Azerbaijan opens probe against prominent writer
BAKU - Agence France-PresseAzerbaijan has opened a criminal case against a prominent author who has been a target of a state-approved intimidation campaign after publishing a novel he says was intended to build bridges with arch-foe Armenia.
"Police launched a criminal case against me on hooliganism charges," Akram Aylisli, who has received threats and seen his books burned, told AFP on April 1.
"They say I hit a police officer in the face, which is of course untrue," the 78-year-old author added.
Aylisli said he was briefly detained in the Baku airport on Wednesday and prevented from travelling to Italy where he was due to attend a literary festival in Venice.
"A border officer told me that I am banned from travelling abroad, but later returned my passport and I was released," he said
Aylisli's novella "Stone Dreams", which depicts relations between ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Azerbaijan, sparked outrage in the country for what critics say is a pro-Armenian presentation of the bloody conflict between the ex-Soviet neighbours over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The novella's 2013 publication in a Russian-language magazine, Friendship of Peoples, was followed by a hostile intimidation campaign after the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party demanded that the writer repudiate his book and apologise before the nation.
Days later crowds started regularly gathering outside Aylisli's home, burning effigies of him and shouting insults.
Azerbaijan's strongman leader Ilham Aliyev has stripped Aylisli of his honorary title of "People's Writer", his medals and a presidential pension.
The writer's wife and son were forced to resign from their jobs. Televised auto-da-fes of the writer's books were held across the country.
The leader of the pro-government Yeni Musavat party, Hafiz Gadjiyev, has publicly pledged a $12,000 reward to anyone who would cut off Aylisli's ear.
Human Rights Watch has condemned "a campaign of vicious smears and hostile rhetoric" against the writer who was nominated in 2014 for the Nobel peace prize.
In a 2013 interview, Aylisli told AFP that his book is "a hand of friendship, stretched out to the Armenians".
Mostly inhabited by ethnic Armenians but falling within Azerbaijan's borders, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has claimed 30,000 lives, and no final peace deal has been signed since a 1994 ceasefire.
Azerbaijan has threatened to take back the disputed region by force if negotiations do not yield results, while Armenia has vowed massive retaliation against any military action.