YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–Along with twenty-eight journalists and writers from thirteen countries–Armenian journalist Mark Grigorian received the Hellman/Hammet grant.
Established in 1989 and administered by Human Rights Watch–the Hellman/Hammet grant is awarded to writers all around the world who have been victims of political persecution and are in financial need.
In October 2002–Grigorian–a free-lance journalist suffered serious shrapnel wounds to the head and chest from a grenade thrown at him as he walked through the center of the country’s capital–Yerevan. The journalist had been working on an article about an October 1999 attack on the Armenian Parliament that left eight high-level politicians–including the prime minister–dead.
Past recipients include well-known Turkish writer–translator and publisher Aisenur Zarakolu–who demanded that the Armenian Genocide be recognized–and struggled for rights of the Kurdish minority.
The gran’s are financed by the estate of the playwright Lillian Hellman in funds set up in her name and that of her long-time companion–the novelist Dashiell Hammett. The two American writers were interrogated in the 1950s about their political beliefs and affiliations; Hellman by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Hammett by Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy–whose communist paranoia helped fuel nearly a decade of anti-communist "witch hunts." As a result–Hellman’suffered professionally for a number of years. Hammett spent time in jail.
The gran’s are awarded every spring after the nominations are reviewed by a seven-member selection committee composed of authors–editors–and journalists who have a long-standing interest in free expression issues.
Hellman/Hammett gran’s typically range from $1,000 to a maximum of $10,000. In addition to providing much needed financial assistance–the Hellman/Hammett gran’s focus attention on repression of free speech and censorship by publicizing the persecution that the grant recipients endured. In some cases the publicity is a protection against further abuse. In other cases–the writers request anonymity because of the dangerous circumstances in which they and their families are living.
Since the program began in 1990–more than 400 writers have received gran’s including several group gran’s to writers in Bosnia–Burma–Peru–and Sierra Leone. The recipients are–nevertheless–a tiny portion of the many writers around the world whose books have been banned–or who have been exiled–imprisoned–tortured–and harassed because of their work.