I am a writer…
And as far as I know, no one is offering a bounty for one of my ears. Not so for Akram Aylisli, a highly regarded writer, poet and scriptwriter from Azerbaijan who once received that country’s most prestigious literary prize. However, the leader of the Modern Musavat party has announced that he would pay a bounty equivalent to $12,700 to anyone who cuts off Aylisli’s ear.
The impetus for this threat is Aylisli’s novel, Stone Dreams, which provides a sympathetic view of Armenians in Azerbaijan’s ongoing ethnic disputes. Aylisli is accused of describing only Azeri abuses against Armenians, and not addressing attacks by Armenians on Azeris. Earlier this month, Azerbaijan’s president stripped Aylisli of the title of “People’s Writer.” And although the Minister of the Interior has announced that calls for violence are unacceptable, the threat to Aylisli remains. At 75, Aylisli is contemplating seeking asylum abroad with his family.
A writer, he says, has the right to express thoughts without being a considered a traitor.
Yet, government officials in Azerbaijan have labeled Aylisli’s book as treasonous.
Is this because the events depicted in Stone Dreams are not considered accurate by some? Aylisli says the story is based on real life, but it is a novel after all. And anyone who thinks novels should stick to the facts might want to try biographies or historical fiction. (No, wait…don’t believe everything you read in, say, The Other Boleyn Girl.)
The situation, as I see it, is suppression of a perspective that does not support the nationalist stance on the Azerbaijani/Armenian conflict. And that is called censorship, even though, in Azerbaijan as in the U.S., authors ostensibly have a constitutional right to write what they want without pressure or government interference.
Book bans and book burnings notwithstanding, our constitutional rights here in the U.S. are faring better than those in Azerbaijan.
Do we in the United States have nationalist viewpoints? Yes, we do, and it’s taken much of our 200+-year history to give voice to differing perspectives about events surrounding Native Americans, slavery, immigration, child labor, internment camps, McCarthyism, Kent State, Iran Contras, waterboarding, WikiLeaks, extraordinary rendition, and others.
I write about many of these same topics.
I write in support of our troops and our nation, a nation for which both my mother and father served in World War II. And I also write about, and for, peace, and about our Constitution that guarantees our First Amendment rights to free speech and a free press.
So in our country, no matter what I write, how I write it, or who I please or offend with my writing, I’m assured of keeping both my ears. And if that should ever change, we all have a much larger problem.
I do have advice for any entity of our government that tries to censor my words.
As Edward Bulwer-Lytton famously wrote in 1839—and as systematic oppression against writers has proved since antiquity—“the pen is mightier than the sword.” Plus, if I may paraphrase Russian-based bestselling author Boris Akunin’s comments from his recent blog post about Akram Aylisli, “Don’t you know that the state cannot win in a war with a writer?”
I couldn’t agree more.