By Hrach Melkumian in Prague and Ruzanna Khachatrian
An Azerbaijani army officer axe-murdered Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian in Budapest last month to avenge the deaths of fellow villagers during the war for Nagorno-Karabakh, according to a leader of Hungary’s Armenian community.
“He has admitted taking his revenge for compatriots killed in his village on February 26, 1993,” Adam Szarkiszjan told RFE/RL, citing information from Hungarian police which are investigating the February 19 brutal killing.
The Azerbaijani authorities say the arrested attacker, Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, is a former resident of the Armenian-occupied Jebrail district south of Karabakh and lost relatives in the war. Jebrail was captured by Karabakh Armenian forces in the summer of 1993 and there were no major military operations in the area during the period mentioned by Szarkiszjian.
February 26 is also the date of the 1992 capture of Karabakh’s Azerbaijani-populated village of Khojaly which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of its civilian residents. Azerbaijan says the massacre was perpetrated by the advancing Armenians, a charge denied by the latter.
In Szarkiszjan’s words, Safarov told the investigators that he had initially planned the killing for February 26 but decided to carry it out a week earlier after Markarian “smiled at him in a kind of suspicious fashion.”
The Armenian officer, buried in Yerevan on Saturday, was hacked to death with an axe and a knife while he slept early in the morning. Budapest police said his head was “practically severed” from his body.
Szarkiszjan further cited Safarov as testifying that he also sought to kill a second Armenian officer who attended an English-language course at Hungary’s main military academy as part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. The officer, Captain Hayk Makuchian, confirmed this version of events in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday. Makuchian said his life was saved by his Lithuanian roommate who kept him from opening the door after Safarov started knocking on it.
“Having found my door locked, the Azerbaijani knocked at it for several times and started yelling, ‘Hey Armenian, open up, we are going to slaughter all of you’,” Makuchian told the newspaper “Iravunk” after his return to Yerevan. He said Markarian never locked his door and always ignored his theft warnings saying “Don’t worry, I’m not afraid of anyone.”
“Gurgen was very strong physically, they could only kill him in his sleep,” the captain added.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry has claimed that Safarov had been goaded into committing the gruesome crime by “insulting statements” repeatedly made by his victim.
Makuchian strongly denied this, saying that he and his murdered comrade had virtually no contact with the two Azerbaijani officers. “The Azerbaijanis were real introverts, they didn’t like socializing.”
Szarkiszjan, the Armenian community leader, said that Makuchian and five other participants of the NATO course have already been questioned by the police and that the case will be forwarded to a Hungarian court later this month. He said he is “100 percent certain” that Safarov will not be repatriated to Azerbaijan after his likely imprisonment.
“There is no way he could be taken back. He must be tried under our law and serve his sentence here.”
In Yerevan, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said the Armenian authorities will continue to try to ensure a “fair investigation” into the case and will hire a lawyer who will represent them at Safarov’s upcoming trial. They hope court sessions will be open to the public, he added.
The Armenian leadership has reacted to the Budapest killing with shock and outrage, describing it as a result of “anti-Armenian hysteria” fanned by Azerbaijan. Official Baku dismissed the outcry with President Ilham Aliev suggesting that it was “a common or garden crime.”