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Hrazdan Police Try to ‘Help’ Atheist Boy to Find Right Path to Christianity

On the evening of March 23, three police officers  arrived at the Hrazdan apartment of 16-year-old Vova D. and told him he had to go to Yerevan with them for a pre-conscription medical examination. On the way to Yerevan, however, the officers tried to “put the young boy back on the right path” to Apostolic Church. In conversation with Epress.am, Vova said he was convinced the officers had found out that he was an atheist from his Facebook posts.

“It was Friday, and I had gone to the store. On the way back, I received a phone call from my mom, asking where I was and when I would be back. I heard men’s voices in the background and hurried home, thinking that we had guests. As I got home, I saw three strangers at our place; one of them was in a police uniform.”

According to Vova, the men had told his mother that they had to take the boy to Yerevan for additional pre-conscription medical tests. “I do suffer from lung issues, so we believed them. My mom said she would come with me, but they said she shouldn’t..”

At around 9 pm, the officers put Vova in a car and took him to the Fund for Armenian Relief Children’s Center in Yerevan. “Their tone and questions changed once we got in the car. They said they had gone to my school to collect information about me. I realized at that point that we were not going to Yerevan for a medical exam.”

Upon arrival to Yerevan, Vova was told that he had to stay at the Children’s Center for a few days. “I immediately got angry and argued that my parents had not given their consent to bring me here. The officers said our district inspector had given the necessary permission. The kids at the Center told me that it hosted mainly children from poor families and orphans. But I don’t have any problems with my family. The employees of the Center treated me well; they offered me food and everything. I couldn’t eat anything though, and refused to go to sleep when it was bedtime.”

The following morning Vova got back his mobile phone from the police officers and phoned his mother. “I told her that I would probably be staying at the Center until Monday and asked her to bring me some clothes and food. Then, however, I remembered that I knew someone who could get me out of there. I phoned them and asked for their help. Otherwise, I would have to stay at the Center for 2 days until a psychologist was available to speak with me.”

With his friend’s help, Vova was allowed to leave the Center later on the same day, and the three officers took him back to Hrazdan. “They were rather mean to me on the way back, said it was not normal for me to be an atheist, that they wanted to be friends with me to help me reach the proper mindset. They asked why I didn’t want to become a Christian, and I replied that even if I did become one, I’d stay true to all the commandments. I asked one of the officers whether he was a Christian and he said yes. ‘How come you use obscene language then,’ I asked again and he replied, ‘Because I can’t help it. I opened the Bible, read a few lines and understood that it was not for me.Then I asked God’s forgiveness for not being able to obey the commandments.’”

On March 26, the officers went back to Vova’s apartment and said he had to go to Yerevan again to meet with the psychologist. “I agreed to go, thinking that I’d be allowed to leave after the conversation. This time, however, they said I had to stay until April 2, but I refused, saying I was busy.”

After the meeting with the psychologist, Vova again resorted to his friend’s help to be allowed to go home. The officers, nevertheless, continued visiting the young man over the following days, insisting that they only wanted to have a friendly talk with him.

“They said they wanted to help me to realize that I should be proud of my Armenian identity. They must have gone through my Facebook posts and assumed that I was linked to some kind of a sect. I told them that I did not need their help and that I was simply an atheist. They kept asking persistently why I did not want to become a Christian.”

“I can only guess that the police targeted me because of my non-conventional views and appearance. A lot of people avoid me because I’m an atheist. Besides, I’ve mentioned on Facebook that I’m asexual, so they must have assumed that I have some kind of a problem.”

Epress.am tried to reach the FAR Childrens’ Center for comment on Vova’s involuntary stay. A representative of the Center, however, said the person authorized to speak about the issue was out of town and urged us to submit an official inquiry, to which they would respond upon their return.