|Born||Akram Najaf oglu Naibov (Aylisli)
January 12, 1937
Aylis, Soviet Azerbaijan
|Notable awards||People's Writer (Revoked)|
|Children||Iljas Naibov (Aylisli), Najaf Naibov (Aylisli)|
Akram Najaf oglu Naibov (Azerbaijani: Əkrəm Nəcəf oğlu Naibov, born December 1, 1937), better known by his pen name Akram Aylisli, is an Azerbaijani writer, playwright, novelist and former member of parliament. His works have been translated from his native Azerbaijani into a number of languages in the former Soviet Union and around the world. He was decorated by the President of Azerbaijan with the prestigious "Istiglal" (2002) and "Shokhrat" orders. In 2013, after the publication of Aylisli's Stone Dreams novella, which depicted the pogroms carried out by Azerbaijanis against the Armenians in Sumgait and Baku and presented Armenians in sympathetic light, President Aliyev signed a presidential decree that stripped Aylisli of the title of "People's Writer" and the presidential pension. His books were burnt by Azerbaijani intelligentsia and compatriots in his hometown, his son and wife were fired from their jobs and a "bounty" of some $13,000 was promised for cutting the writer's ear off. In March 2014, a formal request was made by various public figures throughout the world to nominate Aylisli for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Aylisli was born in the village of Aylis in 1937 in the Ordubad region of the Nakhchivan, part of Soviet Azerbaijan, near the borders of Armenia and Iran. His mother, Leya Ali Kyzy, was the village storyteller, his father died at WWII when Akram was five. His youth in the Soviet Union coincided with one of its more liberal periods: the years of de-Stalinization and the ‘Thaw’ under the flamboyant leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. Aylisli received his graduate education at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, the elite school of creative writing for Soviet writers.
His first work, a poem entitled "Qeşem ve onun Kürekeni", was published in the journal Azerbaycan. During Soviet times Aylisli was a poet, translator, and playwright, and he authored a number of novels: "Trees without Shade", "Shining of the six suns", "The season of colorful dresses", "The white canyon", "The dam", "Peoples and Trees" and others. Most of Aylisli’s works are associated with this native village. Aylisli’s stories and novels, so subtle and full of affection for peasant life, are very popular in Azerbaijan and Soviet Union. His novel "Peoples and Trees" have been translated into more than thirty languages and published beyond Soviet borders in the countries of Eastern Europe. Сonceptually and personally Aylisli was close to the Russian "Village Prose" movement.
Aylisli was also the author of a number of dramas and plays, including "Quşu Uçan Budaqlar", "Menim Neğmekar Bibim", "Bağdada Putyovka Var", and "Vezife", which were staged and shown in theaters in Baku, Nakhchivan, Ganja, and Yerevan. Moreover, Aylisli worked as a translator. He translated into Azeri the books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Heinrich Böll, Ivan Turgenev, Konstantin Paustovsky, Vladimir Korolenko, Anton Chekhov, Vasily Shukshin, Chinghiz Aitmatov, Salman Rushdie.
From 1968–70, he became the editor-in-chief of "Gençlik", and later worked as a satirist for the journal Mozalan. From 1974–78, he served on the Azerbaijan SSR's State Committee for Cinematography.
Aylisli was awarded the title of “People’s Writer” as well as the highest state awards of Azerbaijan – the medals of “Shokhrat” (“Honor”) and “Istiglal” (“Independence”). In November 2005, he was elected to the National Assembly of Azerbaijan (Milli Majlis) as a member of parliament representing his constituency in Julfa-Ordubad. He served for one term, which ended on November 7, 2010.
Aylisli generally is supportive of left wing views. His works published in the Soviet Union did not conform to socialist realism, than some other writers of the Azerbaijan SSR at that time, and he spoke negatively about the Soviet era for a while in 1990s. In one of his recent interviews broadcast on television channel ANS TV he stated that he believes that Karl Marx was a genius, and the world will come to his ideas sooner or later.
Stone Dreams controversy
In late 2012 and early 2013, Aylisli found himself embroiled in controversy when his novella, Daş yuxular (Stone Dreams), was published in a Russian-language journal called Druzhba Narodov (Friendship of the Peoples). It covers the pogroms of Armenians in Baku in 1989 and the massacre of Armenians in his native village by Turkish troops in 1919. The scenes of the recent past and the tales of old people about the Armenian massacre intertwined in the novel. The book was written in 2006 but the author did not dare to publish it. The decision to do so only came following the extradition of Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan. Safarov – an Azerbaijani army lieutenant – had hacked to death an Armenian army officer in Hungary, and was subsequently welcomed home as a hero of the nation.
The novel tells the story of the Azerbaijani actor Saday Sadykhly and his efforts to protect his Armenian neighbors during the Sumgait and Baku Pogroms in the closing years of the Soviet Union. The novel begins as the severely beaten Sadykhly is being transported to the hospital: while trying to protect his Armenian neighbor he was also assaulted by the yeraz [Azeri refugees from Armenia] on the streets of Baku, who mistook him too for an Armenian. Basically there are four main characters in the novel. Sadai Sadykhly, his friend Nunavrish Karabahly, also an actor, Sadykhly's father in law Professor of psychiatry, Dr. Abbasaliev and a surgeon in the hospital where Sadykhly was taken right after assault Dr. Farid Farzaneh. Although it looks like that Sadykhly was recovering at the beginning, by the end his body couldn't sustain the physical injuries or the nervous pressure, and so he died.
|“||If a single candle were lighted for every murdered Armenian, the light from these candles would be brighter than that of the moon||”|
|— The Stone Dreams|
Many in Azerbaijan took offense to Aylisli's sympathetic portrayal of Armenians, with whom they fought and lost a six-year-long conflict over control of the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s. The novella stirred resentment by depicting only the Azerbaijani brutality against Armenians during the conflict, while never mentioning incidents of alleged Armenian violence against Azerbaijanis such as the Khojaly massacre.
There are some other controversial aspects to the novel. Shortly after the pogroms in Sumgait at the beginning of March 1988 Sadyghly wants “to go to Echmiadzin in order to convert to Christianity with the blessing of the Armenian Catholicos, stay [there] forever as a monk begging God to forgive Muslims for all the evils which they committed against Armenians”. This element to the novel is likely to be deeply frustrating for many Azerbaijani readers, considering the ambiguous role played by the Armenian Catholicos in the events of the late 1980s. Vazgen I did not act to protect the Azerbaijani population of Armenia or to prevent their expulsion, becoming an unpopular figure in Azerbaijan and his name a derogatory one. Another sensitive taboo seemingly questioned by Aylisli is the significance of circumcision—a ritual sacred to every practicing Muslim. Dr. Farzani, who is married to a Russian woman, wants to have their son circumcised. But his wife asks Farzani whether the Prophet is wiser than God. Ultimately, their son comes to see circumcision as an act of violence on his body, and this reaction eventually breaks Farzani’s family apart. Such a controversial portrayal of a concept as sacred as circumcision is likely to prove very irritating for some Azerbaijani readers.
Soon after Stone Dreams was published, the honored writer became an enemy of the state. Mass media launched a wide-scale bullying campaign.
|“||Let them burn all my books because they have not saved anyone...||”|
|— Akram Aylisli |
In Baku, Ganja, and in the writer’s native village, rallies were organized where people cried out slogans such as “Death to Akram Aylisli!”, “Traitor!”, "Why have you sold yourself out to the Armenians?" ,“Akram is Armenian!”, and they set his books and portraits on fire. Youth Organization of Refugees from Nagorno Karabakh announced their and other NGOs dealing with the affairs of veterans, refugees and IDPs' intention to take legal action against Aylisli.
Ali Hasanov, Head of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration's Social and Political Department, denounced him for purportedly having no national spirit or sense of humanity, for disrespecting the memory of those who died during the war, and for posing as a defender of human values. He added that Aylisli represents Armenian youth who killed thousands of Azerbaijanis, and took control over Azerbaijani lands and committed the massacre in Khojaly, but that he represents Azerbaijanis as murderers and weak personalities. He further added that as Azerbaijanis they "must express public hatred towards these people."
|“||If I were Armenian, everybody would have already known about that. And I would not be ashamed of that!||”|
|— Akram Aylisli |
Parliamentarians of the National Assembly during the special session required to deprive Aylisli of all state awards, and his Azerbaijani citizenship and insisted that he move to Armenia. Parliamentarians commented that the novella "insulted not only Azerbaijanis, but the whole Turkish nation," on account of references to the Ottoman Empire's historical persecution of Armenians. They suggested that Aylisli have DNA tested to determine if he was genetically ethnic Armenian. The Chairmen of the National Assembly Ogtay Asadov stated "There is something suspicious in the blood of everybody who supports Aylisli".
The Ministry of Education withdrew his works from the school curriculum. Aylisli's plays were banned from theaters. A lot of Azerbaijani writers, artists and academics repudiated him. Union of Azerbaijani Writers convened a meeting and expelled Aylisli from its membership.
Hafiz Haciyev, leader of the pro-government political party Muasir Musavat (Modern Equality), said his party would pay $13,000 to anyone who would cut Aylisli's ear off. After coming under strong pressure from foreign embassies and U.S. Department of State on the Azerbaijani government, the Ministry of Interior forced Muasir Musavat to rescind the reward.
Responding to the critics accusing him of being partial, the writer has said: “If I had any doubt that I had disgraced my people that would break me. But they think that when I say two good words about some Armenian I must say three good ones about an Azerbaijani. But it’s not my business to keep that foolish balance! In my story I depict a character and his perception of reality. His mind is very fragile; he’s on the brink of insanity.” Aylisli defended himself in an interview, commenting that "Armenians are not enemies for me....How can they be? I am a writer living in the 21st century. A solution to Nagorno-Karabakh is being delayed, and hostility is growing between the two nations. I want to contribute to a peaceful solution." In answer to accusation of betrayal Aylisli claimed that he is not a patriot: Where have you seen a writer as a patriot? He must write, everything his mind and reason tell him to ".
On February 3 the group of young independent intellectuals organized the small demonstration near the monument of Mirza Alakbar Sabir to support Akram Aylisli. The number of Azerbaijani writers and intellectuals, including famous writer and screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov, also spoke out in defence of Aylisli. Leyla Yunus, the leading Azerbaijani human right activist, claimed that "Only Aylisli defends the honor and the dignity of our nation after the story of Ramil Safarov". Ragıp Zarakolu, the leading Turkish human right activist and publisher who is well known for long faced legal harassment for publishing books about the Armenian Genocide, also supported Aylisli.
Human Rights Watch, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly and Institute for the Protection of Media Rights struсk a blow for Aylisli. Human Rights Watch (HRW) voiced its concern for Aylisli's physical safety and called for Azerbaijan's "government to end [the] hostile campaign of intimidation." "The government of Azerbaijan is making a mockery of its international obligations on freedom of expression," remarked HRW's Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williamson.
The chairman of Armenia's Union of Writers, Levon Ananyan, offered a formal response to the controversy on February 8, saying, "Kudos to our Azerbaijani colleague! He is that brave man who blazes the trail, the trail that leads to repentance through truth." Ananyan added that "Not only Armenians, but also Russians, all people that are concerned about the future of the country...should share this braveness."
In February 2014 a formal request was made by various public figures throughout the world to nominate Aylisli for the Nobel Peace Prize - "For courage shown in his efforts to reconcile Azerbaijani and Armenian people". Among the nominators were the social science professors and the university presidents as Craig Calhoun, Immanuel Wallerstein, Theodor Shanin. They noted that Akram Aylisli was probably the first Turkic author who wrote a book of penitence for the Armenian Genocide. "Aylisli was the first to express that pain in a literary work which is very personal, deep and hard-won. <...> Mr Aylisli’s actions are important not only for Armenians and Azerbaijanis, but for others all across the former Soviet Union, who have been blinded by ethnic hatred. His example in fact transcends location, ethnicity or political persuasion. His lone resistance, his defiance, his willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of truth, is an encouragement to each of us to be brave. <...> Mr Aylisli is one of those rare people such as Martin Luther King and Andrey Sakharov, whose personal courage and moral impulse can change a nation’s fate and destroy the walls dividing nations."
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