BAKU: A prominent Azerbaijani writer has become the target of a state-approved campaign of intimidation after he published a novella he says was intended to build bridges with arch-foe Armenia.
Akram Aylisli’s Stone Dreams, which depicts relations between ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Azerbaijan, sparked outrage in Azerbaijan for what critics say is a pro-Armenian presentation of the bloody conflict between the ex-Soviet neighbours.
The novella’s December publication in the Russian-language magazine, Friendship of Peoples, has been followed by a hostile campaign of intimidation against its author.
The most extreme phase of Aylisli’s nightmare started when the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party demanded on Jan. 31 that the 75-year-old writer repudiate his book and apologise before the nation.
“The Azerbaijani people must express public hatred” towards Aylisli, a high-ranking presidency official, said.
Days later crowds started regularly gathering outside Aylisli’s home, burning his effigies and shouting: “Akram leave the country now!” and “Shame on you!”
At its Feb. 1 plenary, Azerbaijan’s parliament condemned the book, with some lawmakers saying Aylisli should take a DNA test to prove his ethnicity.
With a stroke of a presidential pen, Azerbaijan’s strongman leader Ilham Aliyev this month stripped Aylisli of his honourary title of “People’s Writer,” his medals and a presidential pension.
Aylisli said his wife and son were forced to resign from their jobs.
The pro-government Yeni Musavat party leader, Hafiz Gadjiyev, has publicly pledged a $12,000 reward to anyone who would cut off Aylisli’s ear. “The Azerbaijani authorities have an obligation to protect Akram Aylisli,” Human Rights Watch said.
Critics accuse Aylisli of only describing the sufferings of the Armenians and ignoring atrocities committed by the Armenians against his own people.
But Aylisli said his book is “a hand of friendship, stretched out to the Armenians.”
“I tell a story of an Azerbaijani, who becomes a victim while saving an Armenian. It’s all about high moral values and human qualities,” he said, rejecting accusations of being unpatriotic.
“Stone Dreams is against the hatred between the two peoples — the hatred that inflicts suffering on so many people in the Caucasus.”