Crowd protests killer's release

Roughly 400 people protested Thursday outside the consulates of Hungary and Azerbaijan, decrying the release and pardon of an Azerbaijani soldier convicted of killing an Armenian military officer with an ax.

The murder of Gurgen Markarian occurred in 2004 at a military academy in Budapest set up by NATO.

The Azerbaijani soldier, Ramil Safarov, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to at least 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

He was extradited to Azerbaijan last month after officials there pledged to uphold his sentence, but upon arriving on his native soil, he was released and pardoned.

The Armenian parliament subsequently suspended ties with Hungary. Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a violent conflict over disputed border territory for more than two decades.

The demonstration Thursday was organized by a number of groups, including the Armenian Youth Federation and Unified Young Armenians, and attracted hundreds of people waving signs with slogans calling for justice on behalf of Markarian.

William Bairamian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee-Western region, said that after Azerbaijan promoted the killer as a hero, the country showed its true colors.

“Hungary has to apologize about its decision and has to require that Azerbaijan return the criminal to prison,” he said.

Many of the protesters were bused in from Glendale.

“We thought it was the stupidest decision any world leader, of any sane country, would have done,” said Angela Barseghian, an attorney who lives in Glendale. She was referring to reports that Safarov was hailed as a hero upon his return.

“This just means you can't sit at the table and negotiate with a country that has a president that rewards and honors terrorists,” she added.

L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian also attended the protest, as did Levon Marashlian, a history professor at Glendale Community College, who summed up much of the renewed distrust in the crowd.

“How can anyone trust Azerbaijan after this?” he asked.

When asked how effective he thought protests regarding an issue thousands of miles away would be, Bairamian said, “We are here as citizens of the U.S. protesting against a foreign government whose representatives are here.”

Meanwhile, other governments have called for resolution of the conflict between the two states, fearing it could threaten a tenuous cease-fire reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan following the bloodshed in the 1990s.

Armenia's president, Serzh Sarkisian, told Agence France-Presse that his country was prepared to go to war over the issue.

“We don't want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win,” he told the news agency. “We are not afraid of killers, even if they enjoy the protection of the head of state.”


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