By Ragip Zarakolu
Conscience is a distinctive moral quality of mankind. The conscientious, the honest, the righteous or whatever you may choose to call them represent the true pride and honour of a country, but criminals wielding an axe never can!
A writer in Azerbaijan who should have been the pride of his country is presently in mortal danger, and the threat emanates from the President of the country, who is a post-Soviet autocrat. The title of “People’s Writer” of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the associated state award have been rescinded, his author’s pension has been cancelled, and his wife and son have been fired from their jobs.
This writer is Akrem Aylisli, an author, scriptwriter and dramatist who adopted the great Soviet writer Maxim Gorky’s philosophy of the fraternity of peoples at Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, dedicated to that great man. He is presently 75 years old, a prolific writer published in many magazines and newspapers. He was elected to the parliament in 2005. His literary life had begun in 1959 with poetry, and continued with stories, plays, scripts and novels. He has also translated many works by humanist writers such as Gabriel G. Marquez, Turgenev and Chinghiz Aitmatov into the Azeri language. His plays have been performed in many former Soviet cities including Yerevan.
Lynch mobs are now mobilized in front of his house, very much like we had once witnessed in Maras and Sivas. An outstanding slogan is «Come and bring your axe!», calling on the Azeri officer Ramil Sahiboglu Seferov who decapitated an Armenian officer called Gurgen Margaryan with an axe in his sleep in 2004, twenty days before they were to return home (*). They were co-trainees in the NATO-sponsored «Partnership for Peace » program in Budapest.
Melahet Ibrahimqizi –an Azeri parliamentarian who had been a part of the delegation flown in to Ankara to talk with parliamentary chairman Köksal Toptan (**), CHP leader Deniz Baykal, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, as well as various AKP functionaries, and eventually to block the move altogether when a protocol was signed in 2009 between Armenia and Turkey to normalize relations and open the border – now tries to extend the lynch campaign to Turkey as well, saying in an aggressive speech delivered in the Azeri parliament that Aylisli insults not only Azerbaijanis, but the Turkish nation as a whole. Demands were even made in that parliamentary session that the writer be subjected to a DNA test and that he should be deprived of citizenship.
The reason for all this is the publication of Aylisli’s latest novella “Stone Dreams” in the Russian literary magazine Druzhba Narodov (Fraternity of Peoples). The novella has not even been published in Azeri yet. An enraged mob gathered in front of Aynisli’s home in the capital Baku, shouting “Shame on you, traitor!”, and burning his books, and his portraits with a cross printed on his forehead.
The novella tells the story of two Azeri men who tried to protect their Armenian neighbors from ethnic violence. It also mentions pogroms against Armenians in Sumguit and Baku cities in a vein of conscientious criticism. The novella was actually finished in 2007, but could only be published 5 years later in Russian.
It is interesting to note that an Armenian writer also dealt with the Armenian-Azeri conflict in a conscientious tone –at about the same time— and was awarded a prize in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Writers Union where he was a member reacted to his acceptance of an Azerbaijani award (though not to his writing of the story itself), whereupon the writer resigned from the Union in protest. However, he never became the target of a hate campaign as is the case in Baku now.
Researcher Sarkis Hatspanian says that the Armenian writer Levon Cavakhyan wrote the story “Kirve” (Godfather) in 2008, saying “Azeris are not my enemy” (***). Azeri writer Ekrem Eynisli – who had said “Armenians are not my enemy” at about the same time – now faces a lynch campaign 5 years later for having uttered the same sentence.
Though invited by Western countries and Russia, Akrem Aynisli takes a proud stance, saying “This is my homeland and I will not leave it”.
I call upon international public opinion as well as the democratic public in Turkey and Azerbaijan to solidarize actively with Akrem Aynisli in order to avert a new murder similar to that committed against Hrant Dink.
Ragip Zarakolu (****)
(*) Seferov was condemned to life imprisonment in Hungary, but Azerbaijan’s president Aliev had him immediately released by presidential pardon on August 31, 2012, when he was extradited to Azerbaijan.
(**) Köksal Toptan was to exercise his powers as Chairman of the Turkish Parliament in 2009 in impounding and returning –at the behest of CHP’s MP Sükrü Elekdag—books sent to members of parliament by the Gomidas Institute, thereby violating the parliamentarians’ freedom to communicate.
(****) Founding Member of Human Rights Association and of Social History Foundation; member of PEN Turkey and of the Writers Union of Turkey; member of Turkish Publishers Association and of the International Committee for the Freedom to Publish; nobel Peace Prize Nominee by Swedish Parliament members and by the French Section of GIT [the International Work Group (GIT) ‘Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research [in Turkey]’ (www.gitfrance.fr and www.gitinitiative . com).” ]