Dreams And Nightmares

Hovhannes Yeranyan


This was the title of one of the first so-called horror genre novels in Armenian. Now as to why we remembered that collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories.

The two grant competition programs announced by the Ministry of Culture have been a source of heated discussion both across the media and in social media, particularly on Facebook.

With the “Assistance to Writers” program, 1 million AMD will be given to writers who present at least ten pages of their unfinished work, and they will be required to complete the work within a maximum of one year.

The first complaint concerns the genres of the works of prose. The ministry will support only the authors of adventure, detective, science fiction, philosophy, horror story, fiction. At first glance, it is evident that the State Department which deals with regulating issues of culture, considers the issues regarding the creation of books important. That is, the market. These, in terms of possibility of consumption, give way to perhaps only children’s books. But if we take into consideration that a genre is understood under the genre of adventure, then to some extent this gap is supplemented. The most problematic here is the existence of a horror genre. Armenian literature has no tradition of this genre, if we don’t count some works which include terrible and degrading scenes of the Genocide. Generally speaking, if we don’t consider Edgar Allan Poe and a few other works, we can say that the therm horror, as a creative genre, refers more to movies than literature. If the competition organizers emphasized in their statement the ability to create movies and shoot a film based on the novel in the future, perhaps the existence of this genre would be more logical and we could indulge in hopes that one day, we would compete with Alfred Hitchcock. It’s interesting, to see how many writers will be tempted to change their own preference and redefine themselves for the sake of one million. Nevertheless, we think that the most will be hence the horror genre, because a large number of donors will try to take advantage of it and  regardless of what genre it is filed under, it will be horrifying, or at least horrific.

Writer Susanna Harutyunyan, referring to the horror genre on her Facebook page, justly writes, “It is interesting to know what problem the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia is addressing by ordering the writers of a warring country, whose readers are people who see the death of their own children, who die daily, to write books in the horror genre.” Karo Vardanyan in line with this though jokes in his statement that it is possible to intimidate the enemy with horror books.

Referring to the same problem, prose writer, screenwriter Vahram Martirosyan also makes a proper comment on his Facebook page. “One of the first projects of the new Ministry of Culture has surprised me… let me leave the fictional memoir. Other genres, such as adventure, detective, science fiction, philosophy, commercial literature all over the world, are sold in large quantities, bring benefits to the author and publisher. What is the state’s concern about literature? ‘Horror stories.’ Really? I don’t want to resort to cheap tricks when it comes to what awful horror stories we’ve had in the last twenty years, but who needs them? Is there a public demand? And what are the goals of the influence?”

Listing the topics which he would prefer to encourage, he writer adds, “At the moment, I consider this announcement to be the result of the state misunderstanding its role in the development of culture.”

The poets are certainly most dissatisfied with the same competition program. There is no grant for poetry. In this case, he ministry has been guided by the logic of the market, because it is a fact that poetry books are sold worse than prose.

Finally, publishers are also dissatisfied. Armen Martirosyan, Director of Antares, was mainly speaking out. Both on his Facebook page and in the media he considered the contradiction between the statements of this program and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to be problematic, according to which the state will not give money to the creator but will make the society more prosperous, so that people will have the opportunity to buy a book, visit a theater or concert hall.

Yes, there really is a contradiction here. However, the most widely circulated in the media is the issue of the likely dependence of the creator on the government when financed by the state.

Not wanting to use the term “arm twisting,” a half-gangster term, the debaters used the more effective “bowing” method when formulating their opinion. Let’s put aside that such a foolish word in Armenian cannot exist, as a synonym for humility. In reality, dependence on the power of the state is not so much to do with the grant or prize, as much as the strength of internal freedom. Yes, I know dozens of writers and other artists who have not received any support from the state and have not received awards and medals, yet they have put themselves in a state of dependence. And vice versa, of course, not as much as the previous ones, but I also know writers who have published books and won titles from the state, who have never lost their internal freedom and independence and have always been in a state of  “grateful” opposition.

The second grant program, announced by the Ministry of Culture and Education, is called “Your Art at School.” This one is relevant to writers, artists and musicians alike. The media discussion regarding it is not as abundant and heated as the previous one. According to the contest organizers, the goal of the program is to fill the gap of “cultural education” in the field of general education, to increase interest in reading, classic music, fine arts, etc. I also aims to make modern creators and artists recognizable among school children and youth. To be honest, I can at least speak for writers when I say that it has always been advisable to have meetings, not just in schools, and I do not know of a case where a writer would refuse, or rather, miss the opportunity to hold such meetings. Now, if the state also gives money, naturally, the interest is doubled. If we forget for a moment about “arm twisting” or “bowing,” another important danger remains in this issue. The competition committee should be so scrupulous and professional that the dreams of artists and writers to finally receive monetary assistance from the state do not turn out to be a nightmare for school children, by frustration thereby totally eliminating their interest in art and literature.

Hovhannes Yeranyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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