Of Chess Champions and Axe Murderers

Armenian chess champions greeted by President Sarkisian (left); Azerbaijan's hero axe-murderer Ramil Safarov
Armenian chess champions greeted by President Sarkisian (left); Azerbaijan's hero axe-murderer Ramil Safarov

The streets of Yerevan thundered with cheers and jubilation Monday night as throngs of residents flocked to the streets to welcome Armenia’s National Chess team which had retuned from Istanbul where it had beat the Hungarian team to win gold and clench the title of world champion.

Fireworks lit up the Yerevan sky and social media was buzzing with excitement and pride as our national heroes came home victorious.

Under normal circumstances, the chess victory would still have been a source of pride and excitement, but would not have had historic implications. However, under the dark cloud of the Ramil Safarov incident, Armenia’s victory in Istanbul against Hungary and last week’s absurd images from Baku, where Azeris celebrated the return of an axe-murderer as hero turned irony into pathos.

It was indeed ironic that Armenia was left to battle Hungary in the chess finals. Victory was even sweeter, since Armenia has suspended all relations with Hungary over its decision to extradite the Azeri soldier Ramil Safarov who brutally killed Armenian officer Gourgen Margaryan in 2004. It was also poignant to hear the Armenian national anthem in Istanbul

The recent developments have, once again, put into perspective the crux of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and highlighted the gains and losses that have played out during the course of the war and the ensuing peace process.

What began as a democratic movement under Glasnost and Perestroika for Armenians demanding their rights, turned violent when Azerbaijan began a wave of brutal massacres and pogroms in Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku, Shahumian and Getashen. When Armenians were under relentless Grad missile attacks they banded to fight a war imposed on them and emerged victorious. Modern day heroes were born and hundreds joined the pantheon that boasts selfless individuals who have put the survival of the nation first. Azeris retreated without heroes and 20 years later live in squalor as a few in Azerbaijan reap the benefits of its oil wealth. They were forced to create heroes, namely Haydar Aliyev, who is the architect of the current regime that thrives on and perpetuates hatred and brutality.

During the peace negotiations, Azerbaijan has continued to threaten war, kill innocent civilians, and domestically stifle those who have advocated change in favor of criminals and bandits. Official Baku, through its president, has said that every Armenian is the state’s enemy and must be dealt with accordingly.

While Armenia has not been without its own troubles in the continued quest to protect human rights and justice, it has never officially called for the destruction and murder of an entire race.

Decades ago as the world watched the brutal pogrom of Armenians with the same tacit “concern” as expressed when Safarov was extradited and then pardoned, the great human rights advocate and activist Andrei Sakharov said that the Karabakh conflict is “matter of prestige” for Azerbaijan, while for Armenians it is “a matter of life and death.”

So many deaths, including that of Gurgen Margaryan’s could have been prevented had the international community, especially the US, Russia and Europe, did not sit idly by and exert pressures in their absurd efforts to advance so-called parity in the name of advancing peace.

The Karabakh conflict resolution process is at a crossroads now. Azerbaijan’s blatant support and glorification of an Armenian killer should not go unpunished by the stakeholders who claim to have the region’s best interests at heart. Their “concerns” should have turned to anger and condemnation when in the days following Safarov’s extradition, Azerbaijan continued its sub-human policies and elevated the axe-killer to a hero.

The US continues to say that it is looking for answers from Baku, and the NATO secretary general last week guardedly asked for an explanation and instead got the middle finger from Ilham Aliyev.

However late in the game, it is time for the international community to recalibrate its position and begin to not ignore bellicose statements and acts by Azerbaijan and view them as a threat to not only to Armenia and Armenians, but their own efforts at establishing peace in the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday pledged to work to diffuse tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the sidelines of the upcoming United National General Assembly. One way to ensure that their efforts hold any credence is to use the pulpit of the General Assembly to loudly condemn Azerbaijan and any other nation that promotes hatred, murder and glorifies those who commit them as a state policy.

Two neighboring countries welcomed national heroes to their midst. As the world watched, a definitive picture has emerged that magnifies—in no uncertain terms—the contrast between civilized people and barbarians: A nation proudly welcoming a group that for several weeks has been representing his country in an international competition and is returning a hero having leveraged sportsmanship, acumen and conviction and another nation proudly welcoming a person who wielded an axe, viciously and brutally murdering another human being.

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