Dec 062012
 

DUBLIN, 6 December 2012 – Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Minister Delegate for European Affairs of France Bernard Cazeneuve issued the following statement today:

“On the occasion of the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Dublin, we, the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries, call upon the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to demonstrate the political will needed to reach a peaceful settlement. As our Presidents stated at Los Cabos on June 18, 2012, the parties should be guided by the Helsinki principles, particularly those relating to the non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and the elements outlined in our countries’ statements at L’Aquila in 2009 and Muskoka in 2010. Recalling the statement of our Presidents at Deauville in 2011, we again urge the parties to take decisive steps to reach a peaceful settlement.

“We regret that the expectations of more rapid progress in the peace process, which were raised by the Joint Statement of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the President of the Russian Federation at Sochi on January 23, 2012, were not met. Instead, the parties have too often sought one-sided advantage in the negotiation process, rather than seeking to find agreement, based upon mutual understanding. While recognizing the decrease in serious incidents along the Line of Contact and the border in recent months, we remind the parties of the need to continue to respect the ceasefire of 1994, and that the use of military force will not resolve the conflict. We urge the parties to refrain from actions and statements that foster feelings of enmity among their populations and have raised tensions in recent months. The leaders of the sides must prepare their populations for the day when they will live again as neighbors, not enemies, with full respect for each other’s culture, history, and traditions.

“We call upon the parties to demonstrate a greater sense of urgency in the peace process and to work with the Co-Chairs to give full and careful consideration to ideas presented by the Co-Chairs during their trip to the region in November. We welcome the readiness of the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia to meet jointly with the Co-Chairs early in 2013 to continue these discussions. Our countries continue to stand ready to do whatever we can to assist the parties, but the responsibility for putting an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains with them.”


Source: OSCE Minsk Group page

Sep 202012
 

By Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

WASHINGTON — The United States is “not satisfied” with explanations from Baku and Budapest concerning the case of an Azerbaijani officer who brutally murdered an Armenian soldier at a NATO seminar in Hungary eight years ago.

Philip Gordon, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, told RFE/RL at the Center for European Policy Analysis’ U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum on September 20 that Washington continues to express “dismay and disappointment” to Budapest about its decision to release Ramil Safarov to Baku.

He said Washington is sending the same message to Azerbaijan’s government, which pardoned Safarov and then promoted him after his August 31 return to the country.

“We were appalled by the glorification that we heard in some quarters of somebody who was convicted of murder,” Gordon said. He called the case “a real provocation in the region.”

The European Union, the OSCE’s Minsk Group, Russia, and Hungary also expressed concern about Safarov’s pardon and promotion.


Source: RFE/RL

Sep 132012
 

P7_TA-PROV(2012)0356
Azerbaijan: the case of Ramil Safarov
European Parliament resolution of 13 September 2012 on Azerbaijan: the Ramil Safarov case (2012/2785(RSP))

The European Parliament ,

– having regard to its previous resolutions on the situation in Azerbaijan, in particular those concerning human rights,

– having regard to the established practice of international law regarding transfer, namely the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, under which it was agreed that cooperation should be developed in order to further the ends of justice and the social rehabilitation of sentenced persons, by giving them the opportunity to serve their sentences within their own society,

– having regard to the statement issued by its President, Martin Schulz, on 5 September 2012 concerning the pardon granted to Ramil Safarov in Azerbaijan,

– having regard to the joint statement issued by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and Commissioner Štefan Füle on 3 September 2012 concerning the release of Mr Safarov,

– having regard to the statement issued by the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, on 4 September 2012,

– having regard to the official letter received by the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice of Hungary on 15 August 2012 from the Deputy Minister of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Vilayat Zahirov,

– having regard to its resolution of 18 April 2012 on the negotiations of the EU-Azerbaijan Association Agreement,

– having regard to the statement issued by the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, on 3 September 2012, in which he gave an assurance that Hungary had acted in accordance with its international obligations,

– having regard to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan, which entered into force in 1999, and to the ongoing negotiations between the two parties on a new association agreement to replace the previous one,

– having regard to Rules 122(5) and 110(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas Ramil Safarov had been jailed in a Hungarian prison since 2004 after brutally killing an Armenian colleague during a course sponsored by NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme in Budapest; whereas Mr Safarov had pleaded guilty and had expressed no remorse, defending his action on the grounds that the victim was Armenian;

B. whereas on 31 August 2012 Mr Safarov, a lieutenant of the Azerbaijani armed forces who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary, was transferred to Azerbaijan at the longstanding request of the Azerbaijani authorities;

C. whereas immediately after Mr Safarov was transferred to Azerbaijan the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, pardoned him in line with the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Article 12 of the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons;

D. whereas Article 9 of the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, to which Hungary and Azerbaijan are both signatory parties, states that a person sentenced in the territory of one state may be transferred to the territory of another in order to serve the sentence imposed on him or her, provided that the conditions laid down in that convention are met;

E. whereas the Deputy Minister of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Vilayat Zahirov, sent an official letter to the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice of Hungary on 15 August 2012, in which he stated that the execution of the decisions of foreign states’ courts regarding the transfer of sentenced persons to serve the remaining part of their prison sentences in the Republic of Azerbaijan were carried out in accordance with Article 9(1)(a) of the convention, without any conversion of their sentences; whereas he further gave an assurance that, according to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the punishment of a convict serving a life sentence could only be replaced by a court with a term of imprisonment for a specified period, and that the convict could be released on conditional parole only after serving at least 25 years of his or her prison sentence; and whereas the Azerbaijani authorities subsequently denied having given any diplomatic assurances to the Hungarian authorities;

F. whereas Lieutenant Safarov received a glorious welcome in Azerbaijan and a few hours after his return was granted a presidential pardon, set free and promoted to the rank of major during a public ceremony;

G. whereas the decision to set Mr Safarov free triggered widespread international reactions of disapproval and condemnation;

H. whereas on 31 August 2012 the Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, announced that Armenia was suspending its diplomatic relations with Hungary;

I. whereas Azerbaijan participates actively in the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, is a founding member of Euronest and has committed itself to respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law, which are core values of these initiatives;

J. whereas Azerbaijan has taken up a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2012-2013 period and committed itself to uphold the values enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

K. whereas Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as to a number of other international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

1. Stresses the importance of the rule of law and of honouring commitments made;

2. Deplores the decision by the President of Azerbaijan to pardon Ramil Safarov, a convicted murderer sentenced by the courts of a Member State of the European Union; regards that decision as a gesture which could contribute to further escalation of the tensions between two countries, and which is exacerbating feelings of injustice and deepening the divide between those countries, and is further concerned that this act is jeopardising all peaceful reconciliation processes within the societies concerned and may undermine the possible future development of peaceful people-to-people contact in the region;

3. Considers that, while the presidential pardon granted to Mr Safarov complies with the letter of the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, it runs contrary to the spirit of that international agreement, which was negotiated to allow the transfer of a person convicted on the territory of one state to serve the remainder of his or her sentence on the territory of another state;

4. Considers the presidential pardon granted to Mr Safarov as a violation of the diplomatic assurances given to the Hungarian authorities in Azerbaijan’s request for transfer on the basis of on the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons;

5. Deplores the hero’s welcome accorded to Mr Safarov in Azerbaijan and the decision to promote him to the rank of major and pay him eight years’ back salary upon his arrival, and is concerned about the example this sets for future generations and about the promotion and recognition he has received from the Azerbaijani state;

6. Takes the view that the frustration in Azerbaijan and Armenia over the lack of any substantial progress as regards the peace process in Nagorno-Karabakh does not justify either acts of revenge or futile provocations that add further tension to an already tense and fragile situation;

7. Expresses its support for the ongoing efforts of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Member States to defuse tensions and ensure that progress is made towards peace in the region;

8. Supports the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in their efforts to secure substantial progress in the peace process in Nagorno-Karabakh with a view to finding a lasting, comprehensive settlement in accordance with international law;

9. Insists that the EU should play a stronger role in the settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting the implementation of confidence-building measures which will bring together Armenian and Azerbaijani communities and spread ideas of peace, reconciliation and trust on all sides;

10. Reiterates its position that the association agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and Azerbaijan should include clauses and benchmarks relating to the protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law;

11. Condemns all forms of terrorism and the use of threats of terrorism;

12. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the EEAS, the European Council, the Commission, the respective governments and parliaments of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism.


Source: EuroParliament P7_TA-PROV(2012)0356 or Texts adopted at the sitting of Thursday 13 September 2012

Sep 102012
 

By PETER RUTLAND
Published: September 10, 2012

In recent days there have been two symbolic events that run the danger of igniting hostilities in an already tense neighborhood of the Caucasus.

On Aug. 31 a former Azerbaijan Army lieutenant, Ramil Safarov, flew back to Baku after serving eight years in a Budapest jail for killing Gurgen Margarian in 2004. The victim, an Armenian officer, had been a fellow participant in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise. Safarov hacked him to death in his sleep with an ax.

The Hungarian government transferred the prisoner to Azerbaijan on the understanding that he would serve out the rest of his life sentence in his home country. But immediately upon his arrival in Baku, Lieutenant Safarov was pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev, restored to military duties, promoted to major, given an apartment and awarded back pay for his time in prison. These actions drew universal condemnation from Washington, Moscow and European governments.

Apart from the fact that such a step is an affront to basic notions of justice and the rule of law, even more troubling is the message that it sends to the rest of the world: that the Azerbaijani government thinks it is acceptable to kill Armenians. Apparently, the grievances they suffered in their defeat by Armenian forces in 1992-94 are so profound that even murder is excusable. It is hard, then, to ask the Armenians living in Karabakh to quietly accept the idea that the solution to their disputed territory is for them to return to living under Azerbaijani rule.

This one single act could undo the patient efforts of diplomats and activists over many years to try to rebuild connections and work toward mutual trust — without which any kind of peace settlement will be a pipe dream.

Compounding the problem was a less significant but still noteworthy gesture. On Sept. 3, Richard Morningstar, the new U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, paid his respects to Heidar Aliyev, the deceased former president (and father of the incumbent), by laying a wreath at his statue in central Baku. Apparently it is standard protocol for U.S. ambassadors to include this stop in their round of duties when arriving in Baku. Photographs also clearly showed the ambassador bowing his head before the monument, though a State Department spokesman later denied this.

Mr. Morningstar’s far from empty gesture sent two wrong signals.

First, it is disheartening to Azerbaijani democratic activists to see the United States so cravenly supporting dictatorship as a suitable form of rule, a pattern all too familiar from U.S. policy toward the entire Middle East.

Second, it signals to Armenia — and its principal ally, Russia — that the United States is an unqualified backer of the Azerbaijani government, warts and all. Strategic interests — Caspian oil, access to Central Asia, containment of Iran — count for more than the niceties of human rights and democratic procedure.

This makes it all but impossible for Armenia to expect the United States to act as an honest broker in the peace process. And if the United States cannot play that role, no one else will.

Diplomacy has long revolved around such symbolic acts. In 1793, the Earl Macartney, British ambassador to China, was thrown out of the country when he refused to kowtow before the emperor. More recently, visits by Japanese government ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, commemorating the souls of warriors, have triggered protests from China and South Korea.

By contrast, when Chancellor Willy Brandt fell to his knees before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970 he turned a page in German atonement for its past atrocities. In the same spirit, Vladimir Putin sent a clear message of reconciliation when in 2010 he knelt at the monument to the Polish officers killed at Katyn on Stalin’s orders.

What we need in the Caucasus are leaders willing to follow the examples of Mr. Brandt and Mr. Putin, with the courage to show contrition and a willingness to meet with their former adversary and figure out a way to live together. We may be in for a long wait.

Peter Rutland is a professor of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 11, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune.


Source: New York Times

Sep 082012
 

Hungary’s recent extradition of a convicted axe murderer to Azerbaijan has caused a scandal. At home, the killer was pardoned and celebrated. It’s rumored that Hungary and Azerbaijan brokered a deal for the extradition.

The last time a diplomatic gesture made by Hungary had geopolitical consequences was in June 1989, when Hungary’s then-foreign minister, Gyula Horn, and his Austrian counterpart Alois Mock cut through the border fence between the two countries. The gesture marked the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain between East and West.

Potentially grave consequences

This time around, 23 years on, a diplomatic gesture made by Hungary could have far less positive – some even say disastrous – geopolitical implications. Hungary has extradited a convicted murderer to Azerbaijan, where he was instantly pardoned. This brought tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan to a new climax and the Caucasus region to the verge of a new war.

The US, the EU and NATO have taken crisis diplomacy measures in an attempt to prevent the worst case scenario between Armenia and Azerbaijan from emerging.

Meanwhile, Hungary’s government is rumored to have agreed to a foul deal with Azerbaijan. In return for the extradition of murderer Ramil Safarov, Azerbaijan is said to have promised Hungary to buy some three billion euros ($3.84 billion) worth of its government bonds.

The Safarov case

During a NATO-sponsored training session held in Budapest in 2004, Azeri soldier Ramil Safarov murdered a fellow Armenian course participant in his sleep with an axe. Safarov said the killing stemmed from traumatic childhood experiences in which his family was driven out of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Disputes over the region have put the two former Soviet republics in a state of war with each other for almost 25 years now. Due to the intense brutality of his deed, Safarov was sentenced to life in prison; and pardoning him would only have been possible after a minimum of 30 years.

Safarov has since been celebrated as a national hero in Azerbaijan, and Azeri diplomats tried for years to convince the Hungarian authorities to extradite him. The Orban government finally agreed. On August 31, Safarov was flown out of Hungary in an Azeri special plane. Some say that Azerbaijan did make a promise to Hungary at the time that Safarov would have to continue serving his sentence in prison. But no sooner had the plane arrived at Baku airport than the 35-year-old was greeted as a hero. He was pardoned and even promoted to the rank of major by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

The move caused Armenia to stop all diplomatic relations instantly with Hungary, and Armenians abroad took to the streets worldwide in protest against Hungary.

Fortunes to spend

Azerbaijan, which has accrued significant capital with crude oil, is said to be planning an investment of up to three billion euros worth in Hungarian state obligations. Hungary could use the money. The country is in a dire financial situation and has been in long negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about a possible stand-by loan – without success so far.

Potential donors in China and Saudi Arabia denied Hungary loans not long ago. So could the country have turned to Azerbaijan for money? Both sides are denying that Baku promised to invest billions in Hungarian bonds in return for Safarov. However, in early August, Hungarian economic media outlets had already reported on a possible bond buying deal planned by Azerbaijan. Both countries are also in talks about intensifying economic cooperation.

Hungary’s leadership has since commented nonchalantly on the potential disaster stemming from Safarov’s release. Hungary doesn’t “consider the conflict to be of particular importance,” but rather was taking notice of it “in calmness and optimism,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday (03.09.2012) in Budapest.

Consternation and criticism

Politicians from the Hungarian opposition and a number of independent observers are appalled at the government’s conduct. The head of the Socialist Party (MSZP), Attila Mesterhazy, asked in parliament: For “just how much money has Viktor Orban sold Hungary?” A commentator of Hungarian daily “Nepszabadsag” wrote that Hungary hasn’t been left with much of an international reputation to start with. Now, the country would be regarded even more suspiciously, the commentator continued.

While both the US and Russia voiced open criticism of Hungary’s extradition, the EU in Brussels is holding back official comments of concern for now. Hungary had signed a bilateral agreement that was quite obviously broken by Azerbaijan, said a spokesman for the EU’s foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton, to DW.

It’s likely, though, that there’s behind-the-scenes consternation in Brussels on Hungary’s course of action, which could have a direct impact on the overall stability in the Caucasus region. That’s what most observers in Hungary are concerned about, too. In an essay, philosopher Gaspar Miklos Tamas criticizes what he calls the “lack of responsibility and ignorance” demonstrated by Hungarian leaders.

“The fact that the Hungarian state is governed by some aging adolescents who are aggressive, irresponsible and incapable of finding their way in matters that concern the world at large is simply appalling,” he wrote.

Author Keno Verseck / nh
Editor Greg Wiser


Source: Deutsche Welle

Sep 062012
 

By Joe Sterling, CNN
September 6, 2012 — Updated 0930 GMT (1730 HKT)

(CNN) — An ax murder. Then, jail time. Sounds like a morbid crime story.

Yet this tale has taken a sudden and unexpected twist: The killer got a pardon and a hero’s welcome.

That has stirred fears of a war.

The parole has exacerbated long-standing tensions over disputed land between Armenia and Azerbaijan, former Soviet republics that are nestled in the Caucasus region near Turkey, Iran and Russia.

The nations fought a war two decades ago over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani territories. Much of the area is now occupied by Armenia.

A return to warfare could suck in world powers, analysts warned Wednesday. Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN world energy markets would be disrupted in a conflict since an oil and a gas pipeline carrying Caspian oil curves around the conflict zone in Azerbaijan.

Mosque shooting, suicide bombing hit Russia’s Caucasus region

The ax killing happened in 2004 at a NATO center in Hungary, where troops from Armenia and Azerbaijan were getting training. Ramil Safarov, a soldier from Azerbaijan, killed Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian. Both men were studying English.

Safarov was sentenced to life in prison in Hungary, but that country recently extradited him to Azerbaijan with the understanding that he would serve at least 25 years of the sentence.
Not long after Safarov arrived in Azerbaijan, though, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pardoned him.

Armenians recoiled at what happened next: The killer got an apartment and a promotion.

“Mr. Safarov has been glorified in Azerbaijan as a national hero at all levels — including the top level,” said Zohrab Mnatsakanian, Armenia’s deputy minister of Foreign Affairs. “This is a blow to the conscience of Europe, to the civilized world.”

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Twitter that the “issue must be considered in the context of aggression and ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijan by Armenia.”

The United States, meanwhile, was among those nations objecting to the pardon. It expressed “deep concern” and asked Hungary for more information on why it extradited Safarov.

“We are communicating to Azerbaijani authorities our disappointment about the decision to pardon Safarov,” a spokesman for the National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, said in a statement the White House released. “This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation.”

Sabine Freizer, director of the International Crisis Group’s Europe program, said world powers have taken note.

“There is an awareness among government officials, both in the United States, Russia, and among European officials, that this conflict is getting worse. There should be something done to stop it,” Freizer said.

“This takes us a whole step downward,” said the Carnegie Endowment’s de Waal.

The tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh reflect strong cultural attachments for both peoples, what Sergey Markedonov, visiting fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, likens to a “Jerusalem for both societies.”

Animosities over the disputed territory have simmered since the end of World War I. The Soviet Union’s collapse in the 1990s triggered a war from 1992 to 1994 that killed 22,000 to 25,000 people and uprooted more than a million others.

The war ended “with a shaky truce,” the International Crisis Group said.

The disputes between the countries over Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories remain an “unresolved conflict of the Soviet period,” Freizer said. Amid the creation of newly independent countries after the Soviet collapse, she said, “no one was focused on the conflict.”

“The kind of support for Yugoslavia,” whose breakup led to major wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, was “never given to this region.”

Over the years, violence has flared. Both countries occasionally talk tough about each other. And Azerbaijan’s oil and gas wealth is making its way into the budget for a military preparing for war, Freizer said.

“Since 2011, we feel the situation has gotten worse,” Freizer said.

The killer’s pardon prompted a certain outrage factor, she said.

“People were shocked by this.”

Hungary defended its extradition and said it received assurances the killer would carry out his term. But the country criticized the “sudden and unexpected release” and called it “unacceptable.” Armenia suspended its relations with Hungary.

The disputes are unfolding in a tough neighborhood.

Turkey has been mired down in fighting with Kurdish rebels. Russia fought a brief war with Georgia four years ago and has battled Islamic insurgents in its northern Caucasus region in recent years. Iran supports Syria’s government in its civil war.

“Russia is a military ally of Armenia. Azerbaijan has strong military links with Turkey and they (Armenia and Azerbaijan) are both on the border with Iran,” de Waal said.

Also, he said, the Armenian-American community “will beat the drum” and push for U.S. action.

Markedonov said a deteriorating conflict could spawn an arms race.

The incident reflects a lack of willingness among many citizens to compromise and get back to peacemaking, Markedonov said. This could play into upcoming elections, with both Aliyev and Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan seeking to look strong for the voters.

De Waal also wrote in a column that the BBC published Tuesday that Hungary negotiated the extradition “for reasons that have yet to be fully explained.”

He called the events a “black week” for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and said it’s “now a full-blown state-to-state row, with as yet knowable consequences.” He cites worries that “a fanatical Armenian will try to commit a revenge attack.”

“From the political perspective, to call the Azerbaijani government’s actions a mistake is an understatement. It is a worrying indication of the quality of advice that President Ilham Aliyev is receiving from his inner circle.”
De Waal said diplomats must work harder now. When there is no peace process, he told CNN, “the vacuum is filled by war talk.”

“If there is any silver lining to this dark episode it could be that the international community pays more attention to the dangers of a new Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh,” de Waal wrote in his column.

“The reception given Safarov suggests that the situation is moving closer to war than peace.”

Black Sea city aims to be ‘Las Vegas of the Caucasus’

Jo Shelley and Stephanie Halasz contributed to this report


Source: CNN

Sep 062012
 

[…]
I am deeply concerned by the Azerbaijani decision to pardon the Azerbaijani army officer Safarov. The act he committed in 2004 was a terrible crime that should not be glorified. The pardon damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process. There must be no return to conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Tensions in this region must be reduced, and concrete steps must be taken to promote regional cooperation and reconciliation.
[…]


Source: NATO

Sep 062012
 

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PUBLIC STATEMENT
AI Index: EUR 55/ 015/2012
6 September 2012

Azerbaijan: Government sends dangerous message on ethnically-motivated violence

Amnesty International is concerned that the actions of the Azerbaijani government following the extradition of Armed Forces Lieutenant Ramil Safarov will be perceived as an endorsement of ethnically-motivated violence.
The organization is concerned that these actions will ignite existing tensions between Azerbaijanis and Armenians and encourage further ethnically-motivated violence. It called on the governments of both countries to publicly condemn violence based on ethnicity.

Safarov, who by his own admission all but decapitated another man in part because he was Armenian, was pardoned and then promoted to Major by President Aliyev following his release from prison on Friday.
By pardoning and then promoting Ramil Safarov, President Aliyev has signalled to Azerbaijanis that violence against Armenians is not only acceptable, but rewarded.
The Azerbaijani government should rescind any privileges awarded to Safarov and publicly condemn ethnic violence. The Armenian government must also make clear that retaliation against ethnic Azerbaijanis is not acceptable.

Safarov was sentenced to life in prison by a Budapest Court in 2006 for murdering Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan.

The two were attending a NATO English language course in Hungary in February 2004 when Safarov broke into Margaryan’s dormitory and attacked him with an axe as he slept, inflicting 16 blows to the head and neck which almost severed Margaryan’s head.

Safarov admitted to the murder, claiming that Margaryan had insulted his country’s flag. The court found no evidence to support this claim. He said he was sorry he had not had the opportunity to kill any Armenians earlier.
He also said that he was seeking revenge for the death of Azerbaijanis during the 1988 – 1994 conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At the time Azerbaijani human rights Ombudswoman Elmira Suleymanova called the sentence “unjust” and said she hoped that Safarov could be extradited to Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani press, including state-owned media outlets, reported on the case as though Safarov was a national hero.

On Friday 31 August, the Hungarian government allowed Safarov to be extradited back to Azerbaijan, claiming to have received assurances that he would serve the remainder of his sentence.

On his arrival in Baku, Safarov was pardoned, promoted to Major, given back pay for the eight years he had spent in prison and awarded a house.


Source: Amnesty International

Sep 042012
 

Viewpoint: Setback for peace in the Caucasus

By Thomas de Waal

This is a black week for those who are seeking a peaceful settlement of the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

On 31 August, in a deeply provocative move, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev pardoned convicted murderer Ramil Safarov on his return to Baku from a Hungarian prison.

Safarov had been attending a Nato training-course in 2004 when he killed Armenian fellow officer Gurgen Markarian with an axe while he slept.

Back in 2004, the brutal killing on ethnic grounds caused an inevitable upsurge of emotion in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have been waging a conflict in various forms over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since 1988.

There was an upsurge in the war of words in the media, which generally goes further than what officials allow themselves to say.

Markarian was given a state funeral. In Azerbaijan a few members of parliament dared to call Safarov a “hero,” but many Azerbaijanis felt ashamed at how his action reflected on their country and, mercifully, government officials mostly kept silent.

Eight years on, that has all turned round.

This is now a full-blown state-to-state row, with as yet unknowable consequences. For reasons that have yet to be fully explained, the Hungarian government negotiated the extradition of Safarov to Baku having secured an agreement, they maintained, that he would only be eligible for parole after having served the remainder of a 25-year prison term in an Azerbaijani jail.

Hero’s welcome
Instead, Safarov was pardoned. Leaving him a free man without public comment would have been bad enough. The Azerbaijani government went much further than that, treating Safarov as a hero. He was given an apartment in Baku and personally promoted to the rank of major by the defence minister.

Every action has a reaction. Unsurprisingly, the US government and the Russian foreign ministry reacted to the news with strong disapproval.

The spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also expressed alarm but stopped short of directly criticising its own member state, Hungary. The EU already has enough problems with controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

As for Armenia, it appears to be close to boiling over. It has suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary and observers of the Karabakh negotiating process – already on the verge of failure – are watching apprehensively for what it will do next.

The Armenian government was already telling all foreign interlocutors how unhappy it was with the state of the peace process. There were tough questions to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June as to why there was not a sharper US response to violations of the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire, which are widely perceived to come more from the Azerbaijani side.

Yerevan could now be tempted to suspend its participation in the peace talks.

Some Armenian commentators are calling for more extreme steps such as recognising breakaway Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. There will also be the inevitable worry that a fanatical Armenian will try to commit a revenge attack.

From the political perspective, to call the Azerbaijani government’s actions a mistake is an understatement. It is a worrying indication of the quality of advice that President Ilham Aliev is receiving from his inner circle.

Over the past few years, the government in Baku has spent tens of millions of dollars of its new oil revenues promoting the image of Azerbaijan as a new, modernising, dynamic country. The effect has been quite successful, with results ranging from Azerbaijan joining the UN Security Council to Baku hosting feel-good events such as the Eurovision Song Contest.

All that PR work now has to contend with a contrary image, of the government welcoming home an axe-murderer.
Sadly, the events of this week are a big boost for radicals on both sides.

They strengthen the hands of those Armenian hardliners who say that this proves that Azerbaijanis are barbarians who cannot be trusted.

In Azerbaijan, I know a substantial number of non-governmental activists and middle-level officials who have been working quietly on dialogue projects with Armenians. It is hard to see those going forward in the current environment.

If there is any silver lining to this dark episode it could be that the international community pays more attention to the dangers of a new Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict is not “frozen,” as it is frequently described.

The current format of quiet mediation by France, Russia and the US is not strong enough to move the two sides from their intransigent positions. The reception given Safarov suggests that the situation is moving closer to war than peace. This slide can be halted, but the time to start working harder on diplomacy is now.

Thomas de Waal is a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC.


Source: BBC News

Sep 042012
 

Ramil Safarov, center, was returned to his native Azerbaijan last week from a Hungarian prison.
By ELLEN BARRY
Published: September 4, 2012

MOSCOW — Ramil Safarov stepped uncertainly off the plane in his native Azerbaijan last Friday, returning home after spending eight years in a Hungarian prison for a gruesome murder. But it took only a few minutes for the celebrations to begin. There was a pardon, a new apartment, eight years of back pay, a promotion to the rank of major and the status of a national hero.

Mr. Safarov, 35, was already famous because of his crime. Eight years ago, carrying an ax, he crept into a dormitory room in Hungary where an Armenian serviceman, a fellow student in a NATO-sponsored English class, slept, and nearly decapitated him.

But now Mr. Safarov will almost certainly go down in history for the way he was freed, an episode people have started to call “The Safarov Affair.”

The backlash has embarrassed Hungary, which agreed to extradite Mr. Safarov on the assumption that he would serve at least 25 years of a life sentence. It has set off protests in Budapest and enraged Armenia, where activists pelted the Hungarian Embassy with eggs and burned Hungarian flags.

And it threatens to end the lengthy peace process that has kept Azerbaijan and Armenia from sliding back into bloody conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Safarov, who was a boy during the war with Armenia, embodies the hatred that has pooled deeply in the public as leaders have sat through rounds of faltering negotiations.

“If we have no process, what’s left is a vacuum, which gets filled with an escalation toward war; we’ll see how the Armenian side reacts, but that’s my fear,” said Thomas de Waal, a Caucasus specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “It’s suddenly more dangerous.”

Mr. Safarov, then a lieutenant, and his victim, Lt. Gurgen Markarian, got to know each other in Budapest as members of an English-language course organized by NATO’s Partnership for Peace, which was developed to build ties with former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Safarov told the police that his Armenian classmates had insulted him and that he had grown increasingly angry, finally buying an ax and waiting until before dawn one day to carry out his plan. He passed those hours by finishing his English homework and taking a bath, according to a transcript of the interview published by Armenian activists.

After Mr. Safarov was arrested, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry released a statement describing his family’s losses during the war with Armenia, and suggesting that Lieutenant Markarian had goaded him.

“There are indications that the Armenian servicemen repeatedly insulted the honor and dignity of the Azerbaijani officer and citizen,” the statement said. “All this would have inevitably influenced the suspect’s emotional state.”

Oil-rich Azerbaijan carried out a sustained lobbying effort to extradite Mr. Safarov from Hungary, over the protests of Armenian officials. The Hungarian government, under pressure to explain its decision to turn over Mr. Safarov, has said it received written assurance from Azerbaijan that he would not be paroled until he had served 25 years in Lieutenant Markarian’s murder.

On Friday, though, he was pardoned by Azerbaijan’s president, Illham H. Aliyev. Mr. Safarov’s presence so electrified citizens that all day strangers congratulated one another on the streets of Baku.

It is not clear how the Armenian government will respond to Mr. Safarov’s release. “The Armenians must not be underestimated,” President Serzh Sargsyan warned on Sunday. “We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win,” he said. “We are not afraid of murderers, even those who enjoy the highest patronage.”

Richard Giragosian, an analyst based in Yerevan, Armenia, said that he doubted that either side was seeking a war, but that unfolding events risked “a war by accident.”

An Armenian opposition party on Tuesday proposed formally recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as independent — a step that would signal the final collapse of peace talks that have long been encouraged by Russia and the West. Armenia could ratchet up the confrontation by opening an airport in Stepanakert, the capital of the disputed territory, or by responding overwhelmingly to cease-fire violations.

“Each side is escalating,” Mr. Giragosian said. “It’s almost like a matter of physics. For every action there is a reaction.”

Mr. Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, has invested vast sums in his country’s international standing, most recently serving as host of the Eurovision Song Contest, but waves of condemnation have emerged since Friday — most swiftly from the United States, which issued statements saying officials in Washington were “extremely troubled” and “deeply concerned.” On Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep concern, noting the case’s “extreme atrocity.”

Zerdusht Alizadeh, an opposition politician and analyst at the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, said Mr. Aliyev was looking ahead to elections next year, and had little to show for the drawn-out efforts to mediate the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Safarov’s homecoming, he said, was a far simpler way to declare victory.

“Giving so much support to a hero — a person who killed an Armenian — makes the president a hero, too,” he said.

By Tuesday, though, the backlash was dominating the day’s news coverage, and Mr. Safarov had made no further public appearances.

The episode, Mr. Giragosian said, was a reminder of the depth and force of the ethnic grievances left behind as the Soviet empire receded across Europe.

“It’s almost like the Balkans was — we had no idea of the barbarity of these people,” he said. “Holding a grudge for 100 years is nothing. It’s like a blood vendetta. At the same time, there are wider implications; it increases an already worrisome trend toward possible renewed conflict here.”

Shahla Sultanova contributed reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 6, 2012

Because of an editing error, an article on Wednesday about a hero’s welcome for a convicted killer, Ramil Safarov, in his homeland of Azerbaijan, where he was extradited on Friday from Hungary after serving only eight years of a life sentence in the killing of an Armenian serviceman in Budapest, described incorrectly the role that President Ilham H. Aliyev of Azerbaijan played in the case. He pardoned Mr. Safarov; he did not meet him at the airport when he returned home. The article also referred incorrectly to an opposition politician who commented on Mr. Aliyev’s actions. The politician, Zerdusht Alizadeh, is a man.


Source: New York Times