February 14, 2013

How Not to Make a Point

I’ve never heard of writer Akram Aylisli, nor do I know whether his books are any good. But I want to go buy one, just to honk off the authoritarians in his native Azerbaijan.

Aylisli’s latest work is a novella called Stone Dreams, which deals with an uncomfortable part of Azerbaijan’s recent history, it’s war with Armenian over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the country (in which a majority of folks were ethnic Armenians). The war was bloody, lasted more than six years, and led to allegations of atrocities perpetrated by both sides.

Aylisi’s novella examines the issue of atrocities and shows some sympathy for the Armenians:
Aylisli, who could not be reached Tuesday, told Radio Liberty two weeks ago that he dwelt on Azeri atrocities in ‘Stone Dreams’ because that was his responsibility as an Azerbaijani writer. Let Armenian authors, he said, write about the atrocities of their side — notably, a 1992 massacre in the town of Khojaly, the memory of which has become a major rallying point for aggrieved Azeris.
Sounds reasonable to me. After all, art is frequently about confronting people with the uncomfortable parts of their past, not just to make such things known, but to force people to think about where they came from and what they’re doing going forward. People may not want to read it, of course, but that’s the market for you.

Not in Azerbaijan, however, where Aylisli has had a price put on his head, or at least one part of it:
Azerbaijan’s troubled efforts to portray itself as a progressive and Western-oriented country took a beating this week with the announcement by a pro-government political party that it will pay $12,700 to anyone who cuts off the ear of a 75-year-old novelist.
But wait, as they say – there’s more. Aylisli has been stripped of the title “People’s Writer,” his books have been burned, and his son lost his job. In addition, the parliament has called for a DNA test to see if Aylisli is really Azerbaijani. None of those things screams “civilized,” but for pure tone deafness, this is hard to top:
But on Monday the head of the Modern Musavat party, Hafiz Hajiyev, told the Turan Information Agency that the time has come for Aylisli to be punished for portraying Azerbaijanis as savages.

‘We have to cut off his ear,’ Hajiyev said.
‘cause nothing says “we’re not savages” like cutting of some guys ear because he wrote a book you don’t like.

Make no mistake, if you don’t like something a writer says, by all means, say that. Organize protests. Hell, organize a boycott for all I care. The correct response to speech you don’t like is more speech, not cutting off body parts. That should go without saying. That it doesn’t in the 21st Century makes me want to crawl into a fetal position and weep for a bit.

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