Assistant Secretary of State Gordon ‘Appalled by Glorification’ of Safarov
WASHINGTON—California Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Sept. 24 expressed her outrage over Azerbaijan’s pardon, promotion, and praise for convicted axe-murderer Ramil Safarov, and called for his immediate re-incarceration, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In a strongly worded letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Sen. Boxer stressed that Safarov’s release is “deeply disturbing and provocative action has only served to inflame tensions and endanger efforts to forge a lasting peace in the Caucasus.” Calling Safarov’s pardon a “blatant disregard for the rule of law,” she went on to demand that Aliyev “adhere to the standards of the international law by returning Mr. Safarov to jail, where he belongs, for the heinous crime that he committed.”
The letter comes amid the Aliyev Administration’s continuing glorification of Safarov, who axed to death Armenian military lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan in his sleep during a 2004 NATO-sponsored language training exercise in Hungary. Safarov, who was extradited by Hungary to Baku on Aug. 31, was immediately pardoned, promoted from the rank of lieutenant to major, reimbursed eight years of back pay, and provided a new apartment as a reward for committing this heinous anti-Armenian hate crime. According to news reports, Safarov will soon resume active Azerbaijani military service. Meanwhile Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian aggression continued this week with a sniper attack leaving 19-year-old soldier Vaghinag Baghdasarian dead.
With her statement, Boxer has joined a diverse group of U.S. leaders from the Obama Administration, State Department, and Congress in condemning Aliyev’s release of Safarov.
Last week, during the Center for European Policy Analysis’ U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum, Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon told RFE/RL that the State Department continues “to express our dismay and disappointment. We’re not satisfied with what has happened here. In our view this is someone who should have continued to serve out his sentence, and certainly we were appalled by the glorification that we heard in some corridors of somebody who was convicted of murder, and so no, we’re not satisfied with the responses.”
The U.S. was among the first to comment on the Aug. 31 release, with a statement issued by the White House in the name of National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor, underscoring the president’s view that “This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation.” Vietor went on to note, “The United States is also requesting an explanation from Hungary regarding its decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan.”
The 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.”
Members of Congress who have condemned Azerbaijan’s release of Safarov to date include Sen. Boxer, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-Calif.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and Representatives Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).
A complete list of statements by U.S. leaders condemning the Safarov release is available at www.anca.org/safarov.
On the international front, France, Russia, and a host of nations have also condemned the action, with the European Parliament adopting a resolution deploring Azerbaijan’s actions on Sept. 13. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, during a joint press conference with Aliyev in Baku on Sept. 7, stated: “I am deeply concerned by the Azerbaijani decision to pardon Ramil Safarov. The act he committed in 2004 was a crime which should not be glorified, as this damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process.”
The full text of Boxer’s letter to Aliyev follows.
H.E. Ilham Aliyev
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Istiglaliyyat Street, 19
Dear President Aliyev:
I write today to express my outrage regarding your decision to release and pardon Ramil Safarov, an Azeri soldier who had been sentenced to life in prison for the vicious murder of an Armenian soldier. This deeply disturbing and provocative action has only served to inflame tensions and endanger efforts to forge a lasting peace in the Caucasus.
As you know, Mr. Safarov was convicted of the brutal axe murder of an Armenian soldier and fellow trainee at a NATO language course in 2004 and had been serving a life sentence in Hungary. On August 21, 2012, Mr. Safarov was extradited to Azerbaijan after Hungary received assurances that his sentence would be enforced.
The pardon of Mr. Safarov upon his return to Azerbaijan represents a blatant disregard for the rule of law. This decision, coupled with the hero’s welcome Mr. Safarov received, is an affront to the most basic principles of justice and human rights.
As such, I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to free Mr. Safarov and adhere to the standards of the international law by returning Mr. Safarov to jail, where he belongs, for the heinous crime that he committed.
United States Senator