From “Stone Dreams” to hard reality: Akram Aylisli’s novel on Azeri-Armenian relations continues stirring threats and hatred in Azerbaijan

From “Stone Dreams” to hard reality: Akram Aylisli’s novel on Azeri-Armenian relations continues stirring threats and hatred in Azerbaijan

Photo: Azadlıq Radiosu (RFE/RL)

The Human Right Watch released a statement on Tuesday demanding from Azerbaijani authorities to immediately stop the harassment and persecution campaign toward Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli, whose novel “Stone Dreams” on Azeri- Armenian relations has caused a flurry of anger in Azerbaijan.

The New-York based organization expressed concerns over the hateful campaign, which started early this year by a series of protests in several Azerbaijani cities as burning of Aylisli’s books and portraits culminated in a call by a political party to reward (with about $12,000) anyone who would cut off the writer’s ear.

“The government of Azerbaijan is making a mockery of its international obligations on freedom of expression,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”

“The Azerbaijani authorities have an obligation to protect Akram Aylisli. Instead, they have led the effort to intimidate him, putting him at risk with a campaign of vicious smears and hostile rhetoric,” said Williamson, calling Azerbaijan’s authorities to investigate and hold accountable anyone responsible for making threats against Aylisli, and ensure his personal safety.

Until recently, the 75-year-old Aylisli was a respected figure in Azerbaijan, and a member of the Writers Union who was honored with the several awards and prizes and enjoyed a presidential monthly pension of $1,270. Aylisli is author of novels as well as a translator of many well known authors, including those by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The hateful rhetoric against Aylisli started early in January, soon after his novel was published in a Russian-language journal “Friendship of People”. “Stone Dreams” tells the story of two Azerbaijani men and their efforts 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.)

Aylisli said he saw his novel as an appeal for friendship between the two nations, where there is no innocent and guilty, but a tragedy of two peoples. “My novel is not political, but I am against forcing unhealthy relations between nations.”

However, his pacifist standpoint and sympathetic portrayal of Armenians did not find understanding in Azerbaijan, which fought and lost in a war over Nagorno Karabakh in the early 1990s and where many are brought up on anti-Armenian sentiments since childhood.

Last week, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree stripping Aylisli of the title of “People’s Writer”, which he had held since 1998, and cutting off his presidential pension which he had drawn since 2002; a week earlier Aylisli’s wife and son were fired from their jobs.

The book has stirred protests in Baku, and one Azeri lawmaker suggested that Aylisli have his DNA tested, to determine whether he is of Armenian origin. Another lawmaker said that the novel “insulted not only Azerbaijanis, but the whole Turkish nation," referring to the Ottoman Empire's historical persecution of Armenians.

Meanwhile Turkish and Armenian intellectuals have recently issued support messages for Aylisli calling Azerbaijani authorities to stop manifesting hatred to the writer.

Levon Ananyan, chairman of Armenia's Union of Writers, said Aylisli’s novel clearly shows that a patriot cannot remain silent in the face of the truth.

“When true intellectuals and true writers defend truths, it does not mean that they don’t love their country,” Ananyan said. "Kudos to our Azerbaijani colleague. He is that brave man who blazes the trail, the trail that leads to repentance through truth."

Ragıp Zarakolu, prominent human rights activist in Turkey, released an announcement titled “Defend Azerbaijani Conscience”. “No matter what you call honest people with conscience, they are the real pride of a country. Currently, the life of Azerbaijan’s pride, Aylisli, is under a severe threat. Even though some Western countries and Russia invited him, Aylisli displayed an honorable posture and rejected leaving his homeland. In order to prevent another murder resembling the assassination of Hrant Dink, I call the international public and the democrats of Turkey and Azerbaijan to active solidarity with Aylisli,” said Zarakolu cited by the Hurriyet Daily News.

“I was accused of a one-sided position,” Aylisli said. “But there are many good Azerbaijanis in my novel, lovely people, like Dr. Farzaneh. The action of such people, like Farzaneh suggest that our nation is moral and kind.”

The author says that his persecution is an abnormal phenomenon. He said Azerbaijani ordinary citizens say they can live together with the Armenians, but the authorities advocated for the hatred.

Head of Azerbaijani Presidential Administration's Political Department Ali Hasanov said that Aylisli’s purpose is to get a Nobel Prize and compared him with Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, 2006 Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, who in 2005 made a statement regarding the Armenian Genocide and mass killing of Kurds in the Ottoman Empire. Pamuk’s statements on the Armenian genocide resulted in 7 year long persecution process and criminal charges.

“Orhan Pamuk was condemned by his people and was forced to leave the country when he expressed such an opinion that ‘Turks must recognize the Armenian genocide’. What was the purpose? It was done only to get a prize. Is it worth receiving this award when your people, your nation, abandon you?”