BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Armenians worldwide are outraged by President Aliyev’s pardon following the Hungarian government’s release of Ramil Safarov — an axe-wielding Azeri Lieutenant who hacked to death Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian in his sleep, while attending a 2004 NATO course in Budapest.
One is at a loss to decide which country should be blamed more for this scandalous and shameful affair — Hungary or Azerbaijan? Part of the blame should also go to the international community for ignoring the repeated protestations of Karabakh (Artsakh) Armenians that they never again could live under the repressive rule of Azerbaijan.
When Safarov committed his barbaric act in 2004, Azeris celebrated his cowardly crime and sang his praises. Since then, Azerbaijan did everything possible to induce the Hungarian government to release the axe-man from prison, while Armenian officials sought to ensure that Safarov serves his life-sentence.
Hungary’s leaders repeatedly assured Armenia that the Azeri prisoner would not be released, despite Azerbaijan’s relentless pressures. Yet, on August 31, 2012, without any prior notice, the Hungarian authorities broke their solemn pledge by sending Safarov to Baku.
Why this sudden turn of events? The likely explanation may be found in a brief news item released by Bloomberg a week earlier: “Azerbaijan is in talks with Hungary to buy as much as three billion euros worth of government debt…. The debt, which may be sold in Turkey at the request of Azerbaijan and denominated in Turkish lira, may be sold prior to Hungary coming to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a backstop…. Azerbaijan is willing to accept yields below the market rate on Hungary’s debt.”
Clearly, Hungary has betrayed Armenia for “30 pieces of silver” — in this instance, three billion euros ($3.77 billion)! Such a large sum would go a long way to rescue Hungary from financial ruin, but would not save Hungarian officials from moral bankruptcy! For Hungary, Azerbaijan’s oil money is more precious than Armenian blood.
To justify its sinister deed, Hungary leaked a letter dated August 15, 2012 from Vilayat Zahirov, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Minister of Justice, confirming that his country would not commute Safarov’s sentence after his transfer to Baku. Zahirov cited Article 57.3 of Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code, assuring that a convict serving a life sentence can only be released after 25 years in prison.
Not surprisingly, Azerbaijan violated not only its commitment to Hungary, but also its own laws, when Pres. Aliyev set Safarov free by granting him an immediate pardon upon arrival in Baku on a specially chartered flight of Azerbaijan Airlines. The Azeri Lieutenant was promoted to the rank of Major, received a free apartment, eight years of back pay, and a hero’s welcome for the cold-blooded murder of a sleeping Armenian!
In view of the worldwide Armenian outrage at this disgraceful development, Pres. Serzh Sargsyan called the National Security Council to an emergency session on August 31, announcing Armenia’s suspension of diplomatic relations and all official contacts with Hungary. He further summoned the head of Armenia’s National Security Service and gave him a “special assignment!” Pres. Sargsyan then delivered a terse message to a gathering of foreign Ambassadors in Yerevan, cautioning them that Armenia’s future relations with their governments would depend on their reaction to this incident! Russia and the United States responded by expressing their concern at Safarov’s release and pardon, and demanding an explanation from Hungary and Azerbaijan.
Since Azerbaijan will surely reject any suggestion of incarcerating its “national hero” or returning him to Hungary to serve out his life-sentence, Armenians should embark on a series of initiatives to convince the international community that Artsakh can never accept the rule of axe-wielding murderers and their state sponsors. Armenians should take advantage of the sympathy generated by this miscarriage of justice in order to strengthen their case for Artsakh’s independent statehood.
In the coming days and weeks, Armenians should step up the pressure on Hungary and Azerbaijan by holding demonstrations in front of their embassies and consulates, asking all countries as well as NATO, EU and OSCE to condemn the shameful manipulation of international norms of justice by Budapest and Baku.
Armenia should immediately suspend negotiations with Azerbaijan and recognize the independence of Artsakh, urging all other countries to do likewise. When Pres. Aliyev signed Safarov’s pardon, he unwittingly affirmed Artsakh’s quest for independence.
Armenians worldwide should join forces to strengthen Armenia politically, economically, and militarily to forestall Azerbaijan, Turkey, and all others from resorting to any future hostile action.