The scandalous novel by the Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations will likely cost the 75 -year -old writer not only deprivation of the presidential awards and pension, but will cause him to leave his motherland. Azeri mass media reported on Thursday on the writer’s intention to leave the country for Turkey, urged out of fear for his life and safety of his family.
“My works are not published, plays are not performed. My future life here is impossible. I made the decision to leave the homeland and move to brotherly Turkey,” Azerbaijani media quoted Aylisli’s interview to the Turkish newspaper.
Aylisli’s “Stone Dreams”, novel tells the story of two Azerbaijani men who try to protect their Armenian neighbors during the Sumgait and Baku pogroms in the closing years of the Soviet Union. (The novel also includes a description of violence by ethnic Azeris against Armenians during the 1920s.)
The novel, describing the cruelty of Azerbaijanis against Armenians provoked public anger and numerous threats in Azerbaijan, soon after it was published in “People’s Friendship” magazine last December. Protest actions were held in several Azerbaijani cities demanding Aylisli’s exile from the country; writer’s books were burned, while the pro-government “Yeni Musavat” party has announced a reward of $12,000 to anyone who “cuts off the writer’s ear”. Aylisli’s wife and son were fired from their jobs; in addition, by the presidential degree the writer was stripped of all government awards, including “People’s Writer” title and his monthly presidential pension of $1,270.
Armenian and Turkish intellectuals, as well as U.S. State Department, OSCE office in Baku and other organizations have issued statements, condemning harassment toward writer and urging Baku authorities to stop the persecution campaign. Human Right Watch, in particular, said that the government of Azerbaijan is making a mockery of its international obligations on freedom of expression. “This is shocking, particularly after Azerbaijani officials flocked to Strasbourg last month to tout the government’s human rights record at the Council of Europe.”
Aylisli, meanwhile, accused Azerbaijani intellectuals of cowardice and indifference to the public debate about his novel.
“They have always supported my position. However, they cannot openly express their opinions because they get salary from the state. The free thinking part of the society is openly on my side. Even a group of writers from Turkey supported me. But not one politician in Azerbaijan has called me, “Aylisli said to haqqin.az.
The writer said that that the purpose of the novel was to send a message to Armenians, in particular, to the Armenians living in Nagorno Karabakh, that Azerbaijani people see their mistakes and see what they did not want to do, but had to do .
“Time has not yet completely separated us, let us look together at our living together,” says the writer, adding that now it is the turn of Armenian writers for an objective recognition of mistakes that led to a major war, which brought misery and suffering to both peoples.
“I now call on the Armenian writers to tell the truth about the Khojaly genocide and other mass murders. Do not blame the people for the wars. Those are guilty who use wars to enrich themselves,” Aylisli said.
Armenian expert on geopolitics of the South Caucasus, Anjela Elibegova, believes that the purposeful hatred toward the author is partly conditioned by the Azeri’s “wag the dog” policy, as the “Armenian thematic is a zero risk action for the government of Azerbaijan to divert attention from the really serious problems in the country.”
“The novel was published in December’s issue of the magazine but it caused wide public resonance in Azerbaijan, just soon after the situation in the country exacerbated because of the unrest in the Ismailli. (An Azeri district, where in January, there were clashes between protesting residents and police during which the protestors burned one of the outbuildings in the yard of the chief executive of the district and his car).
Elibegova said that today in Azerbaijan they don’t speak about the Ismailli ongoing unrest, or on “Gyulyargeyt”, (the scandalous video on how MP Gyular Akhmetova asks a $ 1 million from the dean of the University for being elected an MP), non combat deaths in army, or on other acute problems that only couple of weeks ago concerned the public.
Elibegova says the novel also provoked fury and criticism because it presented the “National leader” Heydar Aliyev (the father of the acting president Ilham Aliev) in unflattering light and contained accusation of organizing the Armenian massacres.
“The fact that the ruling clan never forgave this impertinence is openly discussed in Azerbaijani mass media. Nakhijevan clan representatives of the ruling elite resented most of all, as Agulis ( Nakhichevan) massacre of 1919, is a problem first of all for them.”
Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment, said publication of the novel is a brave act by Aylisli but unfortunately, instead of encouraging Aylisli as a brave citizen, Azerbaijani government subjected him to pressures, burnt his books, which is regrettable.
“The Azerbaijani government likes to talk about peace, he even recalls how peacefully thousands of Armenians lived in Baku. Unfortunately, the pressure on the writer who bravely comments on the conflict, brings another impression of delivering a diverse message,” said de Waal, the Karabakh conflict researcher in an interview with the Azerbaijani service of Radio Liberty. “This speaks about the fact that the Azerbaijani society is not ready to analyze history and problems. And the most important thing is that it is a characteristic phenomenon for two sides of the conflict both the Azerbaijani and the Armenian society.”