An antique typewriter

Letter from Scottish PEN in Solidarity for Azimjon Askarov’s Birthday

Azimzhan Askarov is an ethnically Uzbek Kyrgyzstani political activist who founded the group Vozduh in 2002 to investigate police brutality. During the 2010 South Kyrgyzstan ethnic clashes, which primarily targeted people of the Uzbek nationality, Askarov worked to document the violence.

May 19, 2020

Dear Azimjon,

Greetings and the very best of wishes to you from your friends and colleagues at Scottish PEN on your birthday. I think that I speak for all of us at Scottish PEN when I say that we are inspired by your life’s work defending human rights and chronicling abuses of those rights, as well as the fact that you continue to write and nourish your soul even though you are imprisoned.

We have had the good fortune to read Human Right Watch’s recent interview with you, and we are happy to read you write of how reading the letters you receive gives you strength, resilience and courage. It is always inspiring to read of how artists and writers can nourish the freedom of their souls despite imprisonment. It gives us comfort in the face of your imprisonment to think that we might be able to contribute to that process in some small way.

Please know also that the action of writing to you and contemplating that very strength, resilience and courage you have maintained under such appalling circumstances is an inspiration to us, as well. We will be sure to keep you in our thoughts, not least when we consider the empty chair that we maintain at our events to represent writers who cannot be present due to persecution because of their work. When we do, we will think of Kyrgyzstan and the people who live there, too. 

Maybe one day, when you are free and able to visit the English couple who have invited you to visit them first thing upon your release, you will be able to make it up the road with your family and we can share a little bit of our country with you, as you have given us an opportunity to learn about Kyrgyzstan. It would be a pleasure to be able to salute your wife and children for the support they have given you, as well as to honour yourself. I can think of a number of wonderful venues here where you could share your stories of Kyrgyzstan with people, and we could display your paintings, too. Maybe on a future birthday of yours, if you would be kind enough to honour us with your presence!

Until then, we will keep you, your family, the people of the Fergana valley, and the people of Kyrgyzstan in our minds. You write, What fool in prison would say he is happy? [Yet] I am actually happy. May you be the wise fool while reading your birthday letters, and have a happy birthday.

With best wishes,

Ricky Monahan Brown, for Scottish PEN