RAPID ACTION NETWORK Appeal | March 1, 2013

By | March 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm | No comments | Campaigns | Tags:

Azerbaijan: Writer Akram Aylisli under threat

PEN Canada’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) is deeply concerned by reports that the highly regarded Azeri novelist Akram Aylisli has recently been threatened by angry protestors burning copies of his book outside his home, and by an opposition figure who has issued threats against the author.

The source of the outcry is Aylisli’s novella, Stone Dreams, set in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The book offers a sympathetic portrayal of Armenians involved in the conflict. PEN fears for Akram Aylisli’s security and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to guarantee his safety and that of his family, and to investigate and prosecute any person who has threatened him.

Nagorno-Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s and remains a source of tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan. War broke out between Azerbaijani troops and Armenian separatists in 1988. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Karabakh declared itself an independent republic, an action that prompted a full scale war during in which widespread atrocities were reported. Since 1994 a ceasefire has held although there have been sporadic outbreaks of fighting. People displaced by the war are still unable to return, and the issue remains a source of acute tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Stone Dreams, written in 2007 but not published until five years later, tells the story of two Azeri men who try to protect their Armenian neighbours from ethnic violence. The book refers to the persecution of Armenians in Karabakh. What has angered protestors is that the book reportedly only refers to Azeri abuses against Armenians and makes no reference to attacks by Armenians on Azeris. The book has not yet been published in Azerbaijan, but a Russian translation was published in late 2012 in the Russian literary journal Druahba naradov (Friendship of the Peoples).

The crisis began to build in earlier this month, as Azerbaijani law makers accused Aylisli of publishing an insult to the Azerbaijani people, and began to question Aylisli’s own ethnicity, suggesting that he be forced to leave Azerbaijan and to live in Armenia. Some demanded that he be deprived of his special status as a state writer, a demand that was met on February 7, 2012, when President Ilham Aliyev stripped Aylisli of the state pension awarded for his past contribution to literature in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani media reports that Aylisli was penalised for “distorting facts in Azerbaijani history and insulting the feelings of Azerbaijani people”. The decision came a week after protestors  gathered outside Aylisli’s home in Baku, shouting “shame” and burning his portrait and books. According to Radio Free Europe, Stone Dreams also makes thinly veiled criticism of the former president, Heydar Aliev, father of the current leader, Ilham Aliyev. NGOs and support groups for veterans and refugees have reportedly suggested that they could take legal action against Aylisli.

On February 11, the chairman of the opposition Modern Musavat Party, Hafiz Hajiyev, announced that he would pay a ransom of 10,000 AZN (c. €9,500) to anyone who cut off Akram Aylisli’s ear, adding that he is quite aware of the criminal liability. The Minister of Interior subsequently announced that such calls for violence were unacceptable and will be investigated. However, the threat to Aylisli remains acute.

Speaking to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in late January, Aylisli argued “this novel is a kind of message to Armenians living in Karabakh; in other words, to the Armenian citizens of Azerbaijan … the message is this: don’t think that we’ve forgotten all the things we’ve done to you. We accept that. You have also done bad things to us. It’s the job of Armenian writers to write about those things … Maybe they’ve written about it already, maybe they will write about it in the future. I don’t know. Because it’s not possible for any people to commit such cruelties and not write about it. Don’t politicise these things. If Armenians continue to live in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, we have to live side by side. The novel is a message to them. Don’t be afraid. It’s not the end. We can live together”.

Despite the protests, commentators point out that recent events have opened up debate on Armenia. On February 7, Azerbaijan television broadcast a feisty live debate with Aylisli and a member of the ruling party, and others have openly praised the book.

Aylisli, aged 75, is a highly regarded writer, poet, and script writer who has won numerous awards in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. In 2002, he received the Independence Award, Azerbaijan’s most prestigious literary prize. Formerly a student at the Maxim Gorky Institute for Literature,  Aylisli’s career began in the late 1950s. His most famous works include When the Mist Rolls Over the Mountains (1963) and What the Cherry Blossom Said (1983). He is also known for his literary translations.

Please write immediately in Azerbaijani or your own language:

  • protesting against the threats levelled at Akram Aylisli
  • urging the Azerbaijani authorities to protect Aylisli and his family
  • calling for an investigation into and prosecution of anyone who has threatened Aylisli
  • urging an end to the harassment and penalties imposed on Akram Aylisli because of his writing

Send appeals to:

President Ilham Aliyev
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
18 Istiqlaliyyat Street,
Fax: +994 12 492 0625
Email: office@pa.gov.az

Salutation: Dear President

Photo credit: www.startribune.com

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