December 27, 2010

"Armenian police target teenage rock cult"

When police officers arrived at 13-year-old Masha's home, searched her room and inspected her computer, it was not because they suspected her of any crime. Her offence was simply to be a devoted follower of the angst-ridden punk-rock subculture known as 'emo', in an ex-Soviet state where pressures to conform remain strong.

"It was offensive and frightening at the same time," said Masha, a schoolgirl in the Armenian capital, clearly upset by the experience.

Police in Yerevan have been conducting a campaign against the capital's small but controversial emo community since the recent suicides of two teenagers who were rumoured to have been emo fans.

They claim that the subculture represents a threat to young people's welfare. Officers have visited schools, searched pupils whose distinctive clothing marks them out as possible 'emos', and mounted surveillance on public places where young people gather.

Several fans have been detained for questioning, despite the lack of any specific legislation against the musical genre or its followers. In a recent newspaper interview, Armenia's Chief of Police, Alik Sarkisian, claimed that emo could "damage our gene pool". "We should fight against such phenomena because they are morally harmful to our people," he said.

Emo -- an abbreviation of 'emotional' -- is a more melodic and melancholy form of punk rock. It has origins in the United States but has become a well-established global subculture in recent years.

Masha and her friend Ani, also 13, say they started dressing in the unconventional emo style in an attempt to stand out from what they call "the grey masses".

But they now feel that they have to disguise themselves in ordinary clothes for fear of detention or harassment by other youths. "They point and laugh at us. Or even worse, they sometimes beat up our boys," Ani said.

Sensationalist media reports in Europe have suggested that the gloomy lyrics of some emo songs can influence teenagers to harm themselves or attempt suicide, although fans have consistently rejected the accusation.

Young fans like Masha and Ani have been worried by the anti-emo campaign, but they insist that they will not be pressured into abandoning the subculture that they love.

"It is impossible to ban youth movements using repressive methods," Ani said defiantly. "We will not stop listening to our music and dressing how we like. This is my choice."