PRAGUE (RFE/RL)–NATO on Friday condemned the gruesome killing by an Azeri serviceman of an Armenian military officer attending a NATO training course in Hungary and expressed hope that the "tragic incident" will not affect Armenia’s growing cooperation with the alliance.
Azerbaijan–meanwhile–expressed "regret" at the death of Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian–but alleged that he himself provoked his Azeri colleague with offensive remarks.
"It was clearly a criminal act which we of course fully condemn and deeply regret," said Robert Pszczel–a NATO spokesman from Brussels. "We express our condolences to the family of the victim. Our thoughts at this stage are with his family."
Police in the Hungarian capital Budapest say Markarian–26–was murdered in his sleep with "unusual cruelty" in his hotel room early on Thursday. His head was nearly severed from his blood-stained body which had multiple chest stabs.
The attacker–identified as Ramil Safarov–was taken into custody shortly after the murder. The investigators believe that he acted with a knife and an axe. They will not comment on Safarov’s possible motives until the end of the investigation.
Both officers were participating in an English-language course at the Hungarian University of National Defense as part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program of which Armenia and Azerbaijan are members. "Armenia is an active participant of the program and we very much hope and strongly encourage Armenia to continue its strong participation," the NATO official said.
Official Yerevan expressed its "outrage" at the shock crime and vowed to seek tough punishment for its perpetrator. The Armenian Foreign Ministry referred to it as "the logical consequence of the anti-Armenian hysteria that has been left unleashed by the Azeri authorities over the years and of the warmongering militarist propaganda of recent months–which consistently infects all of Azeri society."
"We demand that the Hungarian authorities punish the perpetrator to the maximum extent of the law," a ministry statement said.
In its first official reaction to the incident–Azerbaijan said on Friday it "regrets the incident" and expressed condolences to the dead man’s family and colleagues. An Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry statement–however–cited by the AFP–added that "according to our information–the Armenian serviceman repeatedly made insulting statemen’s to Safarov–impugning his honor as an officer and Azeri citizen and insulting the memory of the victims of Armenian aggression."
"This could only have had an effect on Ramil Safarov’s emotional condition," the statement claimed–calling on Armenia to show restraint. "We cannot allow that events in Budapest should be a catalyst for deterioration in the already difficult relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia."
Azeri press reports say Safarov is a former resident of the Jebrail district south of Karabagh and fled the area with his family when it was captured by Karabagh Armenian forces in the summer of 1993. Jebrail remains under Armenian control along with six other Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabagh.
The Armenian authorities linked Safarov’s actions with Baku’s apparent refusal to allow the Armenian military to take part in a PfP exercise which is due to take place in Azerbaijan this September. Three senior Armenian officers were unable to attend the first exercise planning conference held in the Azerbaijani capital last month.
Asked whether NATO will now consider changing the venue of the war games–Pszczel said: "I am not aware at this stage of any plans to change the venue or the timing. But this is something which can be raised at the planning conferences."
"The purpose and the underlying philosophy of the Partnership for Peace is to work for peace and create greater understanding between all the participants. And that remains absolutely and unconditionally a NATO goal."