Armenia’s busy parliament took a moment this week to address the “problem” of men kissing men – according to one MP, a concern for both the country and its national assembly. Neighboring Georgia was blamed for bringing the smooching whammy upon Armenia.
On the morning of February 23, the world was closing in on 59-year-old Aram Manukian of the opposition Armenian National Congress. To the left, right and center, male deputies filled Armenia’s parliamentary hall, exchanging handshakes and kisses -- a popular form of salutation.
Just to be clear, the Caucasus-style greeting between men involves a peck on the cheek; thankfully, not a Leonid Brezhnev-style, mouth-to-mouth embrace. Displays of affection between men, such as kissed greetings and walking with arms locked, is customary in this otherwise macho neck of the woods, and accounts for more than one awkward moment with Western visitors.
But this time around, Armenian lawmakers apparently got a little carried away, prompting a request from Deputy Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov to be done with giving love and move on to the pressing matters of the day, such as getting a show of hands for candidates for a new ombudsman.
Manukian took the floor. He used the high tribune to call upon Armenia to stop the man-to-man kisses.
“Do not do this! This is not a pretty sight! Children are watching!” he pled with his colleagues. Armenian men kiss everywhere these days, he pointed out -- in parliament, the institutions of higher education, you name it.
“I forbade guys in our party to kiss every day,” he said, without specifying what rate of kissing was now sanctioned within the Armenian National Congress.
Perhaps thinking that Manukian was a little too hard on his colleagues, Deputy Speaker Sharmazanov interceded with a joke that kissing is fine so long as it is not the “kiss of Judas.” Another representative of the ruling Republican Party, 38-year-old Hovhannes Sahakian, chimed in to say that he, for one, trusts the men he kisses.
But Manukian was not placated. In a rare display of willingness to cede cultural primacy in the region to neighboring Georgia, he said that it was the Georgians who taught Armenian men to kiss.
“Men kiss there all the time,” Manukian informed the assembly.
Georgians, as this native Georgian blogger can confirm, do kiss indiscriminately, but the body of scientific research is scarce as to when and where the custom originated.
Armenia’s parliamentarians did not examine the topic further. They managed to move past their debate on philematology, and finally elected as ombudsman Deputy Justice Minister Arman Tatoian.
Chances are, no man congratulated him with a kiss.