Yesterday, Hungary extradited the Azeri soldier Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan. Safarov was found guilty of brutally killing a soldier at a NATO training in Hungary. Safarov used an axe to kill the soldier in his sleep (almost severing his head) and planned to kill another. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2006, but after years of work, Baku was able to have him extradited to Azerbaijan. When he stepped foot in Azerbaijan he was promptly pardoned by the President and promoted to the rank of Major. Did I mention that the soldier he killed was Armenian?
Safarov’s brutal pre-mediated murder and attempted murder resulted in six years of prison followed by national acclaim. The national acclaim came swiftly, legitimizing his actions almost immediately. At the time, the human rights ombudsman of Azerbaijan said that Safarov should be “an example of patriotism for the Azerbaijani youth.”
Armenians are legitimately pissed about this. There have been protests, almost exclusively focused on Hungary for letting Safarov go. There’s little point in protesting Azerbaijan, so instead Hungary is the target for acting as an accomplice. Today a group of protestors went to the Hungarian consulate, threw eggs, 10-dram coins (like throwing pennies) and burned the Hungarian flag.
The Armenian government has reacted by cutting diplomatic relations with Hungary. Armenia had consistently warned Hungary about Safarov’s hero status in Azerbaijan. In Hungary’s defense, they say they received assurances from Azerbaijan. This just goes to show how weak diplomatic assurances are in political cases, but that topic is beyond the scope of this blog post. Unfortunately for Hungary, Azerbaijan was within its rights within the text of the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons as Article 12 gives the right for a signatory state to “grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its Constitution or other laws.”
A big question is why did Hungary make this transfer, and the answer there explains whether Armenia reacted wisely or not. If Hungary knew about or was willfully blind to Safarov’s imminent release, as most Armenians claim, then the Armenian government acted appropriately. Armenians are pointing at Azerbaijan’s intention to buy $3.77 billion worth of Hungarian bonds as evidence of the deal. The Ministry of the Diaspora has called on all Armenians to unite, organize, and protest Hungary. The Armenian Bar Association goes both ways by blaming Hungary while acknowledging that Hungary might just be “the latest nation of a long list of nations which have been hoodwinked by the deceptiveness of the Azeri government.”
If Hungary wasn’t aware of the imminent pardoning of Safarov (as I believe), then the Armenian government is letting its impulsive reaction get in the way of effective politicking. Armenia could turn to Hungary not as an enemy but an ally and make a joint statement condemning Azerbaijan’s action. Condemnations of Azerbaijan are coming from different governments (e.g. the US [Update 3:] and Russia), putting Armenia on the side of the majority against Azerbaijan. This could lead to deepening of ties between Armenia and Europe and political isolation of Azerbaijan. A win-win for Armenia. Instead, Armenia may be making an enemy of Hungary; and, if the diplomatic relations stay cut long enough, all of Europe might start to get annoyed at Armenia. A lose-lose for Armenia.
[Update:] The Hungarian people are organizing a protest against Safarov’s pardon as well. If the Armenian and Hungarian government’s can’t work together, perhaps their peoples can?