Opinion: “Safarov Affair” should be a warning beyond Armenia

Armenians too often try to find, in any world atrocity, a link to the Armenian Genocide.


On the Ramil Safarov matter, however, one needn’t look far for a parallel.


When Muslim Turks were slaughtering Christian Armenians, religious leaders of the aggressors promised that if a Turk would kill the “infidel” Armenians, he would be rewarded in the afterlife.

That was early last century. Late last week, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan took the pledge a leap forward. For his near-decapitation murder of a sleeping Armenian officer in a Hungary dormitory, Aliyev made sure Safarov needn’t delay receiving his ticket to the good life by waiting for the afterlife.

As unacceptable as the release of the axe-murderer is, he is surely not the first executor of a heinous crime whose sentence was cut shorter than it should have been.

And this very fact itself might have tempered the pardoning of Safarov, had Aliyev let it go at that.

Maybe – although this is a stretch – our outrage would be a bit less bile-inducing, had Aliyev quietly issued the pardon, with a statement that – international agreements not withstanding – the Azerbaijan Ministry of Justice has concluded that the convict has paid for his crime, has shown remorse (which would be a lie), and that on those grounds he has been set free.

Something at least digestible, even if far from acceptable.

Extremely far from acceptable – and exemplary of the difference between Christian Armenian mentality and Muslim Azeri mentality – was Aliyev’s insult to injury, salt in the wound, or whatever cliché that cannot adequately express the president’s apparent profound disregard for humane behavior in this case.

The president went to the Baku airport to meet Safarov; promoted the lieutenant to major; paid him 8.5 years of back salary for time spent in a Hungarian jail; gave him an apartment. And he turned him into a national hero for acts that civilized minds would abhor regardless of circumstance – to say nothing of the fact that Safarov’s “defense of motherland” was not carried out on a battlefield, but at a “Partnership for Peace” seminar.

Look at the photo at the top of this page. Imagine how you would feel were you the family of the slain Gurgen Margaryan. We would be pleased to answer that question for you, however, ArmeniaNow has been told that the Margaryan family has unplugged their phone, locked their door, and doesn’t want to speak to anyone. Different picture, that.

Can you imagine President Barack Obama, President Francois Hollande, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister David Cameron, or many other Western-world leaders going to their respective airports to publicly receive and HONOR a convicted killer – even one whose barbarism was motivated by patriotism?

Who knows how Armenia might react if the situation were reversed. Varoujan Garabedian, a member of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) served 17 years in a French prison for his part in a Paris bombing that killed 8. He was deported to Armenia in 2001. The mayor of Yerevan promised to find him a job. The Prime Minister met with Garabedian and said he was glad that he had been released.

Garabedian himself said years later that “a freedom fighter must never appear on the political arena”.

On a more global perspective: Does any Christian nation want to see a people of like faith live under a regime in which convicted murderers are hailed as heroes – not just by nationalists fanatics, but by the very leaders of their country?

This question should be added to the debate that is now stirred by Azerbaijan’s pardon, promotion, rewarding and regaling of an axe-murderer.

Shouldn’t this “Sarafov Affair” as the New York Times called it, weigh on any bone fide democratic country’s conscience in whether Nagorno Karabakh Republic should be internationally recognized?

Here’s a thought: If the people of Karabakh had found themselves subjected to the rule of Iran’s Mahmoud Aհmadinejad, to the Iraqi rule of Saddam Hussein, to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan or to the latest of the worst, Syria’s Bashar-al Assad, would the United States and others not support the Karabakhis’ right to self determination by endorsing their legitimacy?

Former Armenian president Robert Kocharyan said yesterday that Hungary ought to recognize NKR, in response to being lied to by Azerbaijan and Aliyev (who had told Hungarian officials that Safarov would not be set free for at least another 17 years).

Other countries should do so for reasons that are not rooted in retaliation, but in preservation of a tiny but strategic collection of people whose better beliefs (for those believing Christian-based democracy is “better”) would be death sentences in an Azeri-controlled Karabakh.

This “affair” should be a lesson to those nations whose political, social, religious sympathies lie with the Armenians. Otherwise the queue will form with Turks looking to fast track eternity’s promise for today’s reward.