YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Hungary has reportedly warned Armenia to restore diplomatic relations with the central European state or face “serious ramifications” of its furious reaction to the release from a Hungarian prison of the Azerbaijani axe-killer of an Armenian army officer.
In a letter to his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian revealed by Hungarian media on Monday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi again defended his government’s decision to extradite Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan more than eight years after the brutal murder of Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian in Budapest. He said the extradition stemmed from a European convention and was not aimed at offending the Armenian people.
The Hungarian government also claims that it had received formal assurances from Azerbaijan that Safarov will serve the rest of a life sentence given to him by a Hungarian court in an Azerbaijani prison.
Armenian leaders have brushed aside such statements, saying that Budapest was well aware that Safarov will be set free if sent back home. They also say that Hungarian officials had repeatedly assured Yerevan, including in the days leading up to the extradition, that the Azerbaijani army officer will not be repatriated.
“The Armenian people will not forgive that,” President Serzh Sarkisian said as he suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary on August 31 just hours after Safarov returned to Baku to a hero’s welcome.
In his letter that was first reported by the Hungarian MTI news agency, Martonyi expressed regret at the dramatic move, citing “Christian values connecting the two peoples for a thousand years.”
The Hungarian minister also warned, “Suspending diplomatic relations could have serious ramifications that would not serve the interests of Armenia.” He apparently did not elaborate.
A diplomatic source in Yerevan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) Nalbandian did receive a letter from Martonyi but has not replied yet.
Martonyi said last Wednesday that Switzerland has offered to mediate between Budapest and Yerevan and that his government welcomes this initiative. But the Armenian Foreign Ministry dismissed the statement, saying that it expects “clear steps by the Hungarian authorities.” It did not clarify what those steps should be.
Foreign ministers and other senior diplomats from the European Union member states discussed the fallout from the Safarov affair at a meeting held in Cyprus late last week. Martonyi reiterated the official Hungarian line that seems to have been accepted by the EU leadership in Brussels. The latter said last week that Safarov’s transfer to Azerbaijan was carried out “in the framework of the Convention of Strasbourg on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.”
The EU has criticized instead the Azerbaijani government for pardoning and promoting Safarov immediately after his extradition. A spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign and security policy chief, said last week that the Azerbaijani side apparently failed to honor “certain conditions and commitments that were agreed between Hungary and Azerbaijan on the transfer of Ramil Safarov.”
The spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, told RFE/RL on Monday that Brussels is still expecting explanations from Baku and closely watching developments in the dispute.