Outrage as Hungary releases jailed Azeri
WASHINGTON HAS expressed concern and Armenians have protested outside Hungary’s embassy in Yerevan after Budapest allowed the killer of an Armenian army officer to return home to freedom in Azerbaijan.
Armenia cut diplomatic ties with Budapest on Friday after Azeri soldier Ramil Safarov was sent home from jail in Hungary, where he had been serving a life sentence for killing Gurgen Markarian with an axe at a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation training course in 2004.
Safarov (35), was welcomed home as a hero on Friday and pardoned by Azeri president Ilham Aliyev. On Saturday he was reinstated in the army and promoted to the rank of major.
Politicians hailed the return of Safarov, who claimed he killed Markarian because he had laughed at him and because he wanted revenge for Azeris killed during the 1988-1994 war between the ex-Soviet states over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian government forces helped Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist rebels drive the Azeri army out of the region and several other adjacent Azeri districts. Baku and Yerevan are still technically at war over the region.
A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama was “deeply concerned” by Safarov’s release, that the US had expressed its “disappointment” at Azerbaijan’s decision to pardon him and “requested an explanation from Hungary” about why it sent him home. Hungarian officials insist Baku had assured them Safarov would continue to serve his life sentence in Azerbaijan.
Hungarian opposition parties questioned whether the decision to repatriate Safarov was linked to Azerbaijan’s reported interest in lending several billion euro to cash-strapped Budapest.
On Saturday, hundreds of people protested outside Budapest’s embassy in Yerevan.