A Heated Reaction to the Ramil Safarov Case

I have received a lot of emails and comments from Azerbaijanis critical of my Al Jazeera article on Ramil Safarov, The axe murderer who became a Facebook hero. Most of them were from Azerbaijanis saying that Safarov should be considered a hero, because he was provoked to murder by an Armenian who insulted Azerbaijan, because he had a tragic childhood in Nagorno-Karabakh, and because his murder of the Armenian officer was an apt reprisal for Armenian war crimes.  I agree with them that Safarov is a tragic case, but the tragedy lies not only in what he and his family endured, but in the public celebration of his heinous and violent actions, which has only perpetuated the tragedy.

In my article, I said that the majority of Azerbaijanis support Safarov, and I stand by that claim. But there are many Azerbaijanis who do not support him, and they are engaging in a lively debate on Facebook about the meaning and repercussions of Safarov’s release. Emin Milli, an activist and writer who has long used the internet to critique the Aliev regime, argues that the support for Safarov is not as great as I and others writing in the international media have portrayed it. “We do not know what people really think about Safarov, we do not have live, open public debates on TV channels where people could vote on this question via sms, there are no surveys, no proofs, but only government’s ubiquitous propaganda,” he points out.

While I maintain that available evidence indicates that support for Safarov is widespread, Milli’s article raises important points: first, that in a country that allows no dissent, those who challenge the state narrative of Safarov would be unlikely to speak out; second, that when prominent Azerbaijani writers condemned the celebration of Safarov on Facebook, hundreds of Azerbaijanis agreed with them. In particular, Milli cited the critical posts of Khadija Ismayil and Jamal Ali. In a brief conversation I had with the three of them, Ismayil agreed with Milli that most Azerbaijanis did not buy the government’s hero narrative, while Ali thought they did.

On Facebook, Ali wrote a post that resonated with a large number of Azerbaijanis. I think it is because he approaches the case with empathy but recognition that Safarov’s crime was reprehensible. He calls on Safarov to reject his hero status:

“I’d like to believe that Ramil Seferov regrets what he has done. He should have changed a lot in 8 years, especially in jail. I believe he did.

“I say, he must refuse the flat, money and rank which was given to him by president. and he should say to people clearly that ‘killing a sleeping Armenian is not heroism, I’m not a hero. I just could not control myself and made the biggest mistake of my life’. People are in his side and he will not be jailed again anyway.

“He has to understand the social responsibility on himself and stay away from political games and inhumane ‘hero’ status.”

One of the worst things about the (predictably) heated reaction to my article is that some have taken it as license to proclaim that Azerbaijanis, as a people, have some sort of primordial bloodlust. This is cheap and lazy rhetoric. (It is also cheap and lazy when applied to Armenians.) In the week since I wrote this article, it has become clear that the Azerbaijanis who embrace Safarov do so for a variety of reasons. Some do it out of government loyalty. Some believe that the murder was just revenge. But overwhelmingly, they argue that Safarov is a man who suffered, like millions of others, in a conflict that the world has forgotten. Proclaiming him a hero, Safarov’s supporters portray him as a victim.

What is happening in Azerbaijan is not unique. Every country in the world has embraced figures who are murderous or radical, and every country has had a significant swath of the population embrace beliefs that seem bigoted or unstable. The problem when this happens in a place like Azerbaijan is that most people know so little about Azerbaijan that they take it to represent an ingrained pattern of behavior, instead of a reaction shaped by history and political culture. (Counter to Milli, I argue that Safarov is a case of the government capitalizing on public sentiment, and then using it to their advantage, rather than imposing a position from above.)

Milli has proposed a public debate on the Safarov case, one which would include representatives of the Azerbaijani and Armenian governments, and has encouraged the international media to convene and cover it. This is a good idea – both to highlight the diversity of views, but also to encourage discussion in an area of the world dominated by propaganda, rumor and rhetoric. As Milli writes, “[The Safarov case] is very complicated story with many facets, context and details which cannot be ignored. It is not just about one man killing another man. It is much more than that.

“It is about frozen and forgotten conflict by the world, it is about authoritarian games, and it is about tragedy of two nations.”

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9 Responses to A Heated Reaction to the Ramil Safarov Case

  1. Vafa Hanlar says:

    Dear Sarah,
    I have been following your posts on Emin’s facebook page and wanna thank you for being so proactive in taking Emin’s challenge on board.
    Just wanted to tell that Emin, Khadija and Jamal are not alone. There are thousands of other including me who think that Ramil was and still is a victim of his past, like many Azerbaijanis are today, not necessarily by killing an Armenian soldier, but by letting themselves to be brainwashed by propagandist politics and government who uses nation’s grievance over past as its power.
    I may not be the best judge on the justice side of the matter; I believe not any punishment can do justice for what Ramil did, and him being life-imprisoned while not being dangerous to anyone in Azerbaijan would have been unreasonable. Like Jamal, I just wish Ramil were strong enough to stand against the government’s hero-moulding actions and disillusion patriotic hysteria of his nation fomented by governments such actions. I also realise that it must be the hardest and scariest thing to do to disregard “respect and love” (I use quotation to mean it is destructive, therefore can not be categorized as in a real sense of these notions) of people, especially in a culturally and politically authoritarian society like in Azerbaijan.
    Unfortunately, what Ramil may never know due to lack of freedom of speech and expression, due to absence of wide discourse arenas is that there are people like us who really care about him and others who are in his situation, and that they don’t have to kill to be heros. Enough just to be a man of dignity, honesty and integrity.

  2. SrisuVirus says:

    Dear Sarah,
    I’m so impressed that nowadays people are so universal, and everything became so universal… Ask your grandma, and she’ll tell you that killing is killing anyway! Tragedy of nations, cruel childhood and so on blah blah blah… This is just a words of a people who don’t know what exactly is going on. Believe me you even can’t imagine right now…
    Everything you hear and see is from different medias, and nowadays wins media source which can affect more number of people by some maybe not correct information (and most time with incorrect information).
    Do you know about Armenian history or Azerbaijan? Yes? And from where?!
    So, please see facts as they seem… European people used to look to all things through some “mega universal prism”, and this method is ruining everything that was working well for hundred of years…
    Killing is killing! Killing sleeping person is the worst thing that human being can do (even look at wildlife, you can’t see any example like this)…
    If people (especially in Europe) will continue to support “looking through mega universal glamorous prism”, then you will become your own slave. Remember that!

  3. necati genis says:

    Tehlerian, An Ermenian killed Talat Pasha in front of his home in Berlin released by the German Court within one and half day.

    Breivig killed 77 innocent young people received 21 years.

    Ramil’s family was murdered by ermenian soldiers in Karabagh. He killed an ermenian soldiers who insulted his nation and stayed 6 years in jail.

    There is clear an on-going war between Azerbaijan and Ermenia. Sometimes at the borders, sometimes in politics. So, A soldier killing his enemy can not be found guilty.

  4. rogeriorot says:

    Better If the world could understand fastter that we are entring in The Global Age and let behind the little world of little grievances.

  5. zzvanq says:

    Ok. Taleat pasha was good father, nice husband and great man and suddenly Armenians kill him??? Are you serious guys? Taleat was the leader who planned and released the nation killing called Armenian genocide!! Yes, that is why Armenians killed him, because 1.500.000 Aremenians (pregnant mothers, old people and children especially) were killed by Azeris…
    Armenians never kill women or children or old people… This is a lie that safarov’s family was killed… Really? And what about safarov? how he survived if it was real?
    People don’t waste your time on thinking on this – killing is killing!

  6. zzvanq says:

    Nobody needs new “universal” age. Every nation wants to be unique… Africa is Africa and Russia is Russia… Take away that new features and let people live in that way in which way they are used to live hundred of years

  7. How much money did you get from the Turks to write this one? Was it money or something natural ? Since when have those savages a state, government or law? Tribes like Azerbejan are as ephemeral as your article, and the reason I read this is that I have to. Let the day be cursed when I chose you as my columnist in my English class…

  8. Pingback: Ramil Safarov Case | Eastbook - blog on EU Eastern Partnership

  9. testdomain says:

    There is clearly a lot to identify about this. I assume you made various nice points in features also.

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