A Hero of Our Time

by Sevil Huseynova

I am not going to discuss the details of Safarov’s extradition. The only thing I would like to mention is that the officials’ claims that Safarov’s sentence was unjust only points out their own inability to defend him. And no matter what those claims are about now, it does not change the fact that the crime was committed and the sentence was passed. As for my own opinion about Safarov, I would also add that I certainly do not consider him a hero. It was interesting to observe how in the media, Safarov’s crime was several times compared to the one committed by Breivik. Moreover, comparing the two, journalists were aiming to justify Safarov. According to this logic, killing one person is absolutely not the same as killing 77 people. I am not going to descend into the pointless discussions. Let me only mention that the very idea of comparison points out that Safarov’s “heroic deed” turned to be justly questionable even for the ultra-nationalists. The latter, though, preferred not to show their doubts in the public.

It is more important now to talk about the message we have received from the government and the reaction that it led to in the Azerbaijani society. Not only did the government pardon and release Safarov, but also welcomed him as a national hero and generously presented him with awards which probably none of the veterans of the Karabakh war were ever awarded with. As for Safarov himself, judging from his own statements, it appears to be pretty obvious that he never repented the crime he had committed. Moreover, no one really expected him to; actually everyone expected him not to. Despite the “extenuating circumstances” (that Safarov is an IDP and has lost relatives in the war, etc.), the reality is that he committed a crime on grounds of ethnic hatred. The murdered officer, at least due to his young age, obviously did not have anything to do with the sufferings that Safarov’s family had to face.

So what message is the Azerbaijani government trying to deliver to us with its action? – that not only do the authorities justify an expression of such hatred and crimes (or maybe “deeds”?) on the ethnic basis, but also consider them deserving awards and the highest appreciation? If so, then what is the point to criticize the statement made by the Armenian president about the “ethnic incompatibility” of Azerbaijanis and Armenians? Azerbaijani authorities with its demonstrative action created a perfect opportunity for similar criticism in its own address.

The most important question now is what should be expected from the peace talks now? The civil society has always been justly doubting their quality, pointing out their imitating nature. Is it possible that the time of the gross imitations is over, and a new bloody conflict should be expected? Outright and cruel. Should we think that the authorities (both Azerbaijani and Armenian) have done their best to prevent a new conflict and find ways to avoid deaths of many thousands of young people on the battlefield? The recent events give a negative answer to this question. Moreover, it can be stated that the Azerbaijani authorities has purposefully worsened the situation. The readiness with which neighboring Armenia immediately reacted demonstrates that many would go for the worsening of the situation there too.

In this situation, the reaction of the Azerbaijani society demonstrates that many would favor the start of a new war. I am not sure, however, if those who stir up hatred, comfortably sitting in front of their computers at home, would themselves go to the front. What is important to mention is that the current government has got enough resources to mobilize a large army and start a new full-scale conflict. It is also important that all these years, the government has also had considerable resources to make a true peace dialogue forward. However, a lot was done to mobilize military resources, and negligibly little – to develop the peace process.

And the reaction of the Azerbaijani society to the case exactly proves how little the government has done for the peace process. The policy of the media, the educational system, and many other public spheres aimed at the radicalization of the Azerbaijani society. Hence, the society’s reaction to Safarov’s return demonstrates how “successful” the government’s policy has been. It is not Russia and especially not the EU or the US that force our authorities to develop this policy and hinder the peace process. All these years it was so easy to blame Russia, the UN, the EU, and the US in their unwillingness to take real action to resolve the conflict. And all these years we preferred to be closing our eyes to the fact that it is us who do not do anything to bring the peaceful solution closer. The opposite is actually true: all these years the government efficiently used the conflict as a tool to set up control over the obeying society, and the significant majority enthusiastically followed this policy. And doing so, they proved a great classic’s statement that it is always easier to hate rather than be friends. I am not going to describe the situation in Armenia, but I am sure that the same policy was carried out in that country.

However, we do not live in a socio-political vacuum, but in a world, where we will need to choose who to be friends with. Well, certainly, we can reassure ourselves that Europe, for instance, is not ideal either, if not to say that it frequently plays into our enemies’ hands. But we have to understand that the official glorification of the person accused in the brutal premeditated slaughter, in Europe arouses incomprehension, disgust if not to say horror of having such neighbors close to their borders. Our ultra-patriots would certainly mention the Khojaly tragedy in response. But is this really an example we should tend to? Should we follow such behavior? Should we think that if “they” were not condemned for it, then we will be fine too?

I am convinced that this leads to nowhere. And I am convinced that only a peaceful resolution, based on compromise, will create a chance for our societies to tear ourselves from the knot of the authoritarianism in order to finally start paving the way towards the formation of a democratic society. In conflict studies, it is an accepted postulate (at least after the World War II), that democratic states do not fight with each other. Armenia and Azerbaijan represent exactly that case which proves this statement. Conflict is necessary for the authoritarian regimes, deeply rooted in both countries and societies like air, like the most important resource to maintain and strengthen power resources.

But there is also an alternative way. We can start the formation of a society of common welfare, getting rid of the infantile complex of criticizing “the western democracies” for not being ideal and claiming that we have our own sovereign way to democracy. We can finally choose the EU and the US as the only partners. Otherwise, we will forever remain in the club of totalitarian/authoritarian countries. Thankfully, our neighbors such as Russia and Iran will be only happy to witness such a scenario. And then conflicts and wars will remain a part of our reality for many decades ahead.

But would another massacre that our governments are leading us to and which will result in the death of 10, 20, or 30 thousand people bring more justice to this world? Did the murder of the Armenian officer committed by an Azerbaijani, Ramil Safarov, create more justice? Did we get closer to the conflict resolution after his “heroic deed”? No, we did not. We are as hopelessly far from it as before. And even much farther than we were some couple of days ago, before Safarov was officially recognized as a national hero. Hanna Arendt argues that war became a luxury which can be afforded only by the small nations. Is it really like that? Can we afford the luxury of another war? Can we afford the loss of our close ones at the war?

I am sure that even now, there are people in Azerbaijan willing to live in peace and interact with the residents of the neighboring Armenia. They are not the ones willing to perform “heroic deeds” based on ethnic hatred. They are the ones willing to live peacefully and mutually respect traditions of their neighbors. And I am convinced that they and their actions constitute our future.

*A Hero of Our Time is an allusion to the title of the famous novel by Mikhail Lermontov. [comment by the Neutral Zone]

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