YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Thorbjorn Jagland, the Council of Europe’s secretary general, condemned Azerbaijan late on Tuesday for turning an Azerbaijani army officer, who had hacked to death an Armenian colleague in Budapest, into a national hero.
“I do not want to comment on the legal proceedings, but I find it unacceptable that a convicted murderer is welcomed as a hero,” Jagland said in the latest in a series of statements by European officials criticizing the pardoning of Ramil Safarov immediately after his extradition from Hungary.
“I reject the prospect of a world whose moral code begins to fray, where respect for human dignity is denied,” he said. “This is not the Europe that we should wish for future generations.”
“I condemn such glorification of crime, and urge that we all work to uphold the respect for life, and our values as defended by the Council of Europe”, added the Norwegian politician.
Safarov received a hero’s welcome when he returned home on Friday more than eight years after axe-murdering Armenian Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian during a NATO training course in the Hungarian capital. The Azerbaijani government promoted the 35-year-old to the rank of major and gave him a free apartment and eight years’ worth of back pay.
Azerbaijani officials have strongly defended President Ilham Aliyev’s decision to pardon the murder convict. They have also sought to effectively rationalize Markarian’s brutal killing, claiming that Safarov was deeply traumatized by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and repeatedly taunted by the Armenian officer. A Hungarian court that sentenced Safarov to life imprisonment in 2006 did not find the insult allegations substantiated, however.
Like representatives of the European Union, Jagland avoided criticizing the Hungarian government for extraditing Safarov to Azerbaijan, a move angrily condemned by Armenia. The latter has cut diplomatic ties with EU member state Hungary in protest.
The government in Budapest says the extradition was based on a European convention signed in Strasbourg, home to the Council of Europe headquarters. It has also accused Baku of reneging on a promise to ensure that Safarov will serve the rest of his life sentence in an Azerbaijani prison.
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, appeared to back the official Hungarian line earlier on Tuesday. “According to what we know now … it would appear that certain conditions and commitments that were agreed between Hungary and Azerbaijan on the transfer of Ramil Safarov have not been met,” Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for Ashton, told RFE/RL in Brussels.