The controversy generated by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s pardon of an army officer convicted of killing an Armenian counterpart has sent official relations between Yerevan and Baku into a tailspin. Yet amid continuing inter-governmental sniping, civil society activists in both countries report that they are trying to keep events in perspective and are continuing efforts to find common ground.
Aliyev’s late August pardon of Ramil Safarov – a military officer who murdered an Armenian army lieutenant, Gurgen Margaryan, in 2004 in Budapest – stoked rage in Armenia. Underscoring the anger in Yerevan, a bill was submitted in the Armenian parliament for the country officially to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabak.
In addition, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan treated the pardon like an armed provocation. “We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and prevail; we are not afraid of murderers -- even of those who enjoy the highest patronage,” Sargsyan said in an early September statement distributed by the presidential press service in response to the Safarov pardon.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter based in Baku. Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter in Yerevan and the editor of MediaLab.am.