WASHINGTON, DC – The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) today welcomed President Barack Obama’s expression of concern over Hungary’s extradition and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s subsequent decision to pardon Ramil Safarov, who was convicted for brutally murdering Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan, in his sleep, during a 2004 NATO exercise in Hungary.
The White House statement, issued in the name of National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor, underscores the President’s view that, “This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation.” Vietor goes on to note that “The United States is also requesting an explanation from Hungary regarding its decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan.”
The Department of State, through a formal announcement issued by Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell, also took a stand against Hungary’s extradition and Azerbaijan’s pardon, explaining that: “The United States is extremely troubled by the news that the President of Azerbaijan pardoned Azerbaijani army officer Ramil Safarov, who returned to Baku today following his transfer from Hungary. . . . We are expressing our deep concern to Azerbaijan regarding this action and seeking an explanation. We are also seeking further details from Hungary regarding the decision to transfer Mr. Safarov to Azerbaijan.”
Pallone, Sherman, Berman, Schiff Issue Statements Condemning Safarov Release
Members of Congress have begun expressing their concern about the Hungarian and Azerbaijani decisions to release Safarov, with Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) stating, “I am outraged by the reckless actions taken by the government of Azerbaijan in freeing Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani soldier who brutally murdered an unarmed Armenian soldier during a NATO-sponsored training program in Hungary. It is extremely egregious that the President of Azerbaijan has issued a decree granting pardon to a convicted murderer and has allowed him to walk free despite his conviction. These are not the actions of a government that is dedicated to justice and peace. Unfortunately, the actions taken by Azerbaijan only further confirm their desire to facilitate and condone violence against Armenia and its people.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) noted that “The Hungarian government owes the Margaryan family, the Armenian nation, all its NATO partners, and all participants in Partnership for Peace a sincere explanation and a profound apology for its inexplicable act. The Azerbaijani government’s decision to free Safarov is contemptible and a serious blow to hopes for Armenian-Azerbaijani peace.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee senior member Brad Sherman (D-CA) noted, “I am deeply dismayed by the Hungarian government’s decision to release an Azeri military officer who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering an Armenian officer in cold blood in Budapest in 2004. . . I stand by our friend and ally Armenia in her ongoing quest for peace and security for her citizens. I call on the Azeri government to bring this individual to justice instead of freeing a convicted criminal.”
A lead sponsor of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.304) Adam Schiff (D-CA) concurred stating that he was “deeply disturbed to learn of the repatriation and subsequent pardoning of Ramil Safarov, who was convicted of killing Armenian Army officer Gurgen Margaryan. Hungary, where Safarov was supposed to be serving a life sentence, and Azerbaijan owe the international community an explanation for this terrible subversion of justice. This is an appalling result in the case of a confessed killer.”
ANCA Leads Armenian American Protest Response to Safarov Release
Just days prior to the release, the ANCA had formally cautioned Hungarian authorities against the extradition of Safarov to Azerbaijan.
ANCA Chairman, Ken Hachikian, in a letter sent earlier today to President Obama, explained that: “The facts of this brutal murder are as clear as the imperative for our government, which serves as a mediator of this conflict through the Minsk Group of the OSCE, to publicly criticize Hungary’s extradition of a known and unapologetic terrorist, to openly condemn Baku’s subsequent release of Safarov, and to demand his immediate re-incarceration for the remainder of his life sentence.” Hachikian stressed that: “A lack of a forceful American response to this grave injustice would, in addition to compromising our nation’s moral standing, undermine prospects for peace by emboldening an increasingly heavily armed Azerbaijani government to continue inciting its own citizens to violence, and encouraging it to continue its threats and actual acts of aggression.”
Thousands have already responded to ANCA action items posted on Facebook and www.anca.org urging activists to criticize Hungary’s action and to call upon President Obama to condemn Safarov’s release.
The ANCA Action Alert can be viewed at:
The full text of the White House statement and the ANCA letter are provided below.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2012
Statement by NSC Spokesman Tommy Vietor on Azerbaijan’s Decision to Pardon Ramil Safarov
President Obama is deeply concerned by today’s announcement that the President of Azerbaijan has pardoned Ramil Safarov following his return from Hungary. Safarov confessed to the murder of Armenian Army officer Gurgen Margaryan in Budapest in 2004, and was serving a life sentence in Hungary for this brutal crime. We are communicating to Azerbaijani authorities our disappointment about the decision to pardon Safarov. This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation. The United States is also requesting an explanation from Hungary regarding its decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan.
TEXT OF ANCA LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:
August 31, 2012
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing, in the spirit of your June 18, 2012 joint statement with the leaders of Russia and France, about the peaceful settlement of Nagorno Karabakh, to call upon you to condemn Azerbaijan’s release of Ramil Safarov, a lieutenant in the Azerbaijani military who was recent extradited from Hungary, where he was serving a life sentence – with no expression of either regret or remorse – for the pre-meditated axe murder of Armenian lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan, in his sleep, during a NATO Partnership for Peace program.
As expected, Safarov’s return to Baku was welcomed, as was his act of murder, by officials of Ilham Aliyev’s government and much of Azerbaijani society. The Azerbaijani government apparently had committed to Hungary that they would continue his prison term; yet, Aliyev immediately pardoned him.
The facts of this brutal murder are as clear as the imperative for our government, which serves as a mediator of this conflict through the Minsk Group of the OSCE, to publicly criticize Hungary’s extradition of a known and unapologetic terrorist, to openly condemn Baku’s subsequent release of Safarov, and to demand his immediate re-incarceration for the remainder of his life sentence. A lack of a forceful American response to this grave injustice would, in addition to compromising our nation’s moral standing, undermine prospects for peace by emboldening an increasingly heavily armed Azerbaijani government to continue inciting its own citizens to violence, and encouraging it to continue its threats and actual acts of aggression.
I would like to also use this opportunity, to once again, request that you hold a personal meeting with the broad-based leadership of the Armenian American community. As I have written to you in the past, the absence of direct discussions between you and your Armenian American constituents, a dialogue you pledged as a candidate to undertake, is unhealthy both for our democracy as well as for our diplomacy.
Kenneth V. Hachikian