Ramil Safarov (August 25th, 1977 - ) is an officer of the Azerbaijani Army who was convicted of murdering Armenian Army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan by axing him to death in his sleep in Budapest, Hungary. He has been sentenced to life in prison. In 2012, he was extradited to Azerbaijan and was released and soon promoted to Lieutenant colonel.
In January 2004, the 26-year-old Ramil Safarov, along with another officer from Azerbaijan, went to Budapest (Hungary), to participate in the three-month English language courses, organized by NATO's Partnership for Peace program for military personnel from different countries. Two Armenian officers, a 25-year-old Gurgen Margaryan and Hayk Makuchyan, also participated in this program.
On the evening of February 18, Safarov bought an axe and a honing stone at Tesco, near Ferenc Puskás Stadium.He took them in the bag to his dormitory room at the Zrinyi Miklos National Defence University, where all the course participants were staying. Safarov's roommate had returned to his native Ukraine to attend the funerals of his relatives and so nobody interrupted Safarov as he sharpened the axe in his room. At around 5:00 am on February 19 Safarov took the axe and went to Margaryan's room, which he was sharing with his Hungarian roommate, Balázs Kuti. The door of their room was not locked. Safarov attacked the sleeping Margaryan with the axe and delivered 16 blows to his body, which almost severed Margaryan’s head. The noises woke up Kuti, who was shocked seeing the Azerbaijani officer standing by Gurgen’s bed with a long axe in his hands. As Kuti later testified, “By that time I understood that something terrible had happened for there was blood all around. I started to shout at the Azerbaijani urging him to stop it. He said that he had no problems with me and would not touch me, stabbed Gurgen a couple of more times and left. The expression of his face was as if he was glad he had finished something important. Greatly shocked, I ran out of the room to find help, and Ramil went in another direction”.
Afterwards, Safarov headed for the room of Makuchyan, the other Armenian student, with the intention of attacking him also, but found his door locked. He shouted out Makuchyan’s name in a threatening voice. The half-sleeping Makuchyan wanted to open the door, but his Lithuanian roommate stopped him and called his compatriot next door to check what was going on. Meanwhile, Safarov went to look for Hayk in the room of the Serbian and the Ukrainian roommates, showing them the blood-stained axe and stating that he thirsted for nobody's blood but Armenian.
Safarov then attempted to break the door with the axe, but, by this time, the students in the neighboring rooms already woke up, went out to the corridor and tried to persuade him to stop. Later the eyewitnesses confessed that they were afraid to approach Ramil with a blood-stained axe closer than at three meters.
Soon after, the Hungarian police, which was summoned by Balázs Kuti, arrived and arrested Safarov at the scene.A Hungarian court later found that it was an attempt on Makuchyan’s life and recognized the latter also as a victim. While announcing the verdict the judge particularly emphasized that if Safarov had not been restrained by his fellow officers he would have killed the second Armenian officer as well.
Interrogation and trial
During his initial interrogation Safarov confessed to killing Margaryan and his intention to kill Makuchyan. Questioned about his motives during the interrogation, Safarov stated:
According to Balázs Kuti, at the very beginning of the language courses, when the students got acquainted, there was a conversation about different international issues, but nobody spoke of it afterwards. Kuti also said that he had not noticed any strain in the relationship between Margaryan and the Azerbaijani officers. Makuchyan's neighbor, officer Saulius Paulius also said that he observed nothing strange in the relationship between the Armenian and the Azerbaijani guys. The police afterwards interrogated all the students and all testified that there was no conflict between the Armenian and the Azerbaijani officers and that they did not even interact with each other. Later in an interview to the Armenian newspaper “Iravunk” Hayk Makuchyan confirmed that neither Gurgen nor him had had any contacts with any of the Azerbaijani officers. “They were not of a communicative type. Usually, after classes, they went straight to their rooms”, said Hayk. To the question as to why he chose to attack Margaryan first Safarov answered it was because he was big, muscular and of sportive type.
When the case went to trial Safarov's defense asserted that the murder was committed because Margaryan had insulted the Azerbaijani flag.This explanation later underwent several variations in the press in Azerbaijan and among his defenders. It was claimed that Margaryan and/or Makuchyan had urinated on the Azerbaijani flag; used it to clean and wipe their shoes; and had played an audio recording of "voices of suffering Azerbaijani women and girls." Safarov did not mention any of this in either his interrogation or his court trial and made it very clear he killed Margaryan just because he was an Armenian. No witnesses were ever called during the trial to corroborate these allegations of harassment in court and prosecution lawyers strongly disputed that they had taken place. Despite the lack of evidence the Azerbaijani media, including state-owned media outlets, have circulated the version of the flag for making Safarov a national hero.
The defense also alleged that Safarov was mentally sick when committing the murder, however the forensic medical examination, which was upheld by the judge, showed that "Safarov was sane and aware of the consequences of his act".
On April 13, 2006, a Hungarian court sentenced Safarov to life imprisonment without right of appeal for 30 years. The judge, Andras Vaskuti, cited the premeditated nature and brutality of the crime and the fact that Safarov showed no remorse for his deeds as the reasons for the sentence. Handing down a life sentence, the judge particularly emphasised that “the murder of a sleeping man in peace time is always a crime and cannot be an act of heroism”. On February 22, 2007, a Hungarian appeal court upheld the ruling following an appeal filed by Safarov's lawyer. While serving his sentence, Safarov translated several novels by Hungarian authors into Azeri, including Magda Szabó's The Door (Hungarian: Az ajtó) and The Paul Street Boys (Hungarian: A Pál utcai fiúk) (youth novel by the Hungarianwriter Ferenc Molnár).
Reaction to the murder and the sentence
A lawyer representing the victim's family welcomed the sentence as a "good decision for the Hungarian court and for Armenian society."
Many officials in Azerbaijan publicly praised Safarov's actions, while there were also those who condemned them. Elmira Süleymanova, the human rights commissioner (ombudsman) of Azerbaijan, declared that Safarov's punishment was far too harsh and that "Safarov must become an example of patriotism for the Azerbaijani youth". The banned radical Azerbaijan National Democrat Party awarded Safarov with the title of "Man of the Year 2005" for killing an Armenian.
Fuad Agayev, a prominent Azeri lawyer, said that Azeris "...have to urgently stop this current campaign to raise Safarov to the rank of national hero. He is no hero.”
The United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs condemned Azerbaijan's reaction to the brutal murder of the Armenian officer in a hearing. A report which was published by the Committee on Foreign Affairs contained a statement by Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director of the Armenian Assembly of America, who stated that "The Azerbaijani government has also consistently failed to condemn Safarov, an Azeri military officer who in 2003 [sic] brutally murdered an Armenian participant at a NATO Partnership for Peace military training exercise in Budapest, Hungary. Instead, it has encouraged domestic media and various organizations to treat the murderer as a celebrity. That individual has since been awarded the title of 'Man of the Year' by Azerbaijan’s National-Democratic Party."[