The head of NATO rebuked Azerbaijan Friday after an Azerbaijani soldier who axed to death an Armenian serviceman was pardoned and given a hero's welcome following his extradition to Baku.
Ramil Safarov was pardoned, promoted and financially rewarded after arriving in Baku from Budapest, where he had been serving a life sentence for killing the soldier from foe Armenia during a NATO training session.
“The act he committed in 2004 was a crime which should not be glorified, as this damages trust and does not contribute to the peace process,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a speech during a visit to Baku.
Rasmussen made the same statement in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Tuesday, where public outrage over the case has sparked protests.
The pardon has inflamed tensions between ex-Soviet foes Armenia and Azerbaijan which are locked in an unresolved conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh where they fought a war in the 1990s.
In Baku, Rasmussen warned against renewed hostilities.
“Two things are clear. First, that there is no military solution. And second, the only way forward is through dialogue, compromise and cooperation,” he said.
Armenia has broken off diplomatic links with Hungary over the extradition and subsequent pardon, which has also sparked concern in Washington, Brussels and Moscow.
The United Nations on Thursday also voiced concern about the heightened tensions, saying “there is no alternative to a peace settlement” over Nagorny Karabakh.
Azerbaijan however has refused to back down over the issue, and President Ilham Aliyev’s website has been publishing a series of letters from citizens congratulating him for freeing the killer.
“The extradition and pardoning of national army officer Ramil Safarov has filled us, young people, and indeed the entire nation with a sense of pride and joy,” said one letter from youth club manager Kifayat Amirova in the city of Ganja.
Armenia-backed separatists seized Nagorny Karabakh from Azerbaijan during the war which left some 30,000 dead, and the two sides have not yet signed a peace deal since the 1994 ceasefire.