Armenia breaks off diplomatic relations with Hungary:       The Ramil Safarov affair

According to a seasoned former Hungarian diplomat, the Hungarian decision to extradite Lieutenant Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan is “a much more serious scandal than it seems today.” Most likely he is right, although it took less then twenty-four hours for the case to receive worldwide attention and for Hungary to be condemned.

During the summer of  2004 NATO’s Partnership for Peace program organized a two-month program for officers from the member states in Budapest. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the Partnership when it was established in 1994. The young officers were supposed to study English in the Hungarian capital. Ramil Safarov, an Azir national,  purchased an ax locally and at night when the Armenian officer, Gurgen Margaryan, was asleep he brutally hacked him into pieces. He practically severed the Armenian officer’s head.

During his trial Safarov freely admitted that the only reason for killing Margaryan was that he was an Armenian. He showed no remorse for his crime. In addition, while in jail he attacked the guards, for which he received two and a half years  in a separate trial. In 2006 the verdict was announced: he received a life sentence for premeditated murder. He has been in a Hungarian jail since.

The ethnic conflict between Azeris and Armenians is of long standing. The center of the conflict was a contested area, Nagorno-Karabakh, that during the Soviet period was artificially attached to the predominantly Muslim Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan in spite of the fact that the majority of the inhabitants were Christian Armenians. In 1988 war broke out between the two countries over the area; the war lasted almost six years and eventually ended in Armenia annexing the region. In 1994 a ceasefire was signed but peace talks have not been held. Thousands died on both sides, and  a huge demographic change occurred. About 230,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azeris from Armenia and Karabakh were displaced as a result of the conflict. Currently, Armenia’s population of about 3.5 million is 97% ethnic Armenian.

Ever since the sentencing of Ramil Safarov in 2006 the Azeris considered him to be a national hero, a fact that was well known to the Hungarian authorities. But if they hadn’t known it, the Armenians told them repeatedly in the last year or so. The warning intensified after Viktor Orbán visited the Azeri capital. Their worries must have been further heightened when Péter Szijjártó went to Baku to negotiate with the Azeris a month later.

I should mention here that Péter Szijjártó, who started off as a personal spokesman of Viktor Orbán, was elevated to be undersecretary in the prime minister’s office in charge of foreign affairs in June 2012. Thus, we can safely assume that Foreign Minister János Martonyi’s already meager role in the formation of Hungarian foreign relations has been further reduced. Now even foreign policy is directly conducted by Viktor Orbán. With questionable results, as we shall see.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisyan breaks off
diplomatic relations with Hungary

What we can glean from the Armenian statements of late that the Hungarian government must have known what would happen if they released Safarov. According to the Armenian foreign ministry, they warned the Hungarian government, I assume through the Hungarian foreign ministry, that the Azerbaijani government sanctions the murder of the Armenian officer. The Hungarian government “on the highest level” assured the Armenians that “they will not take any steps that would lead to the freeing of the murderer.” Apparently that was the official Hungarian position “until the last minute.” According to Serzh Sarkisyan, the Armenian president,  “only a few days ago [they] were assured by the Hungarian foreign ministry and the speaker of the Hungarian parliament that “there was no way that they would hand over the criminal to Azerbaijan.”

Yet it happened. Safarov was released to Azerbaijan and was greeted as a national hero. On his arrival he was draped in the Azeri national flag and thousands of admirers presented him with flowers. He immediately received clemency from the Azeri president, Ilham Aliyev, and the minister of defense bestowed on him the rank of major.

Armenians are outraged. The government immediately decided to break off diplomatic relations with Hungary, and President Sakrisyan announced that “the Armenian nation will never forgive” Hungary for what happened. Normally the Armenians are not kidding.

Now the question is who knew what? Did the Hungarian foreign minister and the speaker of the Hungarian parliament lie when even in the last minute they claimed that there was no possibility of Hungary handing over Safarov to Baku? I venture to say that it is possible that in fact they didn’t know about the deal. Whether Tibor Navracsics lied–as his Armenian counterpart, Hrayr Tovmasyan, charged–is more likely, but I don’t exclude the possibility that he was assured byViktor Orbán about the Azeri president’s assurances.

But that Viktor Orbán knew about what would happen is certain. It was a “financial deal.” According to Armenpress, the official Armenian news agency, Hungary has been in serious negotiations with both Turkey and Azerbaijan for financial assistance for some time. The same news agency claims that Novruz Mammedov, the advisor to Ilham Aliyev on foreign affairs, has been engaged in secret negotiations concerning Safarov’s release to Azerbaijan for at least a year. According to widely held belief, the Azeris were ready to buy 3 billion euros worth of Hungarian bonds in exchange for the release of Safarov.

Immediately after the news broke of Safarov’s pardon the U.S. State Department released a press statement that read: The United States is extremely troubled by the news that the President of Azerbaijan pardoned Azerbaijani army officer Ramil Safarov, who returned to Baku today following his transfer from Hungary. Mr. Safarov had been serving a life sentence in a Hungarian jail for murdering Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan during a 2004 NATO training event in Budapest. We are expressing our deep concern to Azerbaijan regarding this action and seeking an explanation. We are also seeking further details from Hungary regarding the decision to transfer Mr. Safarov to Azerbaijan.”

Even President Obama voiced his concern after the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a lobbyist group in Washington, called on him “to publicly condemn Hungary for the release of the terrorist” Safarov. At the same time ANCA called on people “to take a moment to protest this travesty of justice.” ANCA asked “to call, e-mail or post a facebook message to the Hungarian ambasador to the US, His Excellency György Szapáry”. Well, the letters poured in. Here are a few of the thousands. “Don’t sleep Hungary! It’s dangerous nowadays!,” a reference to the fact that the Armenian officer was killed in his sleep. Or, ” Shame on you Hungary, Hungary supports a murderer!!!! :(((,” or “Gurgen Margaryan’s blood on the hands of Hungarian Justice.” And they go on like this endlessly.

The Hungarian opposition’s reaction is also one of outrage. LMP expressed their sympathy with the Armenian people. LMP’s statement emphasized that it would have been the duty of the foreign ministry to warn the ministry of administration and justice of the most likely consequences of releasing the Azeri murderer. They expressed hope that there is no connection between Azeri plans to purchase Hungarian government bonds and the release of a criminal.

DK as usual was more forthright. The leadership of the party demanded Tibor Navracsics’s resignation and suggested that parliament immediately convene a meeting of the committee on foreign affairs. In addition, they expressed their opinion that “Viktor Orbán sold the honor of Hungary.” With the release of Safarov the government sent a message to the world that “Hungary is  a country where human life is for sale, where someone who kills another person is not a criminal but a hostage who is kept in jail to be released in the hope of ransom.”

László Kovács (MSZP), former foreign minister and currently deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, indicated that he will ask for an immediate meeting of the committee to discuss the matter of the release of the Azeri murderer. Kovács shares the widespread belief in opposition circles that Safarov was released in the hope of Azeri financial assistance to Hungary. However, Kovács considers the way that it was handled most unfortunate. The release should have been accompanied by Azeri guarantees so that, if the Azeri government violated the agreement, the Hungarian government could have immediately protested. But no Hungarian protest followed, which further strengthens the view that the Hungarian government knew full well what the Azeri government was planning to do as soon as Safarov arrives in Baku.

Today Fidesz released a statement that said only that the party fully supports the government on this issue since the transfer in no way contradicted international rules and regulations on extradition.  Gabriella Selmeczi, the spokeswoman of the party, cited the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons of 1983, which was later accepted by Hungary. Ramil Safarov, an Azeri citizen, asked for his transfer to Azerbaijan. Hungary only obliged.

A couple of hours later the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of administration and justice also released a statement. Although the statement emphasized that Hungary respects Christian Armenia and the culture and heritage of the Armenian people, it added that they regret Armenia’s decision to break off diplomatic relations with Hungary. This statement also referred to the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons and righteously pointed out the absolutely legal way in which Hungary handled the transfer of Safarov.

Although I don’t think that either Foreign Minister János Martonyi or Minister of Justice Tibor Navracsics will resign as LMP and DK demanded, Martonyi without any prodding should do so. Orbán is making a clown out of him, and if he were a man of integrity he would have handed in his resignation a long time ago.

What will happen after this incident? Perhaps not much, but Viktor Orbán’s reputation will be further battered. And he is dragging the whole country after him into the abyss.

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Guest
Kingfisher
September 1, 2012 6:17 pm

I was really shocked by the official statement, emphasising that “Hungary respects Christian Armenia.” What on earth has the religion of Armenia to do with this? That a Christian country is by implication more worthy than a Muslim one (I think that is the subtext)? It is another dismal indication of the intellect of these people.

Member
September 1, 2012 6:43 pm

I was thinking the same thing. What on earth were they thinking when they wrote this communiqué? Very likely they know that this affair is a shining example of the Orban government’s hypocrisy. They constantly claim to be the defenders of Christian values and try to impress practicing Christians in Hungary (ok, at least the ones they like). Especially on older generation this actually works. But now they sold one country for 30 pieces of silver so to speak – a Christian country with one of the most tragic history, the most suffering for their Christian views.

Animals.

Member
September 1, 2012 6:51 pm
Member
September 1, 2012 6:51 pm
Guest
September 1, 2012 6:59 pm

I do not understand the historically inconsistent “mentality” of this blog. It is acceptable for Armenia to occupy by force a non-adjacent territory where there was significant Armenian population, i.e. Nagarno Karabaklh, and expell almost a million Azeris from there. This would be analogous to Hungary occupying the Szekelyfold in Transylvania and expelling many Rumanians who reside there. Should I consider such action would be acceptable to the acolytes, because it follows the Armenian example???

Member
September 1, 2012 7:03 pm

Stevan Harnad :
http://prod-euronews.euronews.net/2012/05/20/lockerbie-bomber-dies-as-questions-remain/

No it’s not Lockerbie redux. First of all Gaddafi handed over the bomber 10 years after the bombing and his release back to Libya was based on a decision by a panel of doctors.

The only similarity is the heroes welcome. He was only lucky to live a few months more.

Guest
Bowen
September 1, 2012 7:04 pm

The ‘Lockerbie’ theme is bound to come up in response to this story, but there are a number of important differences.

Firstly, the Lockerbie story is (still) sensitive to a lot of US and UK people, and this tired old argument of ‘well, you should attack the UK government because they did bad stuff too, leave us alone’ is just kindergarten level, and irresponsible.

Secondly, the Lockerbie case was a long protracted affair in the Scottish courts. Before he was eventually freed, there was very heated debate in the British media, and in parliament, with senior figures like Gordon Brown and William Hague speaking out against it. As far as I can tell, in Hungary, this extradition just ‘happened’ with no debate, and little forewarning. Even after the extradition, this story was treated as irrelevant by the state-controlled media outlets.

Thirdly, the Lockerbie case may have caused international outrage and upset the Americans, but at least it didn’t ham-fistedly make the UK choose between two states which have been at each other’s throats for a hundred years.

Member
September 1, 2012 7:06 pm

Louis Kovach :
It is acceptable for Armenia to occupy by force a non-adjacent territory where there was significant Armenian population, i.e. Nagarno Karabaklh,

Kovach, Google a little more about the Armenian history. You jumped in too late in the timeline … kind of weird from a staunch anti-communist to ignore a few relevant parts.

Guest
GW
September 1, 2012 7:08 pm

Louis Kovach, the issue here is not the behavior of either country during their conflict, it is the fact that an Azeri citizen killed a human being on Hungarian soil with an ax, and that this criminal has, effectively, been released into freedom after only a little more than seven years behind bars, and that this release appears to have been purchased. Regardless of the politics or the pre-history of the states involved, no country, including Hungary, can tolerate ax murderers, and no justice system can tolerate the political scuttling of its penal system in this way.

Guest
An
September 1, 2012 7:14 pm

Louis Kovach, you are being sly as usual. Nobody on this blog is taking sides in the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict… the story we are commenting on is a murder case that took place on Hungarian soil, where, to my knowledge, such a crime is punishable with the full force of law. The murderer was convicted in Hungarian court, yet, the government decides to hand the guy over to Azerbaijan where he gets pardoned… Now, there are only two options here: 1) the Hungarian government fully knew that he’ll be pardoned, 2) they believed the Azeri reassurances that he will serve his time in Azerbaijan. Well, option 1) is beyond despicable, and 2) is simply idiotic.

At the same time, Hungary is planning to issue bonds for Azeri investors…..You don’t see anything morally questionable here? We talk about a simple murder case, not about taking sides in the Azeri-Armenian conflict.

And, in the mean time, while all these negotiations were going on with the Azeris, the Hungarian government kept reassuring the Armenians that the guy won’t be handed over to the Azeris… what do you think of that?

Member
September 1, 2012 7:14 pm

I just wanted to post, how I would love to read how our own morally bankrupt Kovach will find a way to justify to make a hero out of an axemurderer. Then there it was, his total BS hogwash. He obviously missed from the story, under what circumstances this barbaric act taken place. It was in a NATO convention, not on the battlefield or in their own country. I guess according to Kovach’s logic terrorism is totally justified by the cause. I would be scared to even sit in the same restaurant with Kovach., as I think actually he is a danger to society, a ticking timebonb just waiting to explode. I honestly think that he and Orban need professional help.

Guest
September 1, 2012 7:25 pm

“What will happen after this incident?”

Well, if he gets his 3Bn Euros, Orbán will just carry on – even more convinced that he is right and that his ‘unorthodox’ policies are working.

Guest
September 1, 2012 7:26 pm

And people – PLEASE don’t feed the troll.

Guest
September 1, 2012 7:39 pm

Bowen : The ‘Lockerbie’ theme is bound to come up in response to this story, but there are a number of important differences. Firstly, the Lockerbie story is (still) sensitive to a lot of US and UK people, and this tired old argument of ‘well, you should attack the UK government because they did bad stuff too, leave us alone’ is just kindergarten level, and irresponsible. Secondly, the Lockerbie case was a long protracted affair in the Scottish courts. Before he was eventually freed, there was very heated debate in the British media, and in parliament, with senior figures like Gordon Brown and William Hague speaking out against it. As far as I can tell, in Hungary, this extradition just ‘happened’ with no debate, and little forewarning. Even after the extradition, this story was treated as irrelevant by the state-controlled media outlets. Thirdly, the Lockerbie case may have caused international outrage and upset the Americans, but at least it didn’t ham-fistedly make the UK choose between two states which have been at each other’s throats for a hundred years. Bowen is, as usual, talking sense. But there’s another aspect to the Lockerbie case, and one that makes it even less… Read more »

Guest
tappanch
September 1, 2012 7:44 pm

0. Has Ilham Heydar oglu Aliyev paid money to Orban’s secret overseas bank account ? How much?

1. Will Hungary pay less interest to Azerbaijan than to the IMF?

2. Will Azerbaijan buy EON’s gas division or MOL?

3. Will Aliyev be made the king of Azero-Hungary? :)

Guest
tappanch
September 1, 2012 7:50 pm

Abbreviation of the new country: A0H

Guest
An
September 1, 2012 7:53 pm

Well, I guess in the last two years Orban has worked hard to put Hungary on the map… unfortunately not in a good way.

Guest
tappanch
September 1, 2012 7:57 pm

Official religion of the new dualist monarchy is Chri-Shia-nity :)

Guest
tappanch
September 1, 2012 8:02 pm

Further brainstorming:

New electoral law: Azeris will vote for the Hungarian Parliament only, while Hungarians will vote for members of the Azeri Parliament – in mail.

Guest
tappanch
September 1, 2012 8:10 pm

The name of the first Hungarian king will be changed to “St. Ali” in school textbooks. Now I understand why Orban nationalized the schools and forced a unified, mandatory curriculum on them.

Guest
tappanch
September 1, 2012 8:20 pm

Otherwise Orban has made a good, albeit immoral deal.

Compare.
1. The Israelis have released a thousand murderers of Israelis in exchange for one soldier.
2. The Hungarians have freed a single murderer of an Armenian in exchange for economic benefits.

Guest
Pete H.
September 1, 2012 8:26 pm

“Gabriella Selmeczi, the spokeswoman of the party, cited the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons of 1983, which was later accepted by Hungary. Ramil Safarov, an Azeri citizen, asked for his transfer to Azerbaijan. Hungary only obliged.” Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Strasbourg, 21.III.1983 http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/Html/112.htm Prisoner transfers are voluntary and not an obligation of the sentencing state. “Article 3 – Conditions for transfer 1. A sentenced person may be transferred under this Convention only on the following conditions: a. if that person is a national of the administering State*; b. if the judgment is final; c. if, at the time of receipt of the request for transfer, the sentenced person still has at least six months of the sentence to serve or if the sentence is indeterminate; d. if the transfer is consented to by the sentenced person or, where in view of his age or his physical or mental condition one of the two States considers it necessary, by the sentenced person’s legal representative; e. if the acts or omissions on account of which the sentence has been imposed constitute a criminal offence according to the law of the administering State or would constitute a criminal… Read more »

Guest
Petofi1
September 1, 2012 8:48 pm

tappanch :
Otherwise Orban has made a good, albeit immoral deal.
Compare.
1. The Israelis have released a thousand murderers of Israelis in exchange for one soldier.
2. The Hungarians have freed a single murderer of an Armenian in exchange for economic benefits.

Good point, tappanch.
Now it’s useful to ponder Orban’s adherence to Christian beliefs, not mention his conversion
to Catholicism. Well, if he hadn’t, I guess he woudn’t have met the pope….or won over the Hungarian Catholic Church and their sla…I mean, believers.

Guest
gdfxx
September 1, 2012 11:34 pm

Mutt :

Stevan Harnad :
http://prod-euronews.euronews.net/2012/05/20/lockerbie-bomber-dies-as-questions-remain/

No it’s not Lockerbie redux. First of all Gaddafi handed over the bomber 10 years after the bombing and his release back to Libya was based on a decision by a panel of doctors.
The only similarity is the heroes welcome. He was only lucky to live a few months more.

Al-Megrahi was released in 2009 and died this year.

Guest
Ron
September 1, 2012 11:40 pm

It seems to me that Hungary and Azerbaijan abused this treaty for their own purposes. If you read through this treaty there is a lot of safeguard to prevent to that what happened.

Text on this treaty and explanation you find here:
http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/QueVoulezVous.asp?NT=112&CM=8&CL=ENG

Guest
September 2, 2012 1:15 am

sorry.
have nothing to add.
what’s the point.
nothing happens.
the govt. just carries on business as usual

a nice track for Vicky – tell us why!?
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF6DoEjLQRQ&w=420&h=315%5D

Guest
September 2, 2012 1:27 am

This is the end of the road of the insanity. Hungarians must rise up, nothing to wait for. From this point, this is not a question, the current Hun Dictator is illegitime. VIktor give a shit to his nation and to the whole World: http://hungarianvirus.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/a-magyar-kormany-szarik-a-vilagra-obama-elnok-magyarazatot-var-osszeugrottunk-az-ormenyekkel-is/

Guest
Turkmenbasi
September 2, 2012 1:28 am

Éva, you write that “But that Viktor Orbán knew about what would happen is certain. It was a “financial deal.” Indeed, it was! The Hungarian Ambassador to Baku is Zsolt Csutora. He is the brother of László Csutora, Fidesz treasurer for Budapest and a lietunant of Lajos Simicska.

Guest
Rettegő Iván
September 2, 2012 4:14 am

Pretty naughty situation. The Hungarian govmnt announced that it could not have done otherwise, because of the treaty on extradition, and the Azerian gvmnt gave the proper guarantees in a form of a diplomatic letter.
http://mno.hu/belfold/itt-a-bizonyitek-hazudtak-az-azeriek-1102783
What is the oppinion of Kim Lane Scheepele? She is the legal expert.

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