Armenians Furious After Hungary Releases Azerbaijani Officer Ramil Safarov, Convicted of Murder

A new crisis has erupted in the Caucasus region. Hungary extradited Ramil Safarov, a 35-year-old Azerbaijani officer who had allegedly killed a sleeping Armenian serviceman named Gourgen Margaryan in February of 2004, to Azerbaijan. At the time, the two officers were participating in English language courses organized by NATO in Budapest. In 2006, Hungary’s court sentenced Safarov to life in prison for the murder.

According to Hungarian authorities, they agreed to return Safarov only after receiving assurances that his sentence would be enforced. If that was the agreement, then obviously Azerbaijan cheated its Hungarian partners, because Safarov was pardoned right after his arrival to Baku. 

Budapest condemned Azeris for releasing the murderer, however, this could have been predicted easily: Safarov was considered a hero in Azerbaijan from the very first day of killing the Armenian. In 2005, he was characterized as the “Man of the Year” of Azerbaijan. His return to Baku was accepted with much celebration. Safarov was promoted, granted a new apartment, and given his salary for the eight years that he spent in prison.

Hungary’s decision has left Armenians shocked and outraged.

Armenians protested against the Hungarian diplomatic missions in Yerevan, Los Angeles, New York, Ottawa, Paris, London, Warsaw, Bucharest, Nicosia, and New Dehli. There were two protests in Washington. “Everyone is outraged by this decision. The Embassy staffers did not come out today. This is a highly embarrassing decision for Hungary,” said Emil Sanamian, the editor of Armenian Reporter. According to Dikran Kazanjian, an Armenian Youth Federation acrivist, "releasing an ax-murderer and promoting him is a mock against justice and rule of law."

The White House responded immediately: NSC Spokesman Tommy Vietor stated that President Obama is deeply concerned by the announcement that the President of Azerbaijan has pardoned Ramil Safarov following his return from Hungary. “We are communicating to Azerbaijani authorities our disappointment about the decision to pardon Safarov. This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation,” Tommy Vietor stated. According to Victoria Nuland, a spokesperson for the Department of State, "we have been in touch with the Azerbaijanis and urging them to meet commitments that they reportedly made to the Hungarians in advance of the release." Washington wants the axe-murderer to be taken back into the jail, but I personally seriously doubt Baku will do it.

The Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan called foreign ambassadors in Armenia to his office and stated that Armenia is suspending its diplomatic relations with Hungary. “Throughout the years, the Hungarian authorities assured us that repatriation of Safarov is not a matter of fact,” President reminded.

Thousands of Hungarians protested the government's decision as well. Three thousand people gathered in front of the Hungarian parliament with signs saying, "Sorry Armenia," "Hungary's dignity is not for sale," and other slogans. The rumors that Azerbaijan will invest two billion dollars in the Hungarian economy are often indicated as a factor which facilitated Budapest’s decision to extradite Safarov. "Hungary is in crisis and they are not capable of getting enough money from Europe. They could have agreed to take the petrodollars of Azerbaijan," an anonymus Hungarian journalist mentioned to me in conversation.

The Armenian Justice Minister Tovmasyan called his Hungarian colleague to resign. “Even if you do so, however, for officer Gourgen Markarian's family, the whole nation, and progressive mankind, you will remain a person who helped the murderer avoid the punishment," Tovmasyan said in his letter.

Armenians and Azerbaijanis fought a war for Nagorno-Karabakh, a 95% Armenian populated region which was assigned to Azerbaijan by the Bolshevik party’s arbitrary decision in 1921. By 1994, Armenians established control over NK, and a ceasefire was signed, however, the final settlement has not been reached yet.