BY GAIANEH AVANESSIAN
The international wave of protests reached Los Angeles on Thursday September 6 as 1,500 community members—mostly youth—gathered in front of the building housing both the Hungarian and Azeri Consulates to demand justice for slain Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan.
Margaryan was brutally murdered by Ramil Safarov in Hungary in 2004. Convicted of his crime, Safarov was expected to serve a life sentence in Hungary, however, was extradited to Azerbaijan where he was immediately pardoned by the Azeri government. Upon returning to Azerbaijan, Safarov has been treated as a national hero, causing fury in the international Armenian community. The Republic of Armenia has suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary. The United States has expressed “deep concern” over the matter, and has requested Hungary provide its reasons for extraditing Safarov. All across the globe Armenians are joining forces and protesting this immoral act.
The protest was a collaboration between the Armenian Youth Federation, Unified Young Armenians, ARF Shant Student Association, All-Armenian Student Associations, and SDHP Gaidz Youth, all of whom accepted the task of organizing a large demonstration on such short notice.
Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Krekorian gave the keynote speech saying “By pardoning Safarov, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has once more demonstrated to the world his devotion to intolerance, hate and division, not peace and understanding. By providing Safarov a hero’s welcome in Baku, and promoting his military rank, Mr. Aliyev and his government have sent a clear and despicable message to the country’s population and to the international community: in Azerbaijan, the murder of Armenians is not only tolerated, it is encouraged, celebrated and rewarded.”
After his speech, Councilmember Krekorian along with the chairpersons of the AYF and UYA attempted to deliver a letter written by the organizing committee to the Consul Generals of Hungary and Azerbaijan, but were denied entry. Security would even refuse to allow images and videos to be taken of the scene in front of the door. Subsequently, Krekorian read the letter aloud to the crowd, communicating the outrage felt by the Armenian community, and outlining it’s demands. “We, the undersigned organizations condemn these actions of both the Government of Hungary and the corrupt regime in Baku. We urge the international community to join us in demanding an apology from the Hungarian Government and asking for the rescission of their immoral decision on extradition. From the Azeri Government, we demand a reversal of the pardon and an immediate imprisonment of Ramil Safarov.”
The protesters ranged in age from a baby in his mother’s arm holding a sign saying “I am Gurgen,” to the elderly, who despite the heat, traveled to the Consulate to ensure that their anger for the Hungarian and Azerbaijani governments was expressed. Five veterans of the Artsakh War were also in attendance. Marching and chanting in unison, the protestors demanded justice be delivered. One of the phrases being repeated was “Safarov’s pardon was a bargain,” referring to the three and a half billion dollar loan Azerbaijan granted Hungary just before Safarov’s extradition.
Aroutiun Aroutiunyan, chairperson of the UYA, echoed those sentiments in his speech delivered in English noting the immoral nature of Hungary’s actions. However, he also emphasized the relentless spirit of the Armenian people who continue to fight for Genocide recognition and the recognition of the Republic of Artsakh.
Chairperson of AYF, David Arakelyan, delivered a poignant speech in Armenian saying “we are here today to tell the world that the Armenian Nation will not tolerate this kind of treatment and that we stand behind Artsakh and stand behind the heroic people who fought for its liberation.”
“As repentance, Hungary must recognize Karabakh’s independence. By doing that we can say that Budapest was not an accomplice to Azerbaijan’s criminal behavior,” adaded Arakelyan.
As tensions rise between Armenia and the governments of Azerbaijan and Hungary, the fight for a free, independent, and united Armenia carries on.