NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “deeply concerned” about the pardoning of an Azerbaijani soldier sentenced to life for axing an Armenian to death in Hungary.
Ramil Safarov had been serving a life sentence with a possibility of parole only after 25 years for hacking Armenian Gurgen Margaryan to death with an ax during a NATO training event in Budapest in 2004. He attacked Margaryan as the Armenian slept, striking him an alleged 16 times.
“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,” Rasmussen said.
On August 31 Safarov was extradited to Azerbaijan, where he was pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev, greeted as a national hero and promoted to the rank of major.
“The pardon damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process,” the NATO secretary general said in his speech to students of the Yerevan State University. “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,” he continued.
Over a hundred protestors, mostly young people, rallied outside the university where Rasmussen delivered his speech. They chanted "Shame" and "We demand justice."
Armenia has suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary over the extradition. Defense Minister Seiran Oganyan ordered Armenian troops to be put on higher alert.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds since fighting a bitter war over the mainly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in the early 1990s. A ceasefire was signed in 1994, but relations continue to be strained.
Hungary said it had agreed to return Safarov to Azerbaijan after receiving assurances that his sentence would be enforced.