BAKU (RFE/RL) — Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani army officer who had hacked to death an Armenian colleague in Hungary, will return to active duty military service soon, a senior Azerbaijani military official said over the weekend.
“Right now Ramil Safarov is on vacation and having a rest. He will return to service after the vacation,” Maj.-Gen. Ramiz Najafov, head of the external relations department at the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, told the SalamNews agency.
Najafov did not specify whether Safarov will serve and in what capacity. Citing “threats” from Armenia, the general also said that Azerbaijani authorities are taking “necessary measures” to protect him against possible assassination attempts. “Relevant structures are taking security measures with regard to Safarov,” he said.
Safarov received a hero’s welcome in Baku on August 31 following his extradition from Hungary and immediate pardoning by President
Ilham Aliyev more than eight years after he axemurdered Armenian Lt. Gurgen Markarian during a NATO training course in Budapest. He was promoted from the rank of lieutenant to major, granted a free apartment and paid eight years’ worth of back pay the following day.
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev personally met with the 35-year-old and wished him future success in his military career. Safarov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Hungarian court in 2006, has not been seen in public since then.
The release of the convicted killer has provoked a furious reaction from Armenia and strong international criticism. The United States, the European Union and Russia consider it a serious blow to their long-running efforts to broker a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.
“We continue to express our dismay and disappointment,” US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said in Washington on Thursday. “In our view, this is someone who should have continued to serve out his sentence, and certainly we were appalled by the glorification that we heard in some quarters of somebody who was convicted of murder,” Gordon said.
The US administration already expressed “deep concern” immediately after Safarov’s release from a Hungarian prison. President Barack Obama said through a spokesman that it was “contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions.”
The State Department was likewise “extremely troubled” by the development, demanding an explanation from the Hungarian government.
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns conveyed these concerns to Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in a phone call on September 2. Mammadyarov reportedly told Burns that Baku is “bewildered” by the US criticism.
Najafov insisted, however, that Aliyev’s decision to pardon Safarov was an “exceptionally humane step.”
Armenpress reported that the Armenian National Assembly deputies will raise the issue during the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) held in Strasbourg on October 1. According to member of Armenian delegation at PACE, Naira Zohrabyan, said that all the Armenian delegates are expected to raise the issue.