Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- A party loyal to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev offered $13,000 to any member who cuts an ear off pro-opposition writer Akram Aylisli -- and then rescinded the bounty to avoid an international scandal.
Hafiz Haciyev, leader of Muasir Musavat, or Modern Equality, said he withdrew his directive to the party’s youth organization after being warned by the Interior Ministry.
“We canceled our decision to cut off Aylisli’s ear after pressure from foreign embassies,” Haciyev said by phone from the Azeri capital Baku, without being more specific. “The Interior Ministry also advised us not do so.”
Aylisli’s portrayal of Azeri brutality against Armenians in his “Stone Dreams” novella, which was published in the Russian magazine Druzhba Narodov, has triggered days of government-sanctioned protests outside his Baku apartment and in his native village in the Naxcivan region. Aliyev, 51, who is seeking a third term in elections scheduled for October, stripped Aylisli, a member of the Forum of Intellectuals opposition group, of his People’s Writer honor and accompanying salary.
“This is a government-orchestrated campaign against me,” Aylisli say by mobile phone from Baku. “I’ve started to think about leaving the country. Every day, they speak about me on television, they show people burning my book.”
The country’s religious authority, the Baku-based Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, issued a statement today calling Aylisli a “traitor” and a “renegade.”
Azerbaijan, the largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia and Kazakhstan, is still technically at war with Armenia over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke free of Baku’s control after the Soviet collapse in 1991. About 30,000 people were killed and more than 1 million displaced during the war, which left Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent Azeri regions under Armenian control.
Aliyev, an ally of the U.S. and Israel, last year vowed to take back Nagorno-Karabakh, saying Sept. 11 that Azeri citizens “must and will return to their native lands.” Aliyev made the comments less than a month after pardoning an Azeri officer who was convicted of murdering an Armenian officer with an ax while they were attending a North Atlantic Treaty Organization course in Hungary.
Human Rights Watch urged the Azeri government to end the “hostile campaign of intimidation” against Aylisli, saying on its website that it has an obligation to protect him.
“Instead, they have led the effort to intimidate him, putting him at risk with a campaign of vicious smears and hostile rhetoric,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director for the New York-based group, in the statement.
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