices in the field of a social movement are logical and mostly honest when organizations and initiatives engaged in similar activities copy the legal tactics, rhetoric, and strategies of other organizations in case they consider them successful, as well as when newly created organizations use the methodology of organizations with years of experience and success. However, the copying of the human rights practices and rhetoric by the right or far-right groups is not mimicry of an “admired peer” but that of a “hated opponent” in which “attraction” and “repulsion” are combined, “mimicking while repudiating.”[42] It is also important to note that this is one of those cases where groups with power and resources mimic progressive groups with scarce resources. This is “aggressive mimicry” – right-wing and far-right groups with resources and power appropriate the discourses, methodology, and tactics of less-resourced, ideologically progressive groups and use them to fight against the goals that progressive civil society is fighting to achieve.[43]

It should be specified that this process of mimicry and copying has nothing to do with the spread of human rights norms since its dominant function is to disrupt and undermine, as well as to create a counter-image to the activities and rhetoric of left-positioned human rights NGOs.

Mimicry and copying of practices are quite common in Armenia, they are diverse and copy the methodology and rhetoric, tools, and language of human rights movement. The topics are also diverse ranging from domestic politics to foreign policy, all the various human rights issues including sensitive ones, the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups which have been repeatedly manipulated to serve political or quasi-political agendas, and narrow group interests of some right-wing forces.

Among the most salient practices of mimicry and copying in recent years were the demonstrations organized by the Parliamentary opposition demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in 2022.[44] The representatives of the opposition and their supporters started the “Resistance Movement” after N. Pashinyan said during the 2021 annual performance report discussion of the Government Program in the National Assembly, “Today the international community tells us once again: lower your bar a little on the status of Nagorno Karabakh and you will ensure a great international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh.”[45] The methodology and tools chosen by the “Resistance Movement” were compared by many to the methodology and tools[46] of the 2018 Velvet Revolution, namely holding demonstrations in France Square, blocking streets, marching from different cities to the capital, or marching in different parts of the capital, calls for decentralized actions and attempts to block the operation of the metro, live sessions, etc.[47] The choice of such methodology and tools by the “Resistance Movement” was interpreted as “mimicry for the purpose of seizing power”[48] since if they were successful in 2018, they could be successful now as well. Concurrently, it is interesting how the political forces that ridiculed the Revolution and the people who participated in the Revolution treating them with disregard, use the methods and tools of the revolutionary movement thinking that the use of these tools is the key to ousting those who came to power and taking over their post.

The manipulation of the rights of vulnerable groups, sensitive topics, especially sexuality and gender issues, and the mimicry and copying of the fight of the progressive civil society working in this sphere is a widespread phenomenon among right-wing groups. Moreover, this mimicry is on both methodological and rhetorical levels.

One of the most notable practices of copying in the field of sexuality and gender issues is the introduction of position papers or statements during the debates on various legislative drafts or conventions on the processes of adoption of these laws, or the signing and ratification of conventions in which right-wing groups formulate their counter-arguments in the legal language, in effect, distorting the legislation and interpreting it on an ad-hoc basis. Thus, in the field of protection of the interests of vulnerable groups, the representatives of the progressive civil society use the tools of making joint statements, and organizing petitions to draw the attention of decision-makers to these issues and to make the required recommendations for solving the identified issues. These tools have also begun to be widely used by conservative and right-wing groups fighting against the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups, gender rights protection, and gender equality.

Ara Zohrabyan, Chairman of the Chamber of Advocates of the Republic of Armenia, launched a petition in 2018 on change.org against the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention. The Change.org platform has brought together more than 440 million people across 196 countries who initiated petitions aimed at improving the situation of their communities or the country and protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms.[49] The petition against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention initiated by Ara Zohrabyan on the Change.org platform, however, was deleted a few days later by the website’s lawyers who claimed that hate speech was identified in the information in the section justifying the need for the petition.[50] After the suspension of the petition on Change.org, Ara Zohrabyan created a new website solely to mobilize people against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Ara Zohrabyan has made similar propositions more than once: he and his like-minded friends fought against the adoption of the Law on Domestic Violence, against the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, the Lanzarote Convention, against homosexuality, etc. It should be noted that Ara Zohrabyan, the Chairman of the RA Chamber of Advocates, is the head of the executive body of Zartonk national Christian party founded in April 2021,[51] and in the “About Us” section of the party’s website, it is written that “… over years, the founders have actively fought against vicious phenomena and morals and protected national values. In particular, they showed a repudiating attitude towards the adoption processes and initiatives of the Domestic Violence bill (2017), the Istanbul Convention (2019-2020), the Lanzarote Convention (2020), and other bills.”[52] The party was founded in 2021 and participated in the snap Parliamentary elections held in June, and the party positioned itself as a “defender of the value system.”[53] It is obvious that the anti-human rights activities on such sensitive topics and its formulation as “defense of the national value system” is nothing but right-wing populism aimed at speculating on the issues of gender and sexuality to advance narrow political agendas and to win political credits and dividends.

In the global feminist movement, mass non-violent activities, particularly marches, demonstrations, pickets and similar methods of struggle have always been one of the most effective methods of fighting the patriarchal system, as well as raising women’s issues and resolving them. Feminist, and anti-capitalist movements across the world wage a massive struggle against all forms of discrimination against women, inequality, violence, and poverty, for economic justice, abortion, sexual and reproductive health and rights, protection of civil and political rights, as well as for mobilizing people around the protection of the rights of the groups considered sexual and gender minorities, and among women, doubly discriminated national minorities, people of different races, for overcoming the causes and consequences of systemic issues and many other issues consolidating the efforts of many grassroots groups, activists, and concerned people around these issues.[54] In Armenia as well, in the context of the struggle for women’s rights, marches, demonstrations, and pickets have been organized many times to publicize the issues of women’s rights, to draw the attention of decision-makers to these issues, and to find solutions. In particular, various organizations, initiatives, feminist activists, and coalitions dealing with the protection of women’s rights have organized and implemented public events on March 8, International Women’s Day, October 1, the National Day of Combating Domestic Violence,[55] and November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and within the framework of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, [56] etc.

Conservative forces and right-wing and far-right groups use the methods of demonstrations, marches, pickets, and public events to target and discredit women, women’s rights organizations, and activists.

An example of mimicry or copying is the protest organized by women of right-wing groups on April 7, 2021. The women of this group started the protest in Charles Aznavour square and then moved towards the Government building demanding the resignation of the Government. “As you know, we have initiated an act of protest today against the capitulator authorities with the participation of women, girls, and Armenian mothers. The main aim of today’s protest is specifically to put the Turkish fez on the head of the Turkish-affiliated ruling group.” [57]

Some of the women tried to enter the Government building which the police prevented in some cases using disproportionate force. Thus, although the April 7th protest organized as part of the Motherhood and Beauty Day was largely attended by women, it did not aim to raise the issues of systemic discrimination and violence against women characteristic of the patriarchal system, but rather it pursued domestic political and party goals and voiced the political preferences of a group of women. Although the women participating in the protest were associated with groups that had long fought against gender equality, women and initiatives fighting against domestic violence and their values, had long considered the issue of women’s rights to be an agenda imposed by the West and destruction of Armenian culture, traditional family and value system, turned to these very organizations so that the latter would condemn the violence used against them, in which they themselves did not believe years ago. “There are NGOs that used to make a scandal and circulate statements about women’s rights. Why are they silent now that women are violently and brutally detained for voicing their public demand?[58]

Interestingly, as in the case of entryism, in mimicry and copying practices also, the right-wing groups are targeting not only the authorities and their activities, but also the progressive civil society claiming to take over their place by discrediting their work, but not the role, as their goal is not the public welfare and well-being, the protection of the rights of all people but the promotion of the narrow political interests of their small group.

These groups say: “Let us state that civil society has never been established in Armenia and one of the main reasons for this is Western funding.”[59]“…We have been voicing for about three years that we don’t have a real civil society, we don’t have a human rights community, what we have are those who have declared themselves as human rights defenders, people dealing with women’s rights and human rights in general, they are self-proclaimed, infamous order executors. … They speak exclusively when the issue concerns their narrow interests.”[60] Progressive civil society, female human rights defenders, who, on the one hand, recognize and condemn violence, the disproportionate force used by the police, but on the other hand, emphasize the fact that the civil society should not give in to similar statements and manipulations, it should determine and implement its own agenda: “We should not let these people who occupy the space of the civil society drag us into their games. They lodge an aimless protest then they start crying out, “Where are the human rights defenders? They detained us, caught us, beat us. “It seems to me that this will always be there, and it is already an organized activity since already during the protest they look for the human rights defenders while a week ago they were discussing that they do not exist. This game is very well-known… Of course, violence is condemnable, and the disproportionate force of the police is condemnable, but on the other hand, we see who is fighting against what, and we should not be part of these manipulations. They have adopted an approach as to what civil society should do, when, in what cases, and what it should state, and they are trying to create such a situation for us that if we don’t comply with all that, we are not good human rights defenders, we are not feminist enough, etc. In other words, it seems that they decide how we should be human rights defenders.” [61]

Despite their pompous statements and efforts to present themselves as the real civil society, these groups were not involved in the fight against human rights violations until the Velvet Revolution. These violations are thoroughly documented in the reports of both local and international organizations and the Human Rights Defender. At the same time, these groups have not been involved in the protection of human rights even after the Revolution. They simply use the language and tools of human rights in their struggle for power and claim to “replace” the groups they are fighting against.

In the post-war context, some nationalist groups, presenting themselves as “nationalist left-wing feminists or nationalist leftists, “regularly make statements through which they try to “save real feminism from human rights defenders.” They seek to discredit female human rights defenders, accuse them of not responding to their agenda or responding selectively, belittling the important role that female human rights defenders and women’s rights organizations have in society.[62]

There has been a long-standing debate among feminist researchers about whether feminism, nationalism, and militarism can intersect. Thus, the rationale of militarization and war is inherently gendered, and nationalism and militarism are based on the (re)production of gender hierarchies. On the one hand, feminist researchers in recent years have shown in their studies that militarized nationalist projects can mobilize women’s political participation, and be inclusive for women. On the other hand, these studies highlight that in these movements the space for discussing and criticizing gender equality and inclusiveness of women, change of gender relations and norms in a broad sense is already limited. Furthermore, nationalist and militarist movements do not even set such goals. Concurrently, it is not ruled out that feminist movements may be involved in nationalist and militaristic projects, and may coexist with armed groups. This does not at all mean that militarism and nationalism are beneficial and conducive to women and feminist policies. On the contrary, since both the ideology and practice of militarism and nationalism are based on gender hierarchies, women are subordinated and serve these agendas.[63]

Copying and mimicry of the techniques of human rights discourse and activities of human rights organizations is an attempt by conservative groups to expand their activities, repertoire of actions, as well as discourses. It should be noted that conservative agendas and policies have been evolving rapidly in recent years but the forces and movements promoting them are not satisfied with the results they have achieved, so they are also using the principles and methodology of the struggle of the left-wing groups to achieve their goals.

Using Human Rights for Victimhood Work

The abuse of the human rights discourse by right-wing groups makes their militant political positions evident. These groups are more likely to confront state institutions, are more prone to break laws, are hostile towards the state, and position themselves as “anti-establishment” and “opposition.” Along with all this, these groups use the language of “human rights violations” to interpret the actions of the state and the law enforcement system against far-right activists. Despite the fact that right-wing activists claim that the state has always treated them unfairly making qualifications in the language of human rights violations is a new and transformed rhetoric.

The rhetoric of human rights is a reliable way to claim that a person, a citizen is a victim of the state. Social movements often create a victim image as part of building their identity in order to attract public attention and mobilize and involve more people in their movement. Conservative, far-right groups also use victimization to lend themselves public legitimacy. For example, when talking about “Black lives matter,” right-wing groups say: “All lives matter.” This practice is very common in Armenia as well. When women’s rights organizations and initiatives speak out about violations of women’s rights, right-wing groups bring forth the narrative of “rights of all,” when they speak about the rights of sexual and gender minorities, they formulate the idea of protecting “the rights of the majority.”

The link between the protection of human rights, being a victim of human rights violations, and one’s own vulnerability is very strong. People whose rights have been violated, who have been subjected to discrimination and violence based on their identity, views, positions, and other features, usually establish organizations, grassroots initiatives, or movements to fight for the protection of their violated rights and the elimination of discrimination. On the other hand, however, the “politicization of vulnerability” implies a the political claims-making process in which purported victimhood is used by movements to produce legitimacy and moral authority. [64]

The use of victimization practices like intrusion and mimicry is widespread in the Armenian political context. Thus, especially after the Revolution, criminal cases were initiated against the representatives of the former regime and some politicians related to them, the latter were involved in various legal cases as witnesses or received another status. In this context, they present the already initiated criminal cases as political persecution, and present themselves as “victims of the regime.” For instance, in June 2020, the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Armenia submitted a motion to the National Assembly to obtain the permission of the MPs to detain MP, oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan. Tsarukyan was charged with organizing election bribery during the Parliamentary elections in 2017 but did not admit the charge and considered that he was being politically persecuted for demanding the resignation of the Government.[65] Other deputies of the Prosperous Armenia party, with the joint efforts of their party members and employees of business organizations affiliated with them, organized protests in front of the RA National Security Service building demanding the release of Gagik Tsarukyan.

“You saw how, as a matter of fact, violence was used against the deputy of the National Assembly. This is legal and political lawlessness. If they think that they can silence us by scaring and arresting us, they are profoundly mistaken. We are all Gagik Tsarukyan and we will stay here. We will not allow people who came to power with democratic slogans to violate democracy with police and KGB forces. The two statements of the NSS are legal futurism… I am ready for any scenario, they may arrest me too but this is the beginning of the end of this Government.” [66]

As a matter of fact, the criminal, oligarch, and anti-democratic segment of the deputies of RA NA who have great protection, immunity, and many other safeguards, declare themselves as victims and use the language of human rights and democracy for the protection of their narrow political and party interests. Furthermore, female MPs engaged in street activism interpret police actions against them as violence against women and a violation of women’s rights, present themselves as “real” victims, meanwhile it is due to their political, economic, media, and other activities that the rights of working people,[67] LGBT people,[68] people with other religious views,[69] women[70], etc. are being violated.

Thus, in this article, we have addressed the abuse of the concept and language of human rights by right-wing and far-right groups – the “newcomers,” while their activities mostly contradict the fundamental principles of human rights which are the universality, inalienability, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness, equality and non-discrimination, inclusiveness and the rule of law.

Using the methods of entryism, copying, and mimicry, as well as victimhood work, “newcomers” enter various systems and networks to make changes “from the inside” aggressively trying to put pressure on law enforcement and lawmaking bodies to include laws and practices that limit rights, target vulnerable groups from a human rights perspective while presenting themselves as a vulnerable group.

At this stage, it will be difficult to say how the public perceives this dangerous phenomenon. On the one hand, human rights activists have constantly criticized the complicated nature of the human rights “jargon” in terms of reaching the wider public, while on the other hand, these groups of “newcomers” towards whom there is or has been public aversion, presently use the same language. Therefore, it is very difficult to assess what kind of social and political effects the use of human rights language and jargon will have in the future especially when these campaigns and initiatives are dynamically developing both across the world and in Armenia.

Although some social scientists claim that right-wing and far-right groups appearing in the domain of human rights and acting from a human rights position, on the one hand, is a step towards the recognition of the universality of human rights, it also reduces, for instance, armed rebellions and civil wars, but on the other hand, another part of studies on these issues has already noted how various right-wing groups form coalitions on certain issues with the center-left human rights activists forming “cooperative hostile coalitions.”[71]

It is already widespread that opposing social movements unite and form coalitions on certain issues. Examples of such partnerships include the collaboration of disability and anti-abortion activists on anti-abortion projects, the collaboration of evangelicals and progressive environmental activists against the abolition of the death sentence, the joint struggle of nationalist industrialists and leftists against globalization, and so on. For some groups, these coalitions end when they succeed in achieving their goals, such as anti-pornography feminists and conservatives working together to eliminate pornography.[72]

Author Nvard Margaryan

Supported by Women’s Fund Armenia in the framework of the project “On the Right Track: Establishing a European-Latin American Alliance of Women’s Funds to defend human rights and the values of democracy, freedom and diversity from the attack of the rising religious conservatism and the right-wing” implementing by the collective of women’s funds in Europe and Latin America.
Supported by WECF-Germany in the framework of the project “Her Portrayal, Her Rights – Ethical Media in the Caucasus”.

[1] Mutua, M. W. (2015, October 3). Is the age of human rights over?  Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights, ed. Sophia A. McClennen and Alexandra Schultheis Moore (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 450-458, Retrieved from SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2668287 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2668287.

[2] Bob, C. (2015). The Endtimes of Human Rights, Stephen Hopgood (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2013), 255 pp., Ethics & International Affairs, 29(1), 114–116. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/s0892679414000811.

[3] Mutua, M. W. (2015, October 3). Is the age of human rights over?  Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights, ed. Sophia A. McClennen and Alexandra Schultheis Moore (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 450-458, Retrieved from SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2668287 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2668287.

[4] Dudai, R. (2017). Entryism, mimicry and victimhood work: the adoption of human rights discourse by right-wing groups in Israel, The International Journal of Human Rights, 21:7, 866-888, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2017.1313235.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Khalatyan, M., Manusyan, A., Margaryan, N. (2020). The Activity, Rhetoric, and Goals of Anti-Gender Campaigns in the Post-Revolutionary Armenia (A. Zhamkochyan, ed.). Socioscope.

[7] Idib.

[8] Dudai, R. (2017). Entryism, mimicry and victimhood work: the adoption of human rights discourse by right-wing groups in Israel, The International Journal of Human Rights, 21:7, 866-888, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2017.1313235.

[9] In February 2018, the Ministry of Justice presented a bill that provided for the legal regulation of the application of fines to lawyers and prosecutors by the court according to which a sanction of up to AMD 100,000 can also be applied to lawyers and prosecutors. hetq.am (2018, February). Lawyers will carry out an act of protest. Retrieved from: https://hetq.am/hy/article/85533։

On February 1, 2018, the present Government approved the draft Law on the Structure and Operation of the Government which provided that the meetings of the Government would be mostly closed, and some parts might be open to journalists only by the decision of the Prime Minister. azatutyun.am (February, 2018). The new draft law proposes to make the Government sessions closed. Retrieved from: https://www .azatutyun.am/a/29011602.html:

[10] arlis.am. (2017, February). RA Law on Non-Governmental Organizations. Retrieved from: https://www.arlis.am/documentview.aspx?docid=110802 ։

[11] Andreasyan, Zh., Zhamkochyan, A., Ishkhanyan, A., Manusyan, A., Manusyan, S.  (2018). From the Shrinking Space to the Post-revolutionary Space: Re-imagining the Role and Relations of Civil Society in Armenia. Yerevan. Socioscope NGO.

[12] gov.am. (2014, April). The RA Prime Minister and the US Ambassador reaffirmed their willingness to continue cooperation. Retrieved from https://www.gov.am/am/news/item/11242/

[13] parliament.am. (2009, April). Hovik Abrahamyan: “The OSCE Yerevan Office and Other Executive Structures Should Continue to Follow Closely and Respond to the Needs of the Armenian Authorities and Civil Society.” Retrieved from http://parliament.am/chairman.php?page=meetings&NewsID=3285&year=2009&month=00

[14] transparency.am. (2013, February). Issues of public concern in the programs of the presidential candidates. Retrieved from https://transparency.am/hy/media/news/article/850

[15] hetq.am. (2017, April). Who Observed the Elections? Samvel Aleksanyan’s Brother-in-law an Observer? Retrieved from https://hetq.am/hy/article/77640

[16] 1in.am. (2012, May). The Choice is Yours NGO is Satisfied with the Quality of the Elections held on May 6. Retrieved from https://www.1in.am/80377.html

[17] celog.am. (2016, September). The Head of the Government Received the Representatives of a Number of NGOs.  Retrieved from https://celog.am/hy/2/News/NewsDetail?newsId=260

[18] moj.am. (2013, March). The second stage of the public debate on the draft of “Action Plan Arising from the National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights.”  Retrieved from https://www.moj.am/article/679

[19] Prime Minister’s decrees. (2017, February). On encouragement by the RA Prime Minister with a commemorative medal and a letter of appreciation. Retrieved from https://www.e-gov.am/decrees/item/16817/

[20] UN Human Rights Council. (2014, October). National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 16/21*Armenia. Retrieved from https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/documents/2014-12/a_hrc_wg.6_21_arm_1_e.pdf

[21] 1in.am. (2014, October). “If the number of NGOs has increased dramatically, the processes are open and transparent,” Vardan Aramyan on grants. Retrieved from https://www.1in.am/1467733.html։

[22] Ibid.

[23] azatutyun.am. (2013, April). The Organizations Receiving Grants from the President’s Office are not Found. Retrieved from https://www.azatutyun.am/a/24972052.html

[24] Civilnet. (2013, December). From your Pocket to the Attempts of Not Smoking. Retrieved from  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDUAZOwvuyM

[25] hetq.am. (2018, June). The proceeding on the plunder from EU grant projects was launched. Retrieved from https://hetq.am/hy/article/90562

[26] armlur.am. (2018, September). RPA members are bringing a goon squad on Armenia. What is expected? Retrieved from   https://armlur.am/838838/

[27] iravaban.net. (2019, February). What activities will the newly established NGOs of Arpine Hovhannisyan and Ruben Melikyan engage in? Retrieved from  https://iravaban.net/214949.html

[28] armenpress.am. (2021, July). Naira Zohrabyan founded a human rights NGO. Retrieved from  https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1058982.html

[29] aravot.am. (2019, September). Arpine Hovhannisyan: “Daniel Ioannisyan devoted one minute of his 2.5-minute speech to me, accusing me of all the possible flaws of the judicial system of Armenia.” Retrieved from https://www.aravot.am/2019/09/23/1067788/

[30] Sahakyan, S. (2019, December). Human Rights in Armenia. Retrieved from  https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019-12/2._path_of_law_ngo_ppt.pdf

[31] VETO. (2021, April). Anna Hakobyan, a member of the VETO movement, sums up on ArmNews the act of protest that took place on April 7. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mCe4_44TD8&t=502s

[32] Nikoghosyan A. (2015). Levers of change: combined actions of activists engaged in the protection of women’s rights in Armenia. Are anti-gender movements on the rise? Antares. (Heinrich Böhl Foundation: a series of publications devoted to democracy). p. 34-43.

[33] aravot.am. (2019, June). The response of the MP of the “My Step” faction when the member of VETO described Soros office as a “state-destructing.” Retrieved from https://www.aravot.am/2019/06/26/1052422/

[34] livenews.am. (2019, October). Marina Khachatryan laid eggs on the Deputy Head of Police’s table (video). Retrieved from  https://livenews.am/press/2019/23500/22/19/12/

[35] Armenian Revolutionary Federation. (2019, June). The anti-flat tax movement organizes professional debates in different cities. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3POaG2d

[36] shabat.am. (2020, August). Malyan, go away, before we do you “ashotyan,” (mean: make you leave) Amulsar activists to Narek Malyan  (video). Retrieved from https://shabat.am/am/article/232074/Malyan–heraci%D5%9Br–qani-ashotyan-chenq

[37] Soros Daredevils is a pun that associates George Soros with the epic “Daredevils of Sassoun.” Basically, this phrase refers to the representatives of the “Daredevils of Sassoun” Pan-Armenian party who present themselves as a pro-European political force.

[38] news.am. (2019, September). Soros’ daredevils, pretending to be environmentalists, tried to take over the voicing of the Amulsar issue. Narek Malyan. Retrieved from https://news.am/arm/news/532006.html

[39] 1in TV. (2017, October). Violence during the debate on the Law on Domestic Violence. The Minister is the centerpiece.. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vX5VQhUds6w&t=251s

[40] azatutyun.am. (2017, October). The public debate on the domestic violence bill took place in a heated atmosphere. Retrieved from https://www.azatutyun.am/a/28782881.html

[41] Khalatyan, M., Manusyan, A., Margaryan, N. (2020). The Activity, Rhetoric, and Goals of Anti-Gender Campaigns in the Post-Revolutionary Armenia (A. Zhamkochyan, ed.). Socioscope.

[42] Dudai, R. (2017). Entryism, mimicry and victimhood work: the adoption of human rights discourse by right-wing groups in Israel, The International Journal of Human Rights, 21:7, 866-888, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2017.1313235.

[43] Peeples, J. (2005). Aggressive Mimicry: The Rhetoric of Wise Use and the Environmental Movement, The Environmental Communication Yearbook 2 (2005)1.

[44] azatutyun.am. (2022, June). The opposition will announce today how it will continue the struggle. Retrieved from https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31897652.html

[45] The wave of protest was generated by the representatives of the opposition based on this part of Pashinyan’s speech, “Today the international community tells us again: lower your bar a little on the status of Nagorno Karabakh and you will ensure a great international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh.”

primeminister.am. (2022, April). Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s speech at the 2021 annual performance report discussion of the Government Program in the National Assembly.  Retrieved from https://www.primeminister.am/hy/statements-and-messages/item/2022/04/13/Nikol-Pashinyan-Speech/

[46] armtimes.com. (2022, April). Between the Velvet Revolution and the “velvet” revanche. Retrieved from https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/236149

[47] armeniasputnik.am. (2022). Resistance movement. Retrieved from https://armeniasputnik.am/common_dimadrutjun-sharzhum/

[48] 365 Daily. (2022, May). Unsuccessful revolutionaries: the opposition is copying Pashinyan’s Revolution. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdtIWS2_oJU

[49] change.org. (2020, June). Community Guidelines. Retrieved from https://www.change.org/policies/community

[50] Infocom.am. (2019, July). Istanbul rages in Yerevan. Violence as a family value |forrights.am|. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3OwMAYM

[51] armenpress.am (2021, April). A new political party joined Armenia’s political field. Retrieved from https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1050820.html

[52] Zartonk National Christian Party. About us. Retrieved from https://www.zartonq.am/#about

[53] Ibid.

[54] World March of Women. Goals of The World March of Women. Retrieved from https://marchemondiale.org/index.php/who-we-are/goals-of-the-world-march-of-women/

[55] October 1st has been declared the National Day Against Domestic Violence by the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women.

[56] 16 days of activism against gender-based violence includes the following memorable days: November 25 – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women; December 1 – World AIDS days; December 2 – International Day for the Abolition of Slavery; December 3 – International Day of Disabled Persons; December 6 –Montreal Massacre Rememberance Day;  December 10 – International Human Rights Day.

[57] VETO. (2021, April). Anna Hakobyan, a member of the VETO movement, sums up on ArmNews the act of protest that took place on April 7. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mCe4_44TD8&t=502s

[58] panorama.am. (2021, November). Where are the NGOs that were screaming for many years, but have been silent for 3 years now? Astghik Matevosyan. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3BaCMQW

[59] Ibid.

[60] VETO. (2021, April). Anna Hakobyan, a member of the VETO movement, sums up on ArmNews the act of protest that took place on April 7. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mCe4_44TD8&t=502s

[61] Socioscope NGO. (2021). Conspiracy theories and anti-gender campaigns in the context of the coronavirus. Online discussion. Archive of Socioscope NGO.

[62] hetq.am. (2022, May). In response to the peace agenda: the statement of Jaragayt. Retrieved from https://hetq.am/hy/article/144538

[63] Olivius, E., Hedström, J. (2019). Militarized nationalism as a platform for feminist mobilization? The case of the exiled Burmese women’s movement. Women’s Studies International Forum, 76, 102263. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wsif.2019.102263.

 

[64] Dudai, R. (2017). Entryism, mimicry and victimhood work: the adoption of human rights discourse by right-wing groups in Israel, The International Journal of Human Rights, 21:7, 866-888, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2017.1313235.

[65] azatutyun.am. (2020, October). Gagik Tsarukyan was released from the “Yerevan-center” penitentiary institution. Retrieved from https://www.azatutyun.am/a/30907437.html

[66] 1in TV. (2020, June). We will stay here because we are all Gagik Tsarukyan. Naira Zohrabyan. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvllSnTzjKk

[67] infocom.am. (2019, April). “Araratcement” employees are on strike: they have blocked the road to the plant and want to meet Tsarukyan |news.am|. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3cvTxeZ

[68] pinkarmenia.org. (2018, March). The deputy proposes to isolate LGBT persons. Retrieved from https://www.pinkarmenia.org/news/mp-hatespeech/

[69] pinkarmenia.org. (2018, December). Cursing LGBTI persons does not bring votes. Retrieved from https://www.pinkarmenia.org/news/na-campaign/

[70] azatutyun.am. (2020, September). According to the doctor, in the event of an abortion ban, illegal activities will gain momentum. Retrieved from https://www.azatutyun.am/a/30831988.html

[71] Whittier, N. (2014, November 4). Rethinking Coalitions: Anti-Pornography Feminists, Conservatives, and Relationships between Collaborative Adversarial Movements․ Social Problems, 61 (2), 175–193. https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.2014.12151.

[72] Ibid.

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