The Hungarian government has protested and condemned Azerbaijan’s decision to free a soldier found guilty of axe-murdering an Armenian serviceman that was announced immediately after his controversial extradition from Hungary.
The Azerbaijani ambassador in Budapest, Vilayat Guliyev, was summoned to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry on Sunday in connection with the pardon granted to Ramil Safarov by President Ilham Aliyev.
“Hungary finds it unacceptable and condemns the pardoning of Ramil Safarov," the Hungarian MTI news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry state secretary, Zsolt Nemeth, as telling Guliyev.
The condemnation will hardly placate Armenia’s government and public infuriated by Safarov’s release. Hundreds of people demonstrated outside Hungary’s honorary consulate in Yerevan on Friday and Saturday, pelting tomatoes and eggs on its windows and burning a Hungarian flag.
The Armenian government, for its part, cut diplomatic ties with Hungary. President Serzh Sarkisian said on Friday that the Hungarian government has repeatedly assured Yerevan that Safarov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Hungarian court for killing Armenian Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian during a NATO training course in Budapest in 2004, will not be repatriated to Azerbaijan. He said Hungarian officials reiterated those assurances “during contacts in recent days.”
The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and Public Administration defended the extradition on Friday, saying that it stemmed from the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, to which both Azerbaijan and Hungary are signatories. The ministry said it had received written guarantees from the Azerbaijan government that Safarov’s life sentence “will not be modified but will immediately be continued to be enforced.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry dismissed this explanation in a weekend statement saying that the authorities in Budapest were well aware of “the glorification and justification” of Markarian’s murder by various-level Azerbaijani officials. It said they had “sufficient grounds to doubt the continuation of the enforcement of the sentence in Azerbaijan.”
“Therefore, the Government of Hungary should have foreseen the implications of its decision to transfer Ramil Sahib Safarov … The Government of Hungary therefore shares moral responsibility for sponsoring a grave criminal act,” read the statement.
Azerbaijani officials admit that they have for years pressed official Budapest to pave the way for Safarov’s release. Zahid Oruj, a pro-government lawmaker, told News.az on Saturday that Baku opened an embassy in the Hungarian capital as part of those efforts.
According to Novruz Mammadov, a senior aide to Aliyev, government officials from the two nations have negotiated on the issue “for a long time.” “Secret talks have been held under the Azerbaijani president’s serious control for about a year,” Mammadov said on Friday, according to Azerbaijani news agencies. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Oban’s visit to Baku in early July proved decisive for the Azerbaijani officer’s release from jail, he added.
Sarkisian cited these statements when he accused Orban’s government of cutting a secret deal with Baku. He said Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora must now make the Hungarian authorities understand that they have committed a “grave mistake.”
The suspension of Armenian-Hungarian diplomatic ties was immediately followed by the cancellation of Armenian parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian’s upcoming visit to Budapest. And the Armenian police announced on Monday that they are recalling ten officers studying at a U.S.-sponsored international police academy in the Hungarian capital.
Safarov was sent back to Azerbaijan one week after a Hungarian business weekly reported that oil-rich Azerbaijan could lend Hungary 2-3 billion euros by buying a specially-issued sovereign bond denominated in Turkish lira. The Reuters news agency likewise reported earlier in August from Istanbul that Hungary is in talks with Turkey and Azerbaijan to issue sovereign bonds in local currencies.
Peter Szijjarto, a spokesman for Prime Minister Orban, denied on Sunday any connection between Safarov’s release and the possible sale of Hungarian bonds. According to the AFP news agency, Szijjarto said those who see such a link “have a lively imagination.”