Armenia reiterated on Wednesday its unpublicized conditions for restoring diplomatic relations with Hungary that were frozen last year following the release from a Hungarian prison of the Azerbaijani axe-killer of an Armenian army officer.
“Armenia stands ready to normalize relations with Hungary. But Hungary should take appropriate steps in connection with that,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told journalists in Yerevan.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Thorbjorn Jagland, the visiting secretary general of the Council of Europe, Nalbandian declined to specify what the Hungarian government should do.
Armenia suspended diplomatic ties with European Union and NATO member Hungary in August 2012 immediately after the extradition to Azerbaijan of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani officer who was serving a life sentence for the brutal 2004 murder of an Armenian Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian.
Safarov, who hacked Markarian to death during a NATO language course in Budapest, received a hero’s welcome on his return to Azerbaijan. He was pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev, promoted to the rank of major, granted a free apartment and paid eight years’ worth of back pay. His glorification provoked a furious reaction from Armenia and strong international criticism.
The Hungarian government has repeatedly defended its decision to extradite Safarov, saying it stemmed from a European convention and was not aimed at offending the Armenian people. It also claims that it had received formal assurances from Azerbaijan that Safarov will serve the rest of the life sentence in an Azerbaijani prison.
Armenian leaders insist, however, that Budapest knew that Safarov will be set free if sent back home. They also say that Hungarian officials had repeatedly assured Yerevan that the Azerbaijani officer will not be repatriated. “The Armenian people will not forgive that,” President Serzh Sarkisian said as he froze diplomatic ties with Hungary on August 31.
The Hungarian side has since tried to mend bilateral ties. In a September letter to Nalbandian, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi warned of “serious ramifications that would not serve the interests of Armenia.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry dismissed the letter, saying that it expects “clear steps” from the Budapest. It did not elaborate.