(Moscow) – The Azerbaijani government should immediately end a hostile campaign of intimidation against writer Akram Aylisli. Aylisli recently published a controversial novel depicting relationships between ethnic Azeris and Armenians in Azerbaijan.
Foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations of which Azerbaijan is a member should speak out against this intimidation campaign. They should urge the authorities to immediately investigate those responsible for threats against Aylisli, and to respect freedom of expression.
“The Azerbaijani authorities have an obligation to protect Akram Aylisli,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, they have led the effort to intimidate him, putting him at risk with a campaign of vicious smears and hostile rhetoric.”
Aylisli, a member of the Union of Writers of Azerbaijan since the Soviet era, is the author of Stone Dreams. The novel includes a description of violence by ethnic Azeris against Armenians during the 1920s, and at the end of the Soviet era, when the two countries engaged in armed conflict. Aylisli told Human Rights Watch that he saw the novel as an appeal for friendship between the two nations. The novel was published in Friendship of Peoples, a Russian literary journal, in December 2012.
Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a seven-year war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily ethnic Armenian-populated autonomous enclave in Azerbaijan. Despite a 1994 ceasefire, the conflict has not yet reached a political solution. Against the background of the unresolved nature of the conflict, Aylisli’s sympathetic portrayal of Armenians and condemnation of violence against them caused uproar in Azerbaijan. An escalating crescendo of hateful rhetoric and threats against Aylisli started at the end of January 2013, culminating in a February 11 public statement by Hafiz Hajiyev, head of Modern Musavat, a pro-government political party. Hajiyev publicly said that he would pay AZN10,000