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

Sep 042012
 

THE return to home and freedom of Ramil Safarov, an Azeri military officer and convicted murderer, has prompted one of central Europe’s biggest diplomatic storms. It has pulled in Russia, America and the European Union, and led to a new war of words in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Safarov used an axe to murder a sleeping fellow student, an Armenian officer called Gurgen Margarjan, while both men were at a NATO English-language course in Budapest in 2004. Safarov justified himself by referring to Armenian atrocities against Azerbaijan in the conflict of 1988-94. He told the court that Lieutenant Margarjan, an Armenian, had taunted him about the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh from where he was a refugee.

Hungary sent Safarov home, it says, on the understanding that he would serve the rest of his sentence in prison there. But on arrival in Baku, he was immediately pardoned, hailed as a national hero and promoted to major.

Armenia has reacted with fury and has severed diplomatic relations with Budapest. Angry protestors burnt the Hungarian flag in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, and pelted the consulate with tomatoes. Serzh Sarkisian, the president of Armenia, said the country was ready to fight if need be. “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.”

Patrick Ventrell, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said that the United States was “extremely troubled” by the pardon of Safarov and would be seeking an explanation from both Budapest and Baku.

Russia, which has been deeply involved in efforts to ease relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, said that the actions of the Hungarian and Azerbaijani governments “contradict internationally brokered efforts” to bring peace to the region.

Hungary condemned the decision to release Safarov and said it had been misled by the Azerbaijan government. Hungarian officials said they had received assurances from Azerbaijan that Safarov would be released on parole only after serving at least 25 years.

The Hungarian media has reported that Azerbaijan has been pressing Hungary to release Safarov since his conviction. Many scent a dirty deal behind the scenes, as this post on Hungarian Spectrum, a liberal blog, outlines. The main theory is that  Azerbaijan had promised to buy state bonds from Hungary  in exchange for Safarov’s release.

Hungary needs the money. It has been in protracted and so far fruitless negotiations with the IMF and the European Union for a stand-by credit arrangement. The Hungarian government is actively seeking other potential investment partners in Asia and the Middle East. Mr Orbán visited Azerbaijan in June.

Hungarian and Azeri officials dismissed such claims.

On one level, the diplomatic crisis is surprising. Hungary’s diplomats are usually smart, supple and well-informed. During the Libyan crisis, while most diplomats fled, the Hungarian embassy in Tripoli stayed open. By the end of the seven-month conflict Budapest was representing some fifty absent governments. Hungary brokered the release of four western journalists and even managed to get Talitha von Zam, a Dutch model and former girlfriend of one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, out of the war-zone.

But it seems that the Safarov affair was masterminded by Viktor Orbán, the prime minister, and Péter Szijjártó, the minister for external economic relations, rather than the foreign ministry.

The extradition also raises questions about the EU’s credibility. It has just pledged €19.5 million ($25m) to reform oil-rich Azerbaijan’s justice and migration systems. So far, Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative, has expressed only a tepid statement of “concern”.


Source: The Economist

Sep 042012
 

04/09/2012

Secretary General said that murder – such as that committed by Ramil Safarov – cannot be glorified

Strasbourg, 4 September 2012 – In a statement today the Council of Europe’s Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said that murder – such as that committed by Ramil Safarov – cannot be glorified.
“Ramil Safarov was convicted for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary. On August 31, he was transferred to Azerbaijan, and immediately pardoned. I do not want to comment on the legal proceedings, but I find it unacceptable that a convicted murderer is welcomed as a hero.”
“I reject the prospect of a world whose moral code begins to fray, where respect for human dignity is denied. This is not the Europe that we should wish for future generations. I condemn such glorification of crime, and urge that we all work to uphold the respect for life, and our values as defended by the Council of Europe”, he said.


Source: Council of Europe: Newsroom

Sep 032012
 

The decision of the Azerbaijani authorities to pardon and release from liability Ramil Safarov, extradited from the Republic of Hungary,  runs contrary to the international law and questions the viability of the interstate crime suppression system.

This move is clearly made for the sake of political goals and cannot be justified in any way. Moreover, the glorification of criminal will only serve to the  increase of already high regional tension.

I am convinced that the international community will not hesitate to make an objective assessment of what happened.


Source: CSTO [Original statement is in Russian. Translated to English by Karabakhfacts.com]

Sep 032012
 

PRESS RELEASE

OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs meet with the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan

PARIS, 3 September 2012 – The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Ambassadors Robert Bradtke of the United States of America, Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, and Jacques Faure of France) and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-office, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, met on September 2 with the Foreign Minister of Armenia, Edward Nalbandian, and on September 3 with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, to address recent events in the region and efforts to peacefully resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Co-Chairs discussed with the two Ministers the August 31 decision of the Government of Azerbaijan to pardon Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army officer who had been serving a life sentence in Hungary for the brutal 2004 murder of an Armenian officer in Budapest. They 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.

The Co-Chairs reiterated to both Ministers that, as their Presidents stated in Los Cabos on June 19, there is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They will continue to maintain contacts with the sides to reduce tensions and advance the peace process.


Source: OSCE Minsk Group page