Parliament factions, in uproar, demand explanations
YEREVAN—Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told the National Assembly Wednesday that Hungary had given Armenia “unequivocal assurances” that it would not extradite axe murderer Ramil Safarov, as recently as August 24, calling into question Hungary’s diplomatic honesty.
Nalbandian was speaking at an emergency session of the parliament, which at the request of the president, convened to discuss Hungary’s decision to extradite Safarov, who in 2004, brutally murdered Armenian serviceman Lt. Gurgen Margaryan.
Nalbandian explained that Armenia’s leadership regularly told the Hungarian government that Safarov’s extradition would be unacceptable for Armenia
“The Hungarian side gave unequivocal assurances that such a step is excluded. Similar assurances were provided in answer to our inquiries during the second half of August, including on August 22, 23, 24 in the Hungarian Ministries of Foreign and Justice Ministries, as well as in the Parliament,” explained Nalbandian in his seven point presentation to parliament.
“To reaffirm those assurances we submitted a written inquiry to the authorities of Hungary. Due to the delay in receiving a response to that inquiry, at the initiation of the Armenian side meetings were held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Parliament of Hungary on August 28, during which yet again it was reassured that there was no such thing. Further developments are well-known,” added Nalbandian, who insinuated that Armenia and the international community were caught off-guard by Friday’s developments.
After extraditing Safarov to Azerbaijan last Friday and despite reported assurances from Azerbaijan that the murderer would continue to serve his life sentence in Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev pardoned Safarov and proclaimed him a national hero.
The Hungarian foreign ministry waited three days to summon the Azeri ambassador to Budapest and condemning Baku for its reversal.
Nalbandian blamed the present-day Hungarian regime for reneging on commitments that have been made by Budapest since 2004 when the murder occurred. He said that
“The current Hungarian Government, issuing a fabricated Azeri letter it received, pretends that it believed in the false assurances of Azerbaijan,” said Nalbandian. “It is not accidental that the Hungarian Government is not able to give a precise explanation why they so drastically changed their position and why suddenly they so gullibly accepted the lies of Azerbaijan.”
Nalbandian also stressed that Safarov incident has significantly impacted the peace process and informed parliament that the OSCE Co-chairing countries were not informed of the machinations of the deal and were caught off guard.
He rationalized the chain of events by saying the international reaction to the incident affirmed Armenia’s position on the matter/
“The international community’s unanimous negative assessment to that infamy with an addressee witnesses that such phenomena can not be tolerated,” said Nalbandian.
This and the general tone of the report caused concern among many parliament members, causing an uproar in parliament following the minister’s report.
Taking issue with the aforementioned statement about the international community’s reaction, Armenian Revolutionary Federation parliamentary bloc secretary Aghavan Vartanian countered Nalbandian’s assessment of the events by explaining that t he international community has attempted to, once again, be even-handed in its messaging and merely expressed tacit concern about the events, reported Yerkir Medai.
“If the foreign minister is announcing that the international community is shocked, then I’m afraid that, once again, we are under certain illusions and are relying on some illusive approach by the international community,” said Vartanian.
The ARF parliamentary leader urged that all correspondence, announcements and transcript of meetings be presented to the parliament, including a detailed briefing of the Sept. 2 meeting Nalbandian had with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen.
Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian the Prosperous Armenia Party also raised questions about Armenia’s approach to the matter.
“For me, it is incomprehensible and inexplicable that we first heard about all this from the Azerbaijani media, after Safarov set foot to his home soil,” he said in a speech. “Can anyone explain to me why is it that 15 days ago the Hungarian-Armenian community alerted our authorities about [Safarov’s impending extradition] and they did nothing?” reported RFE/RL.
“I simply have no doubts that if we had threatened to do what we have just done, as a reaction, two weeks ago, Safarov would have been in his prison cell today,” said Oskanian, who was foreign minister during the 2004 murder.
Naira Zohrabian, another senior Prosperous Armenia lawmaker, dismissed Nalbandian’s arguments, citing a leader of Hungary’s ethnic Armenian community, Nikoghayos Hakobian, as saying the Hungarian parliament speaker, Laszlo Kover, told other community leaders earlier in August that Safarov will indeed be sent home soon. The Yerevan government was immediately informed about that, according to Zohrabian.
Hakobian confirmed this when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by telephone. He said he promptly flew to Yerevan on August 20 to meet with officials at the Armenian ministries of foreign and Diaspora affairs and alert them about Kover’s revelation.
Firdus Zakarian, a senior official at the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, acknowledged meeting with the Hungarian-Armenian activist. “The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs could not accept that information at face value at that point,” Zakarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Naturally, we had to tell relevant bodies to verify its credibility, which is what we did.”
“Questions were then asked to the Hungarian authorities and they assured [Armenian officials] that such a thing cannot happen,” he said. “We could not distrust the Hungarian authorities at that point because relations between the two states were good and Hungarian justice had acted properly by giving [Safarov] a life sentence. We had no reason to not believe them.”