WASHINGTON—State Department sources confirmed Thursday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton relayed the U.S. Government’s “strong disappointment” over Hungary’s extradition of convicted Azerbaijani axe-murderer Ramil Safarov during a state visit by Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi to Washington this week.
In response to a question by H1 Armenian Television Washington DC correspondent Haykaram Nahapetyan, a State Department Spokesperson noted that, “Secretary Clinton reiterated our strong disappointment that Hungary transferred convicted murderer Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan, where he was immediately pardoned. This decision was harmful to the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and to trust between the sides.”
“We welcome Secretary Clinton’s continued efforts to impress upon Hungary’s leaders how their reckless release and transfer of unrepentant axe-murder Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan has undermined the peace process,” commented Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “In the interest of peace, we encourage the Secretary to translate her words of criticism – toward both Hungary and Azerbaijan – into reality by putting in place a ban on U.S. arms sale to Baku and ending all military aid to the Azerbaijani armed forces.”
The U.S. was among the first to express concern about Hungary’s extradition and President Ilham Aliyev’s subsequent pardon, promotion and praise for 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. In 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.”
During the Center for European Policy Analysis’ U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum on September 20, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told RFE/RL that Washington continues to express “dismay and disappointment” to Budapest about its decision to release Ramil Safarov to Baku. “We were appalled by the glorification that we heard in some quarters of somebody who was convicted of murder,” Gordon said. He called the case “a real provocation in the region.”
Members of Congress who have condemned Azerbaijan’s release of Safarov to date include, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Boxer, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), 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 (D-CA), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Robert Dold (R-IL), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Devin Nunes (R-CA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA).
Hungary Knew Consequences of Safarov Release
Worldwide suspicions that the Hungarian Government knew full well of Azerbaijan’s intention to pardon Safarov were confirmed soon after the axe-murderer’s extradition. Reuters reported that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated, “The foreign ministry had forecast precisely what types of consequences this or the other decision [extradition or non-extradition] may have. Nothing happened after our decision that we would not have reckoned with in advance.”
Orban’s statements came as speculation continued about the connection between the Safarov’s extradition and talks between the Orban Administration and Aliyev regarding a possible Azerbaijani buy-out of Hungarian loans valuing over $2-3 Billion Euros. International financial news outlets reported the possible deal just days prior to the August 31st release of Safarov.
The Hungarian opposition condemned Prime Minister Orban’s actions as ‘morally bankrupt,’ and called for his resignation. Thousands of Hungarians protested the Orban decision during demonstrations in Budapest just days after the August 31st extradition of Safarov.
Despite international criticism from the U.S., France, Russia, and NATO, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev remains defiant about his decision to pardon, promote and financially reward axe-murderer Ramil Safarov for the ethnically motivated murder of Lt. Gurgen Margaryan. Safarov’s repatriation “was carried out in accordance with European conventions, and his release in accordance with Azerbaijan’s constitution,” Reuters quoted Aliyev as stating during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.