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Armenia: Young Author Faces Military Censorship

Hovhannes Ishkhanyan, a 24-year-old computer programmer and, like many others, a former conscript in the Armenian military has found himself in hot water in the former Soviet republic after penning a literary work detailing life in the country's army.

Despite a print run of just 300, the Armenian military prosecutor says the book defames the army, is insulting to religion and also mothers. Demob Day has been removed from the shelves of at least two book stores in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.

Ironically, the city this year celebrates its status as UNESCO World Book Capital, but that will come as little comfort to Ishkanyan who is facing prosecution under Article 263 of the Criminal Code of Armenia for the illegal dissemination of pornographic materials or items.

Demob Day

Demob Day

If found guilty Ishkhanyan could find himself fined or imprisoned for up to two or three years. Ianyan comments on the case:

The Armenian army has been suffering from a spell of bad PR in the last few years as news of non-combat deaths have plagued the institution. Activists, who regularly protest the deaths, accuse the military of failing to properly investigate them as well as portraying murders as suicides. In September 2010, an amateur video that was posted on YouTube alleging abuse in the Armenian army made headlines in and outside the country.

Of the 16 fictional stories in the “The Day of Discharge” three concern themes related to the army. One of those, titled “Military March,” about 100 marching soldiers, who, dragging their military identification cards, begin to relay their experiences of their life in the army, has angered authorities the most, according to Ishkhanyan.

The Armenian Observer even made a point to read the book:

The situation with the police got me interested, so I read the book. Admittedly, reading was without enjoyment. The book contains too much violence and vulgar language for my taste, but that’s about it. One can hardly expect a book about the Armenian Army to contain a lot of tenderness and poetic speach – after wall, we’re talking about a structure, were dozens of soldiers die every year in non-combat situation, mainly because of hazing, violence and pressure, which forces soldiers into committing suicides.

[...]

The heroes of the book, young soldiers who died or became crippled during military service, tell horror stories of mistreatment by military officers.

[...]

Needless to say, that we’re witnessing a clear case of censorship, which is totally unacceptable.

Unzipped also commented, drawing attention to a petition established in the young author's support. “Unbelievable,” the blogger wrote. “What ages are we living in?! Say your firm NO to attempts of taking back Armenia into dark ages of Stalinism.”

Hovhannes Ishkhanyan © Nazik Armenakyan, ArmeniaNow

Hovhannes Ishkhanyan © Nazik Armenakyan, ArmeniaNow

There is also an interview with Ishkanyan from last year in which the author discusses freedom of expression and military culture in Armenia on Artist For Artist.

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