Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani army officer who was serving a life sentence in Hungary for axing to death Armenian Lt. Gurgen Margaryan, was extradited to Azerbaijan on Aug. 31 and pardoned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Official Yerevan reacted by suspending diplomatic ties with Hungary.
National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Tommy Vietor made the following comment on Azerbaijan’s decision to pardon Ramil Safarov:
“President Obama is deeply concerned by today’s announcement that the president of Azerbaijan has pardoned Ramil Safarov following his return from Hungary. Safarov confessed to the murder of Armenian Army officer Gurgen Margaryan in Budapest in 2004, and was serving a life sentence in Hungary for this brutal crime. 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.”
The U.S. Department of State, through a formal announcement issued by Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell, also took a stand against Hungary’s extradition and Azerbaijan’s pardon, explaining, “The United States is extremely troubled by the news that the president of Azerbaijan pardoned Azerbaijani army officer Ramil Safarov, who returned to Baku today following his transfer from Hungary… We are expressing our deep concern to Azerbaijan regarding this action and seeking an explanation. We are also seeking further details from Hungary regarding the decision to transfer Mr. Safarov to Azerbaijan.”
The ANCA welcomed the statements. Thousands have already responded to ANCA action items posted on Facebook and www.anca.org urging activists to criticize Hungary’s action and to call upon Obama to condemn Safarov’s release.
Pallone, Sherman issue statements condemning Safarov release
Members of Congress have begun expressing their concern over the Hungarian and Azerbaijani decisions to release Safarov, with Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) stating, “I am outraged by the reckless actions taken by the government of Azerbaijan in freeing Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani soldier who brutally murdered an unarmed Armenian soldier during a NATO-sponsored training program in Hungary. It is extremely egregious that the president of Azerbaijan has issued a decree granting pardon to a convicted murderer and has allowed him to walk free despite his conviction. These are not the actions of a government that is dedicated to justice and peace. Unfortunately, the actions taken by Azerbaijan only further confirm their desire to facilitate and condone violence against Armenia and its people.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee senior member Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) noted, “I am deeply dismayed by the Hungarian government’s decision to release an Azeri military officer who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering an Armenian officer in cold blood in Budapest in 2004… I stand by our friend and ally Armenia in her ongoing quest for peace and security for her citizens. I call on the Azeri government to bring this individual to justice instead of freeing a convicted criminal.”
Hacking to death
Safarov had confessed to hacking to death 26-year old Margaryan 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 course in 2004. Safarov struck Markaryan 16 times with an axe, almost decapitating him. Following the murder, he walked over to another Armenian officer’s room, hoping to commit a second murder, but 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 to serve 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.