WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy and Lindsey Graham, and Representatives Kay Granger and Nita Lowey – the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittees in the House and Senate – calling on them to cut all security assistance to Azerbaijan, including Azerbaijan’s International Military Education and Training Account (IMET) funding. This latest request comes after the egregious repatriation and release of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army captain who had confessed to the savage 2004 axe murder of Armenian army lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan during a NATO Partnership for Peace Program.
“Azerbaijan has committed the most terrible subversion of justice – making a hero of a cold-blooded killer,” said Rep. Schiff. “Plainly the investment we have made in training Azeri forces has been worse than wasted. The United States must not tolerate any acts of aggression against Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh, and this hateful action by President Aliyev undermines all international efforts to bring about a peaceful solution in the region.”
The full letter Schiff sent to the Chairmen and Ranking Members is below:
Dear Chairmen Leahy and Granger and Ranking Members Graham and Lowey:
As you continue work on the 2013 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriations bill, I urge you to cut all security assistance to Azerbaijan, including Azerbaijan’s IMET funding, in response to the egregious repatriation and release of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army captain who had confessed to the savage 2004 axe murder of Armenian army lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan, while the latter slept. At the time, the two were participating in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise in Budapest, Hungary. After the murder, Safarov was sentenced to life in prison by a Hungarian court and imprisoned in Hungary.
On August 31, Safarov was sent home to Azerbaijan, purportedly to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Instead of prison, he was greeted as a hero by the Azeri government and promenaded through the streets of Baku carrying a bouquet of roses. President Ilham Aliyev immediately pardoned Safarov and he was promoted to the rank of major and given a new apartment and eight years of back pay.
The Aliyev government’s rapturous welcome for Safarov in Baku exposes a fundamental contempt for the rule of law that is the underpinning of any state that aspires to greater integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. It also further poisons relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the ethnic Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The OSCE’s Minsk Group (United States, Russia and France) has been trying to work with the parties to fashion a settlement to a crisis that threatens to plunge the Caucasus into war. That effort, already difficult because of years of repeated sniping incidents by Azeri forces, as well as a stream of bellicose statements from Baku, is now even more challenging.
Azerbaijan must pay a high price for its actions. Baku treasures the security assistance that it receives from Washington, not because it needs the money (it does not), but because it signifies a certain closeness in the bilateral relationship. By cutting off military aid to Azerbaijan, the United States would signal its disgust with the Safarov affair, while also reminding Aliyev that the United States will not tolerate any acts of aggression against Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh.
Furthermore, the United States should immediately suspend all IMET activities with Azerbaijan. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees IMET, the program has two aims:
• To further the goal of regional stability through effective, mutually beneficial military-to-military relations which culminate in increased understanding and defense cooperation between the United States and foreign countries; and
• To increase the ability of foreign national military and civilian personnel to absorb and maintain basic democratic values and protect internationally recognized human rights.
Azerbaijan’s actions in pardoning, parading and promoting an axe-murderer like Safarov clearly indicate that our investment there in IMET has been an abject failure. The funding, training and support has plainly not fostered either regional stability or the absorption of democratic values and a respect for human rights.
I would be happy to discuss this issue further with you or your staff, but we cannot continue to embrace a government and a military that operates at cross-purposes to our own interests and in violation of the most basic norms of international behavior.
Member of Congress