Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Azeri-Armenian gay love novel Artush and Zaur banned in Baku, bookstore shut down, meeting with readers cancelled

Yeterday Alekper Aliyev, the author of Artush and Zaur, posted about banning his book and meeting with the readers at Ali and Nino bookstore, the only bookstore which was selling the novel.

He then informed that the meeting will be held at the office of the youth movement Dalga instead.

As there have been no further info on that meeting today (instead, more alarming news from Baku, see below), I may only assume that it probably got banned too.

As the author Alekper Aliyev wrote in his blog, the ‘justification’ provided by the police was that this book is against… Azeri president (?!). Of course, the author then clarifies further that there is no mentioning or referring to Azeri president in the book whatsoever.
Куда уехать? Почему уехать? Это должны уехать превратившие нашу жизнь в сущий ад подонки. А я у себя на родине. Это моя страна, мой город. Это мой, хоть и потерявший самоуважение, народ. Я не могу его винить, хотя бы из-за того, что ровно сорок лет его унижают. Сорок лет планомерного обезличивания. Вам не кажется, что этого срока вполне достаточно, чтобы сделать народ таким, какой он есть сегодня? Но у меня в душе теплиться надежда на перемены, на светлое будущее. Я хочу перемен и я хочу стать их живым свидетелем. Нам не суждено было, но для детей то своих, мы должны оставить в наследство нормальное государство или нет? Вынужден буду уехать только в том случае, если моей семье, детям будет угрожать реальная опасность. Пока их не трогают, никуда не уеду. Надеюсь на такую подлость они не пойдут. link
Few hours ago, Nigar Kocharli, owner of the Ali and Nino bookstore chain in Baku, posted on her blog that at least 2 of the bookstore chains in Baku were shut down today. No more details are provided.

Eurasianet also reflects the news:

After only a few weeks in circulation, the bestseller Azerbaijani-Armenian gay romance novel "Artush and Zaur" has been withdrawn from Baku bookstores amid growing controversy about the work.

In an interview with the Azeri-language Radio Liberty, author Alekper Aliyev stated that Baku police had questioned him about the novel’s references to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. A presentation of the novel, scheduled for March 11, was abruptly canceled.


artmika said...

According to reports (and here), bookstores were reopened. No other details are provided.

artmika said...

Reuters - FEATURE: Azeri-Armenian gay love story strains at taboos

12 Mar 2009 15:15:03 GMT
Source: Reuters
By Matt Robinson and Margarita Antidze

BAKU, March 12 (Reuters) - Alekper Aliyev's mobile phone buzzed on the iron table. "What's going on is a nightmare," said the text message from one of his readers. "I worry about you. Take care. Don't give up."

The 31-year-old Azeri novelist says he knew his latest book would cause a storm, but he never imagined the police would get involved.

'Artush and Zaur' -- the story of a gay love affair between an Azeri and an Armenian amid war between their countrymen as the Soviet Union collapsed -- is cultural dynamite for mainly Muslim Azerbaijan.

By Aliyev's own count, 150 copies have been sold since the book was published in January, a tiny number by international standards but not bad for a homegrown novelist in the country of 8.7 million people.

That was until this week, when Baku's popular Ali and Nino bookstore chain -- the only one willing to sell Artush and Zaur -- said police ordered the book be removed from shelves.

A book discussion between the author and readers was cancelled amid reports of threats and intimidation.

"The police told them -- if you don't do it, we'll do it ourselves," Aliyev told Reuters. "And they withdrew all the books from sale."

He said the owner of Ali and Nino had just called to say police had closed two of their stores. They reopened a day later.

An Interior Ministry spokesman denied any knowledge of the case, saying: "The police do not interfere in trade and the selling of books."


But some Azeri Internet forums have seized on the dispute as further proof of Azerbaijan's disdain for human rights and freedom of expression under President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his late father, former Communist Party boss Heydar Aliyev, in 2003.

The country votes in a referendum on March 18 on whether to scrap the two-term presidential limit, clearing the way for Aliyev to continue his rule indefinitely beyond 2013 if he can keep winning re-election.

Critics accuse the authorities of curbing freedoms under cover of an economic boom fuelled by reserves of oil and gas piped from the Caspian Sea to Western Europe. Dissent is discouraged, and sometimes stamped out.

"I thought democracy meant freedom of expression, freedom of faith and freedom of the press," read a posting on one blog discussing the saga.

Azerbaijan's authorities say they are committed to international standards of democracy, but that they have an obligation to protect the country from forces they say are trying to sow instability.


The novel, the writer's sixth, strikes at the hatred that persists between many Christian Armenians and Muslim Azeris since ethnic Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region broke away from Azerbaijan's rule in the early 1990s.

The conflict still defies resolution or reconciliation. Soldiers continue to die on the frontline in sporadic clashes, and Baku has not ruled out taking back the region by force.

Crucially though, the relationship in the book is played out between two homosexual men, still a taboo subject in traditionally conservative Azerbaijan.

"My book is a fight against stereotypes," said Aliyev. "In Azerbaijan there are two main stereotypes, the gay man and the Armenian. The worst thing you can be is gay or Armenian, or to have any relation to Armenia."

"I want to deprive them of this instrument, and to explain to people they should not be afraid." He said police had claimed the book was "against our values."

"How could such bullshit be written?," an anonymous blogger wrote on one Azeri forum. "And to make an Armenian one of the main characters! It was disgusting to read. Some things should be respected -- your own country, for example."

The owner of Ali and Nino declined to be interviewed. The book cover does not name the real publisher. Currently only in Azeri, Aliyev said it would be translated into Russian, and friends in Yerevan planned to publish an Armenian version.

The novel seeks deliberate comparison with 'Ali and Nino', the popular love story of a Muslim man and Georgian Christian woman in Baku, first published in 1937.

In the end, Nino flees for Georgia and Ali dies defending Azerbaijan from the invading Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution. For Aliyev, Artush and Zaur's love is equally doomed. The two men throw themselves from Baku's 12th century Maiden Tower, long a symbol of forbidden love.

"Homosexual love is just the background to this novel," he said. "This book is about our pointless conflict, our pointless war, and about how oligarchs rule societies in both countries."

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Anonymous said...

Well, the story has even made it into one of the Dutch newspapers. I just found a link in my feedreader. From what I can see, they are using the recent IWPR article as their main source.