Meet Ramil Sahib oglu Safarov. After being sentenced to a lifelong imprisonment and having been incarcerated for several years in a Hungarian prison, Safarov was extradited to Azerbaijan a few weeks ago, where he was greeted as a hero and immediately pardoned. The result? An angry mob in Armenia’s capital Yerevan, burning Hungarian flags and bombarding the Hungarian consulate with tomatoes.
Between the years of 1988 and 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought a bloody war over the Azerbaijani enclave of Nagorno-Karabach. Ever since, Armenia and Azerbaijan haven’t been getting along very well. A formal resolution to the conflict has yet to be made.
In 2004, Azerbaijani lieutenant Safarov and Armenian officer Margarian took part in a NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace-exchange in Budapest, Hungary. However, in the night of 19 February 2004, Safarov brutally murdered Margarian with an axe he specially bought for the occasion, claiming that Margarian had insulted the Azerbaijani flag.
The trial found place in Budapest in 2006. Safarov was sentenced to a life in prison, and could not appeal for pardon for a minimum of 30 years.
However, following the Strasbourg Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Safarov was extradited to Azerbaijan on the 31st of August, and immediately pardoned by Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. The pardoning of Safarov violated previous promises from Aliyev that the murderer wouldn’t be released before 2037.
The American Foreign Ministry responded: “Armenia has repeatedly informed Hungary that Azerbaijan praises Safarov’s crime at all levels, including the presidential one. Hungary’s government should have realized the consequences of Safarov’s extradition, since this action abolished prosecution of the offense. Thus, Hungary’s government shares the moral responsibility for assisting Safarov in his grievous crime.”
The White House made a similar statement and demanded a clear explanation from the Hungarians. The motives of Hungary and its conservative prime minister Viktor Orban are not exactly clear. The Hungarian opposition claims that the extradition has to do with a billion dollar loan that Hungary wants to receive from Azerbaijan, which is quite a rich country because of its large oil reserves. Orban wants to turn to the ‘Asian world,’ as the European Union and the International Monetary Fund won’t grant him any loans, due to the budgetary deficit of Hungary and the Hungarian tax on banks.
Armenia in response has cut all diplomatic ties with Hungary – an extreme, but comprehensible response. Azerbaijani websites like ramilsafarov.info try to defend Safarov’s cause. It adds to the unlikeliness of Azerbaijan putting the axe-murderer Safarov behind bars The extradition and its aftermath may just be the spark that Armenia needs to declare war on Azerbaijan again.
See the next edition of Checks for more on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.