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Hungary’s Deputy PM Makes Surprise Visit To Armenia


Armenia - Catholicos Garegin II meets with Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen in Echmiadzin, June 25, 2021.

Hungary’s Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen joined a group of Hungarian academics in visiting Armenia on Friday despite the virtual absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Armenia froze those relations in 2012 after the Hungarian government controversially extradited to Azerbaijan an Azerbaijani army officer who hacked to death a sleeping Armenian colleague in Budapest in 2004. The officer, Ramil Safarov, whom a Hungarian court sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006, was pardoned, rewarded and promoted by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on his return to Azerbaijan.

The Hungarian government claimed to have received prior assurances by Baku that Safarov would serve the rest of his life sentence in an Azerbaijani prison.

Yerevan dismissed that explanation. Then Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian alleged at the time that corruption was at the root of the “Azerbaijani-Hungarian deal.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban travelled to Baku and met with Aliyev two months before Safarov’s release.

Semjen is the first senior Hungarian official known to have visited Armenia since then. He arrived with a delegation of officials from Hungary’s Pazmany Peter Catholic University received by Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In a statement on the meeting, Garegin’s office referred to Semjen and the other visitors as “pilgrims.” It said Garegin discussed with them “inter-church relations,” the Hungarian university’s cooperation with Armenia’s Khachatur Abovian State Pedagogical University and issues relating to Hungary’s small Armenian community.

Semjen, who holds a doctoral degree from Pazmany Peter Catholic University, also held a separate meeting with Garegin. It was not clear if the Hungarian vice-premier will meet any Armenian government officials during the trip.

Unlike other European Union member states, Hungary has openly supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry reaffirmed that support three days after the outbreak of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war last September.

Visiting Baku in March this year, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto discussed with Azerbaijani officials Hungarian companies’ participation in the planned reconstruction of areas around Karabakh retaken by Azerbaijan during and after the six-week war.

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