ECHR finds Azerbaijan guilty in historic murder case of Armenian soldier
Azerbaijan violated two articles of the European Convention by pardoning officer of the Azerbaijani army, Ramil Safarov, accused of the brutal murder of an Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan.
Such a verdict was issued on May 26 by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
According to the court’s decision, Azerbaijan should pay the plaintiffs only compensation for legal expenses in the amount of 15,000 pounds. The plaintiffs in the case were the relatives of the victim and his colleague Hayk Makuchyan. They did not demand financial compensation for themselves.
“We sought justice, not compensation. The statement of the fact of serious crimes is important for us, it is important to put an end to impunity and prevent Armenian-phobia,” Hayk Makuchyan said.
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The Safarov case
In January 2004, Senior Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, together with another officer from Azerbaijan, arrived in Budapest for a three-month English course organized by NATO. Two Armenian officers were in the same courses: Gurgen Margaryan and Hayk Makuchyan. All cadets lived in the hostel of the National Defense University.
In the early morning of February 19, Safarov entered Margaryan’s room and killed him with an ax, inflicting 16 blows to the head and neck. Following this, he was going to kill Makuchyan, but the door of his room was locked, and the police arrived at the scene.
Safarov first explained his deed by the fact that, being from the Jabrail region (which, after the Karabakh war, is under the control of Armenia), he hates the Armenians. Later in court he said that Margaryan and Makuchyan scoffed and provoked him.
In 2006, a Hungarian court found Safarov guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment without the right to apply for pardon for 30 years.
Safarov served a total of eight years in a Hungarian prison. In 2012, Azerbaijan secured his extradition so that he could serve the rest of his term in his homeland.
But immediately upon arrival in Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev pardoned Safarov. In addition, he was promoted to major and presented with an apartment.
This whole story caused an international scandal, and in Azerbaijan opinions about Safarov’s act were divided: some considered him a hero, others – a criminal who disgraced the country.
Decision of the European Court
The ECHR ruled that by pardoning Safarov (contrary to the sentence of a Hungarian court), Azerbaijan violated articles 2 and 14 of the European Convention on the right to life and the prohibition of discrimination. The ECHR also emphasized the “approval and support” of this crime by the Azerbaijani authorities.
But at the same time, the court did not recognize Azerbaijan as responsible for this crime itself.
The second defendant in the case was Hungary, for having extradited Safarov to Azerbaijan. But the ECHR did not find any violations in this.
The reaction to the court decision in Azerbaijan
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan believes that the court did not actually satisfy the main intention of Armenia, as it did not demand the cancellation of the decision on Safarov’s pardon and rejected the material claim for a substantial violation of the right to life article.
“According to the European Court, Ramil Safarov acted individually and did not represent the government of Azerbaijan. Thus, the Azerbaijani government cannot be held accountable internationally for these actions,” said Leila Abdullayeva, head of the press service of the ministry.
In addition, the ministry believes that the case should have reflected that “Ramil Safarov, born in August 1993 in the Azerbaijan’s Jabrail region, occupied by the Armenian armed forces, lost loved ones during the war, as a teenager he knew all the hardships of the life of an internally displaced person.”
There are no other official comments from the Azerbaijani authorities yet. Ramil Safarov himself also did not comment on the court decision.
As for experts, for example, the head of the National Center for Strategic Thinking, Isa Gambar, called the murder “an incident that happened between two specific people.”
“Thousands of Azerbaijani citizens around the world meet Armenian citizens, live in the same neighborhood, argue, or are silent, but very rarely one of them kills the other. This incident occurred not on ethnic grounds, but on emotional, in a state of passion.”
The leader of the opposition Republican Alternative Party (REAL) Ilgar Mammadov writes that:
“The state had to do everything in such a difficult situation to return its citizen to his homeland. And it did it. But Safarov’s heroization did not align with our national interests.”
Reaction to the court decision in Armenia
The decision of the European Court in the Margaryan case is being covered by all Armenian publications – almost as noticeable as the murder of the Armenian officer and the subsequent events.
The attitude to Safarov’s case in Armenia is unequivocal: the murderer of an unarmed person should be punished, instead he was pardoned and heroized.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs believe that if the European Court calls on Azerbaijan to re-arrest Safarov, this will be an important precedent in international law.
“Ideally, we would like the court to decide to transfer him back to Hungary or to a third country to serve his sentence, because in Azerbaijan he is considered a hero,” said lawyer Nazeli Vardanyan.
Overall, the verdict satisfies the plaintiffs and lawyers.
“The violation of the right to life and ethnically motivated actions were found. This is the first decision in history when an international court ascertains the anti-Armenian actions of Azerbaijan. As a result, they must be eliminated. Steps must also be taken to ensure that the offender is punished,” said lawyer Siranush Sahakyan.
Regarding further official steps, Armenia is considering the issue of appeal to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR on the issue of the responsibility of Hungary. Lawyers believe that it was precisely the steps of Budapest that allowed Azerbaijan to pardon the criminal.
Four years after the crime, in 2008, Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Gentz was in Yerevan, and asked whether Safarov would be returned to Azerbaijan. She said:
“There is an opportunity to return Safarov, but Hungary does not have such an obligation. All issues relating to Safarov will be considered very seriously. The most important question is whether Safarov will serve a life sentence in Azerbaijan or not.”
Four years later, when the Hungarian authorities returned Safarov to their homeland, Armenia broke off diplomatic relations with Hungary.