Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani army officer who was serving a life sentence in Hungary for axing to death Armenian Lt. Gurgen Markarian, was extradited to Azerbaijan earlier today and pardoned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Official Yerevan reacted by suspending diplomatic ties with Hungary.
Safarov had confessed hacking to death the 26-year old Lt. Markarian while the latter was asleep in his dormitory room. Safarov and the victim were in Hungary for a NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace English language courses in 2004. Safarov had struck Markaryan 16 times with an axe, almost decapitating him. Following the murder he had walked over to another Armenian officer’s room, hoping to commit a second murder, but had found his door locked. Safarov was found guilty of premeditated murder, and was sentenced to life in prison in April 2006, with possibility of parole after 30 years.
Azerbaijan’s Justice Ministry had assured officials in Hungary that Safarov would continue serving his sentence in Azerbaijan. However, hours after his arrival on an Azerbaijani Airways special flight, President Aliyev signed an order to pardon Safarov. The pardon is effective from the day of signing.
Safarov’s pardon contradicts the Azerbaijani criminal code, where prisoners serving a life sentence can only be freed after serving a period of 25 years, according to reports.
“This is restoration of justice,” Safarov told news reporters in Baku. “Though I have been staying in solitary confinement for eight years abroad, I have never lost my hope. When the time came, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief solved the issue. I’m ready to serve further my state and people.”
When asked about the murder, Safarov reportedly said, “I do not want to remember that day.”
Safarov, who said the pardon was a “surprise” to him, reportedly said that his return to military service was a possibility. He is now at his family house, where he is receiving visitors, according to Azerbaijani news reports.
Head of the Department of Presidential Administration for Work with Law-Enforcement Organizations Fuad Alasgarov told the Azeri news outlet APA that “this process [of extradition] was politicized in advance. The Armenian lobby was seriously preventing his extradition to Azerbaijan… Ramil’s return to Azerbaijan became possible due to the political will of the President, who always shows fidelity to principles for the protection of the rights and interests of the Azerbaijani citizens, and his personal influence in the international arena.”
Azerbaijani media and officials seem to offer Safarov’s “emotional state” as justification for his crime. “Ramil is from Jabrayil region, which is under occupation of Armenia. He lost his relatives and these events occurred in front of his eyes and remained in his childhood memory. He faced Armenian provocations during the NATO courses when Armenian officer insulted Azerbaijani flag and people. It is possible to conceive the emotional state of the person who saw such tragedies,” said Alasgarov, who added that President Aliyev “showed great humanism” in pardoning Safarov.
“This courageous step by the President shows that as the President and Supreme Commander-in- Chief of Azerbaijan he advocates for every Azerbaijani citizen, soldier and officer. It is also a sign of solidarity of Azerbaijani people in front of the enemy,” said Alasgarov.
Hungary’s Justice Ministry said Safarov’s extradition was in line with the 1983 Strasbourg Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. Azerbaijan joined the convention in 2000.
Born in 1977, Safarov began his military career at a military school in Nakhichevan in 1991. According to Azerbaijani news outlets, he continued his military education in Izmir, Turkey, and later at Ankara’s Higher Military School. Returning to Azerbaijan, he continued his training, and rose up the ranks to Lieutenant. In January 2004, he enrolled at in the NATO English language program in Hungary, where he met Lt. Markaryan, and later killed him.
Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian announced the suspension of diplomatic relations with Hungary, following a National Security Council meeting. Armenia’s Speaker of Parliament Hovik Abrahamyan has already cancelled a visit to Hungary, following news of Safarov’s extradition. The President also called for a meeting with foreign diplomats and international organizations in Armenia.
In his address to foreign diplomats, Sarkisian condemned Hungary’s action, and said that neither he nor his government will tolerate Hungary’s decision, and that the Armenian nation will never forgive them. “With their joint actions the authorities of Hungary and Azerbaijan have opened the door for the recurrence of such crimes. With this decision they convey a clear message to the butchers. The slaughterers hereafter are well aware of impunity they can enjoy for the murder driven by ethnic or religious hatred,” said Sarkisian.
News of Safarov’s extradition and pardon spread in Armenia, where protesters burned pictures of Safarov, and chucked tomatoes at the Hungarian embassy, according to reports.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) issued an action alert calling on concerned individuals to contact the Hungarian Embassy, expressing their outrage.
Obama ‘deeply concerned’
“President Obama is deeply concerned by today’s announcement that the President of Azerbaijan has pardoned Ramil Safarov following his return from Hungary… We are communicating to Azerbaijani authorities our disappointment about the decision to pardon Safarov. This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation. The United States is also requesting an explanation from Hungary regarding its decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan,” said U.S. National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Tommy Vietor.
The Department of State, also made a formal announcement issued by Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell, in which it stated that the U.S. is “extremely troubled” by the news of Safarov’s release.