BRUSSELS: European Parliament head Martin Schulz expressed horror Tuesday after Azerbaijan brushed aside criticism of its pardon for a soldier who axed an Armenian officer to death in his sleep.
Schulz added his voice to condemnation of the pardon – already sharply criticized by EU President Herman Van Rompuy and the U.S. – after Baku’s foreign minister appeared to blame Yerevan for Azerbaijani soldier Ramil Safarov’s 2004 killing of Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian.
In a move that has ratcheted up tensions between the ex-Soviet foes, Azerbaijan pardoned Safarov last week after he was extradited from Hungary, where he had been serving a life sentence for the murder.
“The convention on the transfer of sentenced people should not be abused for political purpose,” Schulz said.
“I am disturbed by what appears to be a politically motivated pardon of Mr Safarov by the president of Azerbaijan,” he added, while urging Azerbaijan and Armenia “to avoid any moves and statements that might exacerbate the situation.”
Safarov hacked Margarian to death in his sleep at a military academy in Budapest where the servicemen were attending English-language courses organized by NATO.
His lawyers claimed in court that he was traumatized because some of his relatives had been killed during Azerbaijan’s war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh in the 1990s, and alleged that Margarian had insulted his country.
Earlier Tuesday, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns that the murder was “directly related” to the war.
“Ramil Safarov and his family, like a million other Azerbaijanis, are forced refugees and as a result of ethnic cleansing, they were expelled from their homes. “First of all, this must be taken into account,” Mammadyarov said in comments released by his press service.
“Indeed, the efforts must be focused on rapid withdrawal of [Armenian] occupation forces from Karabakh,” Mammadyarov added.
The U.S. State Department has already said it is “extremely troubled” by the pardon.
The U.S., EU and Russia all expressed concerns that the move would escalate tensions.
“We condemn any action that fuels regional tensions,” the U.S. State Department said last week.
Armenia said Tuesday that the incident had damaged the peace process over Karabakh, for which no final deal has been signed since the 1994 ceasefire, while gunfights still claim lives on the front line.
“The international community must not allow Azerbaijan to continue its adventurist policy which threatens not only regional but also international security and stability,” Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said at a news conference.
However Nalbandian said that Armenia would not break off negotiations.