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Hitting the Axe by the Pen:  Novel of Azerbaijani Writer about Armenian Pogroms

Hitting the Axe by the Pen: Novel of Azerbaijani Writer about Armenian Pogroms

What should do the writer who can neither keep silence nor lower the voice?

He should behave like Akram Aylisli – oppose the hatred” – writes the literature critic Lev Anninski in his review on the novel “Stone dreams” written by Akram Aylisli.

Indeed, when you observe relations between the two countries and the situation within those countries, you realize that the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis are forever fettered by implacable  hatred and humility,  and the appearance of such writers as  Akram Aylisli comes to confirm the fact  that the propaganda is unable to outshine conscientious and courageous man’s mind.

Akram Aylisli is not just a writer and he had got a lot to lose.

He was winner of the Azerbaijan National Artist Award and the order of “Shokhrat” for the outstanding contribution to Azerbaijani literature. After the publication of the novel, he was naturally deprived of the award, however, that was not the worse that happened to him. While the people in Azerbaijan started pursuing him, the deputy of the Parliament demanded to check his “genetic code” and started burning his books publicly.

However, he knew what would happen to him, when he dared to tell the world the objective story of the tragedy between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the novel.

Akram Aylisli was born on 6th December, 1937 in the village Aylis (Armenian Agulis), in Nakhchivan. The main hero of the novel – a famous stage artist Saday Sadigli (one of the prominent intellectuals of Baku) –  also was born in Aylis and like the after was  hopelessly fighting for justice.

The novel’s actions unfold in 1989, in the midst of the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The main hero is unconscious in a hospital: he tried to escape an aged Armenian man, who was being beaten by the crowd in one of the streets of Baku.

His friend and colleague Nuvarish Karabaghli, who brought him to the hospital, tells the doctor about the happening: “… first they threw the Armenian into the cold icy pool. He is an aged man, so couldn’t stay there for a long and wanted to get out of it. Meanwhile, those boys were standing near the pool and were continuously beating him. Saday Sadigli, help him God, gets in trouble all the time. Why did he appear at that damned place just that time? … He couldn’t handle, and that is all! … He is an artist, a humane person. He couldn’t remain indifferent and he went down to rescue him.”

Nuvarish’s note about those who were beating the Armenian is worth mentioning: there were several Azerbaijanis among them living in Armenia, who were called erazes. “Those damned refugees do not respect people at all (…). They accept neither artists, nor poets and writers. As soon as you call somebody  Armenian, they start beating him like wild beast. And nobody will dare to come up close to them.”  In this way, Aylisli distinguishes between main participants of pogroms and violence against Armenians – between Baku citizens, intellectuals and wild provincials.

Doctor Farzani listens carefully to Nuvarish’ story. Just several days ago he was doing the surgery to a young Armenian girl, who was beaten by several Azerbaijani women in the subway.  In addition to the girl, they beat her colleagues: “… a degenerate poet broke into the hospital and banished the doctor from the cabinet who had been working in the cardiac unit for forty years, just because he was Armenian”. “After that case , tells Aylisli,  there was no any Armenian doctor or service personnel left in the hospital.  Some of them were hiding in their houses, while others left Baku”.

It is worth mentioning, that the main developments of the novel take place in Saday Sadiglis’ subconscious, in a coma.  Through Sadigli’s memories Aylisli transfers into his native old village of Aylis, where “a lot of Armenians were living in due time” and “their seven or eight churches still exist”.

It seems, the Armenians were very kind and wise people , writes Aylisli. He characterizes the main hero and at the same time describes himself: “He will never change. How many times he got in trouble because of his words, but did not learn anything. In a couple of months he will be fifty, but he is still a ten-year-old boy. What's on his mind, it is in his words.  He cannot at least remain silent even at such a dangerous time.  He says: we are the bad people, not the Armenians. He is not afraid of anything”. 

Describing the atmosphere in Baku in the late 1980s, Aylisli writes: "... not only in the evenings, but even in the afternoon, one could not see people walking alone or in pairs. They were walking in crowds, herds. And the absolute right to speak and shout was given only to these crowds. And stranger it was that the number of words that these creatures were shouting was equal to the number of words that primitive people used to use during the hunt:  “Free-dom! Re- sign! Ka-ra-bakh! In recent days, these people replenished their vocabulary with three more expressions: “You are Ar-me-nian! Then die! This is it!”

 “The spirits of those who were tortured by us, will not allow us to live peacefully," writes Aylisli. "No one in Aylis, who intended to improve his life through violence against the Armenians, lives in peace now.

The novel draws parallels between the massacres committed in 1919 by the Turks in the village of Aylis with pogroms that took place in Baku and Sumgait in the 1980s. “It was so: in order that the Armenian population of Aylis could not guess anything in advance, 30-40 Turkish horsemen  of  Adif-bey from early morning went round all houses, both Armenian and Muslim, and announced that today a truce will be proclaimed, for which all must gather in the courtyard of one of the Armenians.  After the people gathered in the specified place, the Turkish soldiers separated the Muslims from the Armenians and lined them in a row at different ends of the yard. Suddenly, from somewhere a loud command was heard: "Fire!", and the Turkish soldiers, who had surrounded the yard from all sides, brought down a hail of bullets at Armenians.  Many died immediately, those who survived were cut and killed. Those who could be buried right there, in the courtyard and in the garden, were buried there.

Those who did not find a place in the yard and in the garden, were thrown in the stables, the cellars of nearby houses and burned. Muslim women, who did not even dare leave the houses that day, later described the event as follows: "The water in all the irrigation ditches was red from the blood for the whole week.” 

Aylisli’s solidarity and deep sympathy to his former compatriots-Armenians is amazing: “Saday Sadigli, in whose family no one had Armenian origins (...), for some time seemed to be carrying a certain nameless Armenian within himself. More precisely, he was not carrying it, but hiding it.  Together with every beaten, insulted, killed Armenian in this huge city, he himself was beaten, insulted, killed". Perhaps, with these last words, one can best describe the strange reason that pushed Aylisli to "creative suicide" in his homeland.


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