Fiction?: Army pursues author as Armenia celebrates its status as “World Book Capital”

Fiction?: Army pursues author as Armenia celebrates its status as “World Book Capital”


Hovhannes Ishkhanyan

The author of a book that is said to defame the Armenian Army has been charged with dissemination of pornographic material and his book, “Demob Day”, has been removed from some bookstore shelves following pressure from the Military Police.

Author Hovhannes Ishkhanyan, 24, a computer programmer and former army conscript, published the book in only 300 copies, about 120 of which have been sold.

“Demob Day”
He says he wrote the book in part before his army experience and completed it after his service and that the language in the book – while fictional – is based on his experience.

“There is a problem of esthetics here. I have used the real language which exists in the army, which has caused shock among officials. Had I written it in nice words, they would not have complained,” Ishkhanyan says.

Nonetheless Military Police attorney Anahit Yesayan says Ishkhanyan’s work of fiction distorts truth, defames the military, is offensive to religion and Armenian mothers.

Two bookstores in Yerevan have removed the ‘Demob Day’ from sale; the Artbridge café/bookstore did not. Director of the Bureaucrat bookshop refused to explain why the book was removed from his shelves, even though his shop hosted a presentation of the book when it came out last May.

A Bureaucrat shop assistant, who didn’t not want to be named, said the store did have the Demob Day book on sale, but it was withdrawn from sale recently. The assistant also says that two persons dressed as civilians visited the bookstore a few days ago apparently to check whether the book was still on sale or not.

“A private economic entity has the right to choose the products which are for sale in its shop. I am not against this style of business,” Ishkhanyan says. “I am against their imposing censorship, and they do not care what fortune the book will have.”

Helsinki Committee of Armenia attorney Robert Revazyan is surprised that the Military Police got involved over a piece of fiction.

“It is not important that the fictions are about the army. This is a piece of literature, where no real characters are represented. They [the Military Police] were simply offended and try to get revenge,” Revazyan says.

Samvel Mkrtchyan, editor and translator of the ‘Foreign Literature’ literary magazine, believes that Ishkhanyan has presented the reality surrealistically.

“The force institution has no right to interpose in literature, in case when murders are committed in its army almost every day, and almost none of them is detected,” he says.

The Military Police report that they have turned to the Ministry of Culture asking for an expert opinion to find out whether or not the texts in the book are pornographic. The case materials are sent to the Central Military Prosecutor's Office of Armenia to decide the further actions to be taken related to the book and its author.

Ishkhanyan says that his fictions are not realistic works, they are absurd and one can never come across such things in life.

In the ‘Military March’ fiction the author described the march of dead soldiers in the parade ground. The soldiers lug their military identification cards fastened with thread.

“I remember myself only in the present and I remember all my experience in the army. I wake up every morning hearing someone’s crying. I wake up and see that someone, huddled himself up, is sitting on my bed and crying. When I saw his face I realized that it was me. I asked why I was crying and I answered that I cry because I serve in the army,” tells the main character of the book.

Another character of the ‘Demob Day’ is walking along the parade ground with a throat in his hand, “Was it my fault that I was serving with people like me, who had said that my throat was golden? Was it my fault that zampolit (deputy commander in charge of policy) Hovakimyan catches those things which smell of money, and was it my fault that zampolit Hovakimyan was so stupid that he did not know that a human being’s throat cannot be golden? He looked at me greedily, raised his hand from my shoulder, caught my neck and tore off my throat. I fell down and died, and he [Hovakimyan] examined the throat and did not find what he was looking for inside it, so he spat at me and left.” And in the fiction, according to the preliminary investigation, here the soldier attacked the officer.

Writer Hovik Charkhchyan says that literature must undergo no censorship; it is the free expression of mind.

“Here classically only half a step is left to reach censorship. A book is not a document or a protocol; this is simply a piece of literature the characters of which can be fictitious. If they [the Military Police] have found some common features and similarities it does not mean that they can pursue someone [the author of the book],” Charkhchyan says.

Ishkhanyan is prosecuted under Article 263 of the Criminal Code of Armenia (Illegal dissemination of pornographic materials or items). Those who are charged with this crime are “punished with a fine or with arrest for the term of up to two months, or with imprisonment for the term of up to two years.”

The literary circles of Armenia have united to defend the young writer; his supporters have a page on Facebook. Ishkhanyan has turned to the Ombudsman of Armenia.

“Personally I am against any bad language or vulgarism in literature; however I leave all this alone and speak merely about a piece of literature. Shame on our country, which is going to celebrate the world book capital day soon, however a writer is being pursued in the same country, and restrictions are imposed on literature,” Charkhchyan says.