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AFP, AP, RFE/RL
An appeals court in Budapest upheld a life sentence on Thursday against an Azerbaijani military officer who brutally murdered an Armenian lieutenant during a NATO training course in Hungary in 2004.

"The appellate court upheld the life sentence handed down by the first instance [in April last year]," court spokesman Gyorgy Felkai told AFP.

Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army lieutenant, used an axe to hack Armenian lieutenant Gurgen Markarian to death in his sleep in the dormitories of a NATO training center in Budapest in 2004. The two officers were enrolled in an English-language course in the Hungarian capital as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Partnership for Peace program, of which both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members.

Safarov was also found guilty of planning the murder of another Armenian, which he did not carry out. He will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

On Thursday, Safarov denied that he had intended to kill anyone, while his lawyer, Gyorgy Magyar, cited some experts' opinions which declared Safarov mentally unstable. Other experts, however, had said Safarov was fit to stand trial. He earlier said ethnic conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia were at the root of his actions.

The appeals court ruling was welcomed by both Hungarian prosecutors and Nazeli Vartanian, an Armenian lawyer representing the slain officer’s family. “Hungarian courts have investigated all circumstances of the case and have properly appraised the Azerbaijani officer’s actions,” Vartanian told RFE/RL from Budapest.

“We warned [the appeals court] that if the first instance verdict is softened, that will create a worldwide precedent and potentially lead to ethnically motivated killings of other Armenians,” she said.

Many in Armenia had attributed Markarian’s murder to "anti-Armenian hysteria" fanned by the Baku government, while Azerbaijani officials countered that the killer was himself a refugee from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict who had painful memories of the 1991-1992 with the Armenians.

(Photolur photo: Safarov pictured in the courtroom.)
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