A bounty...on his ear


Protesters demonstrating against Akram Aylisli on February 14, 2013. Image courtesy Wikipedia.


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First aired on Q (28/3/12)

Akram Aylisli is one of Azerbaijan's most prominent writers. He even earned the title "People's Writer" -- and the pension that comes with it. But all that changed recently, when the Azerbaijani government launched a vendetta against the novelist because of his latest book, Daş Yuxular (Stone Dreams in English). Aylisli was stripped of his "People's Writer" title. His son and wife were forced to resign from their jobs. He has been asked to submit to a DNA test to prove he doesn't have Armenian ancestry. His books have been burned in public. And there was even a 10,000 marants (approximately $13,000 CDN) bounty put on the 75-year-old author's ear. (After pressure, the bounty was rescinded.)

Stone Dreams depicts the treatment of Armenians by Azeris during the war between the two countries in the 1990s. Aylisli wrote the novel "as an appeal for friendship between the two nations," Giorgi Gogia from Human Rights Watch told Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. The two countries were at war between 1988 and 1994 over the Nagorno-Karabakh region between the two countries. This conflict ended in a ceasefire but not a peace treaty, and relations have remained tense, with violent outbreaks even 20 years later.

Given this history, Gogia -- who has spoken with Aylisli -- says that Aylisli "actually expected some negative reaction to what he was writing." Gogia pointed to the fact that "freedom of expression and free media has been under attack" in Azerbaijan. "This is a country where there is no free broadcast media," Gogia explained. The BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty have been banned since 2009. Two journalists were murdered in 2005, and not only has the case gone unsolved, but there is little interest from the government at looking into it at all, according to Gogia. As a result, "there is a lot of self-censorship when it comes to writing in Azerbaijan, which is unfortunate," he said. "It's a very sad reality in the country."

Despite everything he's gone through, Aylisli "did not regret writing the story," Gogia said. "He was taken aback by the reaction but he felt that this was the right thing to do."

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