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Baku, Azerbaijan – Azerbaijani authorities are growing concerned over the increasing condemnation and hostility in the wake of the release of Ramil Safarov. Following speculation that the Armenian government is considering putting a $500,000 bounty on the head of the army officer, people gathered in the capital of Yerevan calling for the “opening of a hunting season for Safarov.” Buses were covered with bulls eye images portraying Safarov as a target and photos of him were burned by activists.
“We are seriously concerned about these violent reactions in Armenia, condemning a fully legal extradition and subsequent amnesty,” said Azerbaijani MP Elkhan Suleymanov, Vice President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. “Now they are calling for revenge in ways that are absolutely outside of international legality,” he added.
“Playing a dangerous blame game is likely to create even more national heroes and enemies and will hardly contribute to people and stability in the Caucasus.”
Safarov was convicted of murdering an Armenian soldier during a NATO training course in Budapest in 2004, claiming that he spat on the Azerbaijani flag and humiliated him. Hungary extradited Safarov to Azerbaijan after serving years of time in prison, and his subsequent release drew attention again to the lingering Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where the illegal Armenian occupation has been condemned by the UN.
“The Safarov controversy risks undermining Yerevan’s responsibilities in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and justifying the illegal Armenian occupation of about 20 per cent of our country,” Suleymanov said, further stressing that four United Nations resolutions calling for Armenia’simmediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal from the occupied territories have not been enforced. Analogous resolutions have been approved by PACE, OSCE and the European Parliament.
Safarov’s case has drawn similarities with Varoujan Grabedian’s extradition to Armenia in 2001. A member of the terrorist organisation ASALA, Grabedian was convicted for a bombing which killed eight people at Orly Airport in Paris, France. Although he was sentenced to life imprisonment, appeals from the Armenian government culminated in his extradition to Armenia, despite the fact that Grabedian is not an Armenian citizen but a Syrian. In Yerevan, he was hailed a national hero.
“Killings by Armenian snipers along the cease-fire line alone, accounted for 1,250 civilian deaths and 1,300 wounded over the last 20 years,” said Sulemanov. He added that children have been targeted repeatedly through explosive toys, elderly visiting the graves of their relatives were shot and numerous explosions have killed civilians in buses, trains, ferries and open places.
“The international community should help to stop the continuous breach of the cease-fire to prevent the recurrence of civilian casualties,” Suleymanov said.