Azerbaijan: Artush and Zaur, New Book by Alekper Aliyev, a Gay Love Story Between Armenian and Azerbaijani Published in Baku
Alekper Aliyev, editor-in-chief of kultura.az, has published, as he put it, his “most scandalous” novel “Artush and Zaur” in Baku. It’s a gay love story between an Azeri and Armenian, a sort of partial deconstruction of Ali and Nino (a heterosexual love story of Azeri Ali and Georgian Nino) having instead Azeri and Armenian male lovers against the backdrop of the emerging Karabakh conflict.
The main characters, Artush and Zaur were born and raised in Baku, went to the same school, shared desks in the classroom. At some point boys became sexually attracted to each other… These were the early years of the Karabakh conflict.
The war separates them. Artush moved to Armenia, Zaur remained in Baku. Already adults they meet again – in Tbilisi. They indulge in memories, fall in love and even get married with the help of a Dutch pastor, a confidant of the wife of Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili.
In his interview, the author argues that Azeris and Armenians share similar kitchen, music and mentality. “Armenians are closer to us than, say, Georgians” due to the influence of the Persian culture.
Alekper says that one of the reasons of writing this novel was to expose the absurdity of all wars in the South Caucasus a la Kusturica. He believes he has the full right to do so as he lost his older brother during the Karabakh war in 1994.
“We are now engaged in information wars with Armenians over the dolma and balaban, even though all our efforts should be aimed at addressing global challenges. Our people must find the wisdom, courage and determination to put an end once and for all of the frozen conflict. We need joint efforts to create all necessary conditions for peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours on this small plot of land, in this God-cursed region called “The South Caucasus”. Frankly, it’s a bit hard to believe that this would happen”.
“During the World War II in Moscow there were concerts of German classical music; works of German composers were heard on the radio; even studies on German philosophers were carried out… Can you imagine for Kara Karaev to be performed in Armenia, or Khachatryan – in Azerbaijan? This is completely impossible! And this has a simple explanation – the more primitive the man, the more aggressive he is.”
Predictably, this book caused a stir and shock in Azeri forums and blogs, with plenty of hateful and homophobic comments. Some accused the author in treason and betrayal of national interests. Others claimed (with irony) that Azerbaijan now has its very own Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk.
“Who f**ked who?” – this is one of the first and apparently principal questions being discussed in forums and blogs (both Azeri and Armenian), each side wishing for ‘his guy’ to f**k ‘the enemy’. I got an impression that this question worried them more than even the fact of the main characters being gay. They are kind of ready to ‘forgive’ and ‘forget’ gay part of the story, as long as ‘their guy’ is ‘the man’ meaning he is ‘doing the enemy’. For them, it’s only black or white. What if they are “versatile” (which allegedly the case in the novel)? This would crush the ‘hopes’ from both sides. Anyways…
There is only one bookstore in Baku which sells this book. Guess, what the name of that bookstore?.. “Ali and Nino”. Some in Azeri forums even suggested buying all the copies of the book and burning it in front of the bookstore. There were even rare voices advocating for the application of the “Shariat law” towards the author.
The topic itself proved to be so controversial that quite a few discussion forums and reports about the book got removed or self-censored from some Azeri forums and web sites, including day.az and kultura.az.
If you discount the nationalities and sexuality of the main characters, the plot may seem pretty routine and unremarkable. However, against the backdrop of nationalism and intolerance in the region, the very fact of the novel that tells about the love story between an Armenian and Azeri, a gay love story between an Armenian and Azeri, makes it a double taboo breaking.
Look forward to reading the book in Russian when it gets published there (as far as I understand, it’s being negotiated with the Russian publishers). Only then I would be able to properly review it. Till then… Hopefully, these displays of hate and intolerance won’t evolve into something more dangerous and physical towards the author. Only the bravest among us are ready to break taboos. Alekper Aliyev is one of them.