Sep 072012
 

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville

We are seriously concerned about the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani military officer who was sentenced to life in prison in Hungary for the brutal 2004 murder of an Armenian officer, Gurgen Markaryan, who was taking part in the same NATO training programme in Hungary. The murder was clearly ethnically motivated.

The concerns relate to the fact that, around a week ago, Safarov was extradited from Hungary to Azerbaijan, where instead of serving out the rest of his sentence, he was pardoned by the President, publicly praised, and promoted by the Defence Ministry. This has resulted in an international furore.

International standards regarding accountability for serious crimes should be upheld. Ethnically motivated hate crimes of this gravity should be deplored and properly punished – not publicly glorified by leaders and politicians.

We are also in full agreement with the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group who earlier this week expressed deep concern about “the damage the pardon and any attempts to glorify the crime have done to the [Nagorno-Karabakh] peace process and trust between the two sides.”


Source: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Sep 062012
 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY MARTIN NESIRKY, SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON

SECRETARY-GENERAL VOICES CONCERN OVER CASE OF AZERI MAN

  • In response to questions about Ramil Safarov, the Spokesperson said that the Secretary-General is concerned about the developments surrounding the case of Mr. Safarov since his 31 August 2012 transfer to Azerbaijan and subsequent pardon by Azerbaijani authorities.
  • Nesirky said that the UN underscores the responsibility of Member States to adhere to international standards and principles of rule of law in criminal cases in order to ensure accountability and fight impunity
  • As highlighted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Co-Chairs in their recent statement, he added, we hope that this issue will not damage the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and trust between the sides. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Source: Office of the Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General

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 052012
 

Strasbourg, 05.09.2012 – “I join the international condemnation of the ‘glorification’ of the terrible crime which Mr Safarov has committed, and for which he has been condemned by a court in a Council of Europe member state,” Jean-Claude Mignon, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said today. “His liberation is unacceptable, and I am extremely disappointed by the abusive use of a Council of Europe legal instrument in this affair.”

“This scandalous liberation is having very negative consequences on the already-strained relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and also risks destabilising the situation in the region. I call on the Azeri authorities to reconsider their position, in line with the standards and the ethos of the Council of Europe,” Mr Mignon concluded.


Source: CoE Parliamentary Assembly

Sep 042012
 

Strasbourg, 4/9/2012 – Commissioner Muižnieks expressed today his deep concerns about Azerbaijan’s decision to pardon and honour Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army officer who in 2004 brutally murdered Armenian officer Gurgen Markaryan.

“Racist crimes must not go unpunished. Violent offences motivated by bias, such as racial or inter-ethnic hatred, are a particularly pernicious form of criminality. Apart from the destructive effects on the victims and those close to them, they can be devastating to whole communities and unravel the very fabric of society. States are under an obligation to apply strongly dissuasive sanctions against those who have perpetrated bias-motivated crimes.”

Moreover, the Commissioner deplored the fact that the convicted murderer has been glorified and rewarded by Azerbaijan. “It is already highly regrettable if someone who commits a gruesome murder motivated by the victim’s ethnicity or nationality is treated with a leniency not displayed towards others convicted of crimes. However, to glorify and reward such a person flies in the face of all accepted standards for human rights protection and rule of law. Such glorification of hate crimes can only send a message that others belonging to the same ethnic group as the victim, or indeed other members of vulnerable groups, are “fair game”. This is an extremely dangerous message.”


Source: CoE Commissioner for Human Rights

Sep 042012
 

Strasbourg, 4.9.2012 – The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe wishes to express consternation at the pardoning and release of Ramil Safarov, shortly after he had been transferred from Hungary to Azerbaijan in order to serve there a sentence of life imprisonment imposed by a Budapest court for the murder of a Armenian army officer in 2004.

ECRI’s position has always been that hate crime should be adequately punished. It is, therefore, concerned that developments such as those in the Safarov case risk cultivating a sense of impunity for the perpetrators of racist offences of the most serious nature. This could undermine in a fundamental manner the fight against racist violence, which unfortunately continues to plague many European countries.

ECRI is, in addition, apprehensive about the impact that the pardoning and release of Ramil Safarov might have on the general climate of opinion concerning the Armenian community in Azerbaijan. ECRI has repeatedly recognised the link between the harsh comments regularly made in this country about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the discrimination that Armenians coming under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction encounter in their daily lives. ECRI considers that, today more than ever, considerable efforts are needed on the part of the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that these persons do not feel threatened.

ECRI wishes to draw the Azerbaijani authorities’ attention to the need to respect the values it has always promoted and to which they have subscribed when becoming a member of the Council of Europe. It urges them to take whatever measures are possible to redress the situation created by their handling of the Safarov case.


Source: European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)

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