Artush and Zaur novel by Alekper Aliyev about a gay love story between an Armenian and Azerbaijani against the backdrop of the emerging Karabakh conflict is increasingly becoming a centre of attention of major media outlets. Today it's a turn of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Selected quotes from Controversial Azeri Novel Takes On Double Taboos below:
"I started a war against two stereotypes," Aliyev said. "See what people [in Azerbaijan] do these days: either they look for someone's Armenian origins, or they say, 'I don't like you, so you must be gay.'"
He continued: "Having a nontraditional sexual orientation is nothing to be ashamed of. There's no shame in being gay, or in being Armenian. But it is shameful to be corrupt, to be dishonest, to be treacherous. This was a message about two major stereotypes."
One bookseller told the Caucasus Reporting Service the novel was "selling like hotcakes." But pressure from religious customers forced one of the two Baku-based bookstores to stop selling it last week.
Reports of authorities using charges of homosexuality against journalists and human rights activists in Azerbaijan have surfaced in recent months.
In April, 25-year-old journalist Aqil Xalil was stabbed after doing a series of investigative reports on large property transactions in Baku. Around the same time, officials threatened Xalil that they would broadcast a video purporting to show a man confessing to having been the young journalist's male lover.
In 2005, ahead of parliamentary elections, a number of state-run media outlets carried stories insinuating that a well-liked opposition candidate, Popular Front party head Ali Kerimli, was gay.
Though the country decriminalized homosexuality in 2000, the U.S. State Department’s 2007 report on human rights practices in Muslim-majority Azerbaijan found ongoing societal prejudice against homosexuals.
What Aliyev describes as his "war on stereotypes" has attracted more notice than Azerbaijani dissident writers did during the Soviet period.
Aliyev himself is politically active, and tells RFE/RL he believes the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict -- a territorial disagreement going back to 1988 -- is related to a lack of democracy in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
"Artush and Zaur" is Aliyev's sixth book, and the 31-year-old author and journalist says he has already started a seventh, "Bible," about the reincarnation of Jesus Christ in Azerbaijan.
Aliyev says he is in the midst of negotiations with Russian publishers for a translation of "Artush and Zaur," which he expects to be published in Russia soon.
*Full RFE/RL report