The United States expressed “deep concern” late on Friday at Azerbaijan’s decision to set free an Azerbaijan army officer who was extradited by Hungary more than eight years after axe-murdering an Armenian colleague in Budapest.
The White House and the State Department also demanded an official explanation from the Hungarian government strongly condemned by Armenia for sending Ramil Safarov back to Azerbaijan.
“President [Barack] Obama is deeply concerned by today’s announcement that the President of Azerbaijan has pardoned Ramil Safarov following his return from Hungary,” Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council said in a statement.
“We are communicating to Azerbaijani authorities our disappointment about the decision to pardon Safarov,” Vietor said. “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,” he added.
The State Department was likewise “extremely troubled” by President Ilham Aliyev’s pardon. “We are expressing our deep concern to Azerbaijan regarding this action and seeking an explanation,” read a statement by Patrick Ventrell, a department spokesman.
“We are also seeking further details from Hungary regarding the decision to transfer Mr. Safarov to Azerbaijan,” he said.
The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and Public Administration, which formally authorized Safarov's repatriation, said earlier on Friday that the decision was in line with international conventions.
The U.S. criticism came just hours after Armenia suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary, accusing its government of paving the way for “a repeat of such crimes.” President Serzh Sarkisian urged the international community to add its voice to the condemnation.
“The Government of Hungary, at different levels, including the highest, has consistently and up until the last moment assured the Government of Armenia that it will not take any steps whatsoever, which would result in the termination of serving justice by the perpetrator of a heinous murder and explicitly excluded any option for the execution of the transfer,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry stated separately.
Safarov’s release also prompted a strong condemnation from influential Armenian advocacy groups in the U.S and pro-Armenian U.S. lawmakers. The Armenian National Congress of America (ANCA) demanded an official reaction from Obama and urged Armenian Americans to send similar petitions to the White House.
“I am outraged by the reckless actions taken by the government of Azerbaijan in freeing Ramil Safarov,” Frank Pallone, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said, according to the ANCA.
Brad Sherman, another Democratic congressman, was “deeply dismayed” by the Hungarian government’s decision. “I stand by our friend and ally Armenia in her ongoing quest for peace and security for her citizens,” he said.