Photo credit: PRI's The World
A highly regarded novelist, Akram Aylisli, was put in danger in recent days as angry protestors have gathered outside his home, burning copies of his book, and an opposition figure issued threats against him. The source of the outcry is Aylisli’s novel, Stone Dreams, which provides a sympathetic view of Armenians in the six-year conflictover the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. PEN International fears for Akram Aylisli’s security. It calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to guarantee Aylisli’s safety and that of his family, and to investigate and prosecute any person who has threatened him.
Stone Dreams is a novella set in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that broke away from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s and which 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. The conflict then escalated into a full-scale war during which there were reported widespread atrocities. Since 1994 a ceasefire has held although there have been sporadic outbreaks of fighting since. 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 tried to protect their Armenian neighbours from ethnic violence, and also refers to the persecution of Armenians in Karabakh. What has raised the ire of the protestors is that the book reportedly only refers to Azeri abuses against Armenians and makes no reference to attacks by Armenians on Azeris.
The crisis began to build in February 2013 as Azerbaijani law makers accused Aylisli of insult to the Azerbaijani people and began to question Aylisli’s own ethnicity, suggesting that he be forced to leave Azerbaijan 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, 2013, when President Ilham Aliyev stripped Aylisli of his pension, which had been awarded to him in recognition of his past contribution to literature in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani media reports that Aylisli was penalized for “distorting facts in Azerbaijani history and insulting the feelings of Azerbaijani people.” The decision came a week after protestors had gathered outside Aylisli’s home in Baku, shouting “shame” and burning his portrait and books.
UPDATE: PRI is reporting that a political party in Azerbaijan has offered a $13,000 bounty to anyone who can slice off one of Aylisli's ears.
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