By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– The Hungarian government on Monday, September 3, condemned a decision by Azerbaijan to immediately pardon and release an officer convicted of murder, after he was extradited from Hungary.
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On Friday, August 31, Lieutenant Ramil Safarov was warmly welcomed in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, following his arrival from Hungary, where he served a life sentence for hacking to death Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian of Armenia in his sleep.
The murder happened in 2004 at a military academy in Budapest, where both men followed a language course of the NATO military alliance’s Partnership for Peace program.
Yet, President Ilham Aliyev pardoned Safarov, promoted him to the rank of major and gave him a flat and eight years of back pay.
In a reaction, Armenia cut-off all ties with Hungary and there were angry anti-Hungarian demonstrations. Russia also criticized both the Azerbaijani and Hungarian actions, saying it could further undermine stability in the region.
Predominantly Christian Armenia and mainly Islamic Azerbaijan have fought over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabach in a conflict that killed at least 30,000 people and left 1 million homeless.
During his trial in Hungary, Safarov said that the Azerbajani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s, and alleged “insults” from the Armenian officer were at the root of his actions.
Russia, which has been involved in efforts to defuse the now somewhat frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, said: “We believe that these actions of Azerbaijani as well as Hungarian authorities contradict internationally brokered efforts, of the OSCE’s Minsk group in particular, to ease tensions in the region.”
The co-chairs of the Minsk group, which is mediating in the conflict, expressed their “deep concern and regret for the damage the pardon and any attempts to glorify the crime have done to the peace process and trust between the sides”.
In a sign of more tensions, Armenia warned Azerbaijan on Monday, September 3, it was ready for war following the pardoning and promotion of the Azerbaijani officer.
“We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win. We are not afraid of killers, even if they enjoy the protection of the head of state,” Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, stressed in a statement.
“They (Azerbaijanis) have been warned,” he said, calling Azerbaijan a country where “illicit orders set free and publicly glorify every bastard who kills people only because they are Armenians”.
The European Union urged calm, and EU Foreign Ministers were expected to discuss the tensions Friday, September 7.
Its foreign relations spokeswoman, Maja Kocjanic, told reporters in Brussels: “We are particularly concerned with the impact the developments might have on the wider region.”
Despite the stand-off, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán defended the controversial extradition that contributed to the latest crisis.
In a written statement to BosNewsLife he said “Hungary complied with international regulations regarding Ramil Sahib Safarov’s transfer to Azerbaijan.”
Orbán played down BosNewsLife and Voice of America suggestions that the extradition comes shortly after reports Azerbaijan was seeking to buy up to 3.8 billion dollars in special bonds from Hungary to help it pay of its debt.
The prime minister said “the rules of international law are shaped openly and not on the basis of secret agreements”.
The Prime Minister’s Office added that the Foreign Ministry handed Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Hungary a diplomatic note stating “that Azerbaijan’s actions were in sharp contrast with the assurance received earlier.”
It said that Azerbaijan’s deputy Justice minister had promised Hungary’s Ministry of Public Administration and Justice to respect an international Convention that “the sentenced person will serve the remaining part of his prison sentence” in Azerbaijan “and may be released on conditional parole only after…at least 25 years of his sentence.”
But, after just eight years behind bars, the young man will for now continue his life in freedom at home.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments in especially, but not limited to (former) Communist nations and autocratic states impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).