WASHINGTON—The Azerbaijani pardon, promotion and compensation of convicted Azerbaijani axe-murderer Ramil Safarov, and its harmful effects on the Nagorno Karabakh peace process, continue to be a source of considerable concern for members of the U.S. Congress, with new statements condemning the actions being released on nearly a daily basis, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Congressional Armenian Genocide resolution lead sponsor Robert Dold (R-IL) today called the Hungarian government’s extradition and President Aliyev’s glorification of Safarov “deeply disturbing,” noting that “rather than work to reduce tensions, this act shows a blatant disregard for the reconciliation and peace process.”
Those remarks come on the heels of a weekend statement by Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) who called Aliyev’s actions “without justification” and argued that, “Azerbaijan has acted to undermine justice and further strain its relationship with Armenia to the detriment of all, and to the benefit of no one but a self confessed murderer.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who has been an outspoken critic of Azerbaijan’s threats of war and attacks against neighboring Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, said he was “aghast” at the extradition and pardon of Safarov and “outraged and disgusted by the reception that Safarov was given upon returning to Azerbaijan.” Senator Menendez called on the Hungarian government to “demand Safarov’s return to Hungary to complete the remainder of his life sentence. It is clear that the Azeri government cannot be counted on to adhere to its international or bilateral obligations with respect to this matter.”
Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) was “appalled” at Azerbaijan’s actions, noting that, “Mr. Safarov was convicted of carrying out a brutal, premeditated crime for which he did not express a hint of remorse. And while Mr. Safarov is being celebrated in Azerbaijan today, there is no justice for his victim, Gurgen Markarian, or the friends and loved ones he left behind.” He went on to note that “over the years, serious questions have been raised about whether the Azerbaijani government is truly committed to developing a peaceful, nonviolent relationship with the people of Armenia. Its reckless actions this week do nothing to address these concerns.”
All three U.S. Congressmen from California’s Central Valley – Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA), Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Devin Nunes (R-CA) – have also condemned Azerbaijan’s actions.
In statement sent to local constituents, with portions quoted in The Fresno Bee, Rep. Costa was explicit in his denunciation of the Azerbaijani government action. “This injustice of international law committed by the government of Azerbaijan is an outrage, plain and simple. This illegal pardon glorifies a heinous crime committed against an innocent Armenian soldier and does a severe disservice to the peace process in the region. I believe Hungary was complicit in this action.”
In a joint statement issued by Representatives Denham and Nunes, the Congressmen noted that “Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s decision to pardon Ramil Safarov, who was convicted of killing Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan in 2004, undermines respect for the rule of law, and sets back efforts for a fair and lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The action is highly disappointing and will undermine efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh issue.”
Members of Congress who have condemned Azerbaijan’s release of Safarov to date include, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Menendez, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA), House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman (D-CA), and Representatives Jim Costa, Jeff Denham, Robert Dold, Anna Eshoo (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Devin Nunes (R-CA), John Sarbanes, Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA).
International Criticism of Hungarian and Azerbaijani Actions Continues
The continued outpouring of Congressional concern reflects the broad-based international outrage surrounding the extradition and pardon of Azerbaijani Army Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, who was convicted of brutally axing to death Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan in his sleep, during a 2004 NATO English-language training course.
The U.S. was among the first to comment on the travesty on August 31st, with a statement issued by The White House in the name of National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor, underscoring the President’s view that, “This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation.” Vietor went on to note that “The United States is also requesting an explanation from Hungary regarding its decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan.”
The Department of State, through a formal announcement issued by Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell, also took a stand against Hungary’s extradition and Azerbaijan’s pardon, explaining that: “The United States is extremely troubled by the news that the President of Azerbaijan pardoned Azerbaijani army officer Ramil Safarov, who returned to Baku today following his transfer from Hungary. . . . We are expressing our deep concern to Azerbaijan regarding this action and seeking an explanation. We are also seeking further details from Hungary regarding the decision to transfer Mr. Safarov to Azerbaijan.”
The issue has been brought up consistently at State Department press briefings since the scandal broke.
On the international front, France, Russia and a host of nations have condemned the action, with reports that the European Parliament may take up a resolution on the topic as early as this week. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, during a joint press conference with Pres. Aliyev in Baku on September 7th, stated: “I am deeply concerned by the Azerbaijani decision to pardon Ramil Safarov. The act he committed in 2004 was a crime which should not be glorified, as this damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process.”
Meanwhile, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s decision to extradite Safarov was roundly criticized through protests and strong statements in his own country. After Orban admitted, during a press conference, that “the foreign ministry had forecast precisely what types of consequences this or the other decision [extradition or non-extradition] may have,” and that “nothing happened after our decision that we would not have reckoned with in advance,” opposition forces called the government “morally bankrupt” and urged the prime minister’s immediate resignation.