Having a conscience is a distinctive moral quality of mankind. The conscientious, the honest, the righteous represent the true pride and honor of a country. But criminals wielding an axe never can!
Ekrem Eylisli, a writer in Azerbaijan who should have been the pride of his country, is now instead in mortal danger, and the threat comes from the president of the country, a post-Soviet autocrat. The title Eylisli received—of “People’s Writer” of the Republic of Azerbaijan—and the associated state award have been rescinded; his author’s pension has been cancelled; and his wife and son have been fired from their jobs.
An author, scriptwriter, and dramatist, Eylisli, 75, adopted the great Soviet writer Maxim Gorky’s philosophy on fraternity at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. He is a prolific writer, and has been published in many magazines and newspapers. In 2005, he was elected to the parliament. His literary life began in 1959 with poetry, and continued with stories, plays, scripts, and novels. He has also translated into the Azeri language many works by humanist writers such as Gabriel G. Marquez, Turgenev, and Chinghiz Aitmatov. His plays have been performed in many former Soviet cities, including Yerevan.
Yet, now, lynch mobs have been mobilized in front of his house, very much like those we once saw in Maras and Sivas. “Come and bring your axe!” they say, a slogan attributed to Azeri officer Ramil Sahiboglu Safarov, who decapitated an Armenian officer with an axe in his sleep in 2004, 20 days before they were to return home from a NATO-sponsored “Partnership for Peace” program in Budapest, Hungary.*
Melahet Ibrahimqizi—an Azeri parliamentarian who, as part of a delegation, flew to Ankara to convince parliamentary chairman Köksal Toptan,** CHP leader Deniz Baykal, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, as well as various AKP functionaries, to block the Turkey-Armenia protocols—is now attempting to extend the lynch campaign to Turkey. In an aggressive speech delivered to the Azeri Parliament, he said that Eylisli insults not only Azerbaijanis, but the Turkish nation as a whole. Demands were subsequently made in that parliamentary session to have Eylisli take a DNA test and be stripped of his citizenship.
The reason for all of this is the publication of his latest novella, “Stone Dreams,” in the Russian literary magazine Druzhba Narodov (Fraternity of Peoples). It has not yet been published in Azeri. An enraged mob gathered in front of his home in the capital of Baku shouting, “Shame on you, traitor!” They burned his books and portraits, which showed a cross printed on his forehead.
The novella tells the story of two Azeri men who tried to protect their Armenian neighbors from ethnic violence. It also mentions the pogroms against Armenians in Sumgait and Baku in a vein of conscientious criticism. The novella was actually finished in 2007, but could only be published five years later in Russian.
Interestingly, an Armenian writer, Levon Cavakhyan, who also explored the Armenian-Azeri conflict in a conscientious tone, around the same time, was awarded a prize in Azerbaijan. The Writers Union, of which he was a member, reacted to his acceptance of an Azerbaijani award—though not to his writing of the story itself. Cavakhyan resigned from the Union in protest. He was never, however, the target of a hate campaign, as is the case in Baku now.
Researcher Sarkis Hatspanian explains that Cavakhyan wrote the story “Kirve” (Godfather) in 2008, in which he said, “Azeris are not my enemy.”*** Eynisli, who had said “Armenians are not my enemy” at about the same time, now faces a lynch campaign for having uttered the same sentence.
Although invited to live in Western countries and Russia, Eynisli takes a proud stance, saying, “This is my homeland and I will not leave it.”
I call upon international public opinion, as well as the democratic public in Turkey and Azerbaijan, to actively stand in solidarity with Ekrem Eynisli, and possibly avert a new murder similar to that committed against Hrant Dink.
* Safarov was condemned to life in prison in Hungary for the murder of Gurgen Margaryan. On Aug. 31, 2012, however, he was extradited to Azerbaijan, and immediately released and promoted by Azerbaijani’s president.
** Toptan exercised his powers as chairman of the Turkish Parliament in 2009 by impounding and returning—at the behest of CHP’s MP Sükrü Elekdag—books sent to members of parliament by the Gomidas Institute, thereby violating the parliamentarians’ freedom to communicate.
*** See facebook.com/notes/sarkis-hatspanian/kirve/489684637733351.
Ragip Zarakolu is a founding member of the Human Rights Association and of Social History Foundation; a member of PEN Turkey and of the Writers Union of Turkey; a member of the Turkish Publishers Association and of the International Committee for the Freedom to Publish; a Nobel Peace Prize nominee by Swedish Parliamentary members and by the French Section of the International Work Group’s (GIT) ‘Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research [in Turkey]’ (www.gitfrance.fr and www.gitinitiative.com).