Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian defended his country’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Hungary which he accused of ‘aggravating’ a regional conflict with Azerbaijan in an interview to a private Hungarian TV channel aired recently.
At the same time, the Armenian leader made it clear that the Hungarian people should not be held responsible for the blunder of their government.
Speaking to the ATV channel, Sarkisian again criticized the government of Viktor Orban for extraditing Azerbaijani axe-murderer Ramil Safarov in a move that infuriated Armenia and was questioned by many countries, including the United States.
Safarov, an Azerbaijani army officer, was serving a life sentence in a Hungarian jail for hacking to death a fellow Armenian student at NATO-sponsored English language courses in Budapest in 2004. He was released on August 31 and flown back to Baku supposedly to continue to serve his sentence there. The 35-year-old confessed killer, however, was pardoned by a presidential decree shortly after repatriation. He was also promoted to the rank of major, given a house and eight years’ worth of back-pay.
Armenia immediately suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary, with officials in Yerevan accusing Budapest of knowing beforehand that Safarov would be set free upon his return home. Hungarian officials, meanwhile, maintain that Safarov was handed over to Azerbaijan after Baku had assured Orban’s government that he would serve out his life sentence in an Azerbaijani prison.
“The decision of the Hungarian government not only jeopardized the Armenian-Hungarian relations, which is regretful, but also led to problems in the European Union’s Eastern policy and [Armenia’s] peace talks with Azerbaijan, and, therefore, has put the stability of the region at risk,” said Sarkisian in the interview.
According to the Armenian leader, the Orban government’s decision has only aggravated the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as today’s policies of Azerbaijan leave little space for hopes to solve the problem peacefully.
In an interview with Reuters last week Sarkisian said Azerbaijan had been acquiring a “horrendous quantity” of arms to settle the conflict militarily.
“But I don’t want the Armenian people to turn their back on the Hungarians because of the Hungarian government that turned its back on Armenia,” concluded Sarkisian.
Last week Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban strongly defended his decision to extradite Safarov, saying that it was legal and beneficial for his country. He reiterated his government’s claims that the move was based on Hungarian and international laws.
“We would have done the same if an Armenian had killed an Azerbaijani. Hungary should follow its own interests rather than those of Armenia or Azerbaijan,” the MTI news agency quoted Orban as telling the Hungarian parliament on October 1.
“Hungary got out of [the conflict] by transferring the Azeri convict,” he said, according to Politics.hu. “As long as [Safarov] was here, he caused plenty of problems and difficulties, and the situation [in the Karabakh dispute] would not have changed in the future either.”
Orban’s statement followed Yerevan’s refusal to restore diplomatic ties unconditionally. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Yerevan said late last month that Armenia expected “practical steps” from Hungary. He did not elaborate.