Armenia severs ties with Hungary over axe killer's extradition


AN AZERI soldier who killed an Armenian army officer with an axe in Budapest has received a pardon after being allowed to return home, prompting a furious Armenia to sever ties with Hungary.

Ramil Safarov (35) was pardoned by Azeri president Ilham Aliyev following his transfer from jail in Hungary to Azerbaijan, and received something approaching a hero’s welcome in Baku.

Safarov attacked Armenian soldier Gurgen Markarian in his bed when both were attending a course under Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme in Hungary in 2004, killing him with several axe blows to the head and neck.

Safarov said he had murdered Mr Markarian because he and another Armenian soldier had been laughing at him, and that he wanted revenge for Azeris killed by Armenians during the war between the ex-Soviet states over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Tens of thousands of people were killed and about one million displaced during the 1988-94 war over the mostly ethnic-Armenian region that is inside Azerbaijan’s official borders.

Armenian government forces helped Nagorno-Karabakhs’s separatist rebels drive the Azeri army out of the region and several other adjacent districts belonging to Azerbaijan. Baku and Yerevan are still technically at war over the region, and their soldiers regularly shoot at and kill each other across a tense ceasefire line. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh claim Azerbaijan is prepared to use force to reclaim the territory, and vow to repel any such attempt.

“I am glad to be back with the Azeri people,” Safarov said yesterday. “It’s as if I am born again. I never lost hope of returning to my motherland and believed that the time would come when the supreme commander would resolve this question.”

Mubariz Gurbanli, a leading member of the ruling New Azerbaijan party, said: “Safarov’s moral superiority was apparent even when he was in prison. The Armenian’s insults towards our people, touching upon our national feelings, forced him to take this step,” Mr Gurbanli said of the murder.

Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan said Hungary had made “a grave mistake”.

“Today we are suspending diplomatic relations and all official ties with Hungary.”

It is not clear whether the developments have any link with Azerbaijan’s reported interest in lending several billion euro to Budapest’s cash-strapped government through a special bond issue.