The early release from a Hungarian prison of axe-murderer Rami Safarov, 35, a native of Azerbaijan and an officer in that country’s military, has not only seen a terrible injustice done but has resulted in a criminal being well rewarded for his barbaric crime. The Hungarian government, for reasons that have yet to be discerned, released Safarov after he had served only six years of a 30 year sentence for having murdered 26-year-old Armenian army Lt. Gurgen Markarian in his sleep with an axe in 2004 in Budapest. Safarov had also spent about two years in jail before a verdict was rendered.
Upon his return on August 31 to Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, on “a special flight,” Safarov was feted as a national hero and amply rewarded for his savagery. Once safely on Azeri territory, Safarov was immediately pardoned by Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev; he was also promoted two ranks and received eight years of back-pay as well as an apartment.
“With their joint actions the authorities of Hungary and Azerbaijan have opened the door for the recurrence of such crimes. With this decision they convey a clear message to the butchers. The slaughterers hereafter are well aware of the impunity they can enjoy for murder driven by ethnic or religious hatred,” said Armenia’s president, Serge Sarkisian, to foreign diplomats at a meeting called to address the travesty.
When the crime occurred, Safarov and Markarian were attending English language courses at the, considering the turn of events, ironically-labelled Partnership For Peace, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-sponsored event. One night, while Markarian was sleeping, Safarov took an axe and hit him 16 times, “almost decapitating him.” But the psychopathic Safarov’s bloodlust was not sated with just one foul murder. He then went to another sleeping Armenian officer’s room, intent on repeating his evil performance. But fortunately the door was locked and a double murder averted.
Azeri sources are excusing Safarov’s murder, blaming his unbalanced emotional state on the 1988 to 1994 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia-supported Nagorno-Karabakh, in which he and his family supposedly suffered severely (along with tens of thousands of other Armenians and Azeris). Both sides engaged in ethnic cleansing during the conflict, but it started, according to writers Caroline Cox and John Eibner, when Azeris first cleared 40,000 Armenians out of Kirovobad, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, in 1988. An Azeri pogrom against Armenians preceded this in Sumgait followed by another in Baku.
“The Armenians were not quick to retaliate to the Sumgait massacre,” wrote Cox and Eibner in their 1993-published book Ethnic Cleansing In Progress: War in Nagorno-Karabakh. “But Armenian restraint crumbled in response to the Kirovabad pogrom and the anti-Armenian demonstrations in Baku.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking country, are both former Soviet republics and neighbors in the southern Caucasus Mountains. Nagorno-Karabakh was an Armenian enclave inside of Azerbaijan that sought secession and reunification with Armenia in the dying days of the Soviet empire. The Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, perceiving themselves as victims of the Soviet Union’s nationalities policy, believed they were righting a historical wrong. In 1921, the Bolsheviks had first awarded the enclave to Armenia but later reversed that decision, giving it to Azerbaijan. Stalin was reportedly responsible for this fateful verdict.
In the 1988-1994 war, the outnumbered Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians not only won their independence, defeating the Azeri forces, they also occupied some adjoining Azeri territory which they refuse to return until it can be guaranteed that this territory will not be used to stage attacks on their land. In this respect, Nagorno-Karabakh has adopted a position similar to Israel’s regarding the Arab territories it captured in 1967: it will trade land for peace. Nagorno-Karabakh is now an independent political entity, calling itself Artsakh, its former name in the ancient kingdom of Armenia.
Azerbaijan’s ally, Turkey, became so angry when the Nagorno-Karabakh forces were winning that it threatened to attack Armenia, which was not officially a combatant. However, a warning from the Kremlin that a Turkish attack on Armenia would mean war with Russia caused Turkey to climb down, averting a regional war.
Since then, Turkey and Azerbaijan have maintained a crippling economic blockade on Armenia and Artsakh. Also like the Arab states in regard to Israel,Azerbaijan has promised to retake its lost territories, including Artsakh. To this end, the Azeris have recently used their oil wealth to make large weapons purchases. Last January, it bought $1.5 billion worth of arms from Israel alone as well as weapons from Russia.
So it is against this background of war, ethnic cleansing and ancient hatreds that Safarov performed his heinous deed. The hatred of the Turkic-speaking Azeris for Armenians was also reflected in responses Azeri officials made upon Safarov’s release. These responses correspond closely to those Arab hardliners make when a successful terrorist attack has been carried out against Israelis. One Azeri Member of Parliament (MP), for example, called Safarov “one of the heroes of our people.” (Which shows the level of Azeri civilizational development when an axe-murderer is called 'a national hero'. In normal countries, such accolades are usually reserved for Nobel Prize winners.)
“…this is a great event not only for Azerbaijanis living in Azerbaijan, but for the whole Turkish people living inside and outside Azerbaijan,” the MP added.
Another MP stated that Safarov’s release “has made a contribution to the liberation of Karabakh.”
Many Hungarians are outraged about Safarov’s release and believe government officials may have been bribed or received some other inducement. There may be some merit to this. In another controversial setting free of a criminal, that of the Lockerbie Bomber, it was eventually revealed Libyan terrorist Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's early release substantially helped British Petroleum obtain a $900 million oil exploration contract from Gaddafi. Time will probably tell whether something similar occurred in the Safarov case.
Hungarian officials have defended their actions, saying Safarov was sent back to Azerbaijan as part of an international prisoner transfer agreement, where the prisoner does his remaining sentence in his land of origin. They said Azeri justice officials informed them Safarov would remain in prison and not be released.
But some Hungarians claim their government should have known that Safarov would be set free once back in Azerbaijan. The Azeri government had even established an embassy in Budapest to influence the Hungarian government regarding Safarov. Evidently, the Azeris were successful.
In the United States, a National Security Council spokesman said that “President Obama is deeply concerned” about the Azeri president’s pardon of Safarov and the government will communicate to the Azeri authorities “our disappointment.”
“This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation,” said the spokesman. “The United States is also requesting an explanation from Hungary regarding its decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan.”
The Obama administration, however, cannot afford to take too harsh a stand against Azerbaijan, since American companies have investments in that country’s large oil industry. Azerbaijan also serves as a hub for the important Caspian Sea-Central Asian energy pipelines. But the administration has to at least adopt an appearance of “concern” since the two million strong Armenian-American community is concentrated in key states like California where their votes could make a big difference in the upcoming election.
The lesson Armenia should learn from the Safarov affair is that it is on its own and therefore should arm itself as much as possible. The murder of Lt. Markarian and the feting of his murderer are symbolic of the hatred and the fate the surrounding Turkic populations have in mind for Armenia, much like the Arabs have for Israel. The historic Armenian population of Anatolia is now extinct, massacred by the Turks in 1915. As the Safarov case indicates, it appears they are now more than willing to finish that job.
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