Updates to Hungary’s Extradition Of Ramil Sahib Safarov
Due to unabating interest in the repercussions of Hungary’s exchange of a common criminal for billions of euros – and the unending stream of developments in the story – this post is reserved for collecting any updates on the topic of Ramil Sahib Safarov’s transfer to Baku.
The story broke on Friday that Azerbaijani citizen Ramil Sahib Safarov, who is known in Hungary only as the “axe murderer” and who had been convicted to 30 years in prison, was seen free on the streets of Baku. Quickly it had been pieced together that the Hungarian government had extradited him to the Azerbaijani government, where he received an immediate pardon from Azeri president Ilham Aliyev (as well as a new apartment and 8 years of military salary for his time in jail).
Earlier, Safarov had admitted to killing Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan. What has angered the Armenians in particular about the affair was that the Hungarian government likely received 3 billion euros in exchange for the prisoner from the Azeri state (this amount is approximately one-fifth of the loan they continue to seek from the IMF). Armenia had cut all diplomatic ties with Hungary, angry protesters tore of the nation’s flag of the Hungarian consulate in Yerevan. See the blog’s previous post for more details on this newest and greatest of the Hungarian government’s diplomatic “successes.”
*** UPDATES BY AFTERNOON OF SEPT. 2, 2012 ***
* “Axe-gate” in Full Swing: Hungarian public opinion is intensely taken up with the embarrassing affair that many only refer to as “Balta-gate” (i.e. Axe-Gate, balta is the Hungarian word for axe). Condemnations of the Hungarian government’s action are pouring in, some have called for the resignation of Tibor Navracsics, Hungary’s Minister of Justice.
* Details of the Azeri-Hungarian Negotiations about Safarov Made Available: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had been in negotiations with the Azerbaijani for at least a year regarding transferring Safarov. Mr. Orbán visited Baku in June of this year; it is thought that it was at this time that the details of the quid pro quo were finalized. Within weeks, Péter Szíjjártó, the government’s commissioner responsible for the so-called Eastern Opening – and for making sure that Hungary profits from its new relationship with nations of the East – also visited Baku. News about the Azeri purchase of Hungarian state-bonds surfaced only days after Szíjjártó’s visit.
* Hungarian Government Accuses Azeri Government of Lying: The Hungarian government has renounced any responsibility for the role paid in the diplomatic debacle. According to their spokesperson, they did not know, nor could they have known of the Azeris’ intentions to pardon Safarov upon his extradition. Why should they be blamed for something that the Azeri president did?
In support of this position, the Hungarian government released a letter signed by Vilayat Zahirov, the Deputy Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan in which they guarantee that any “sentenced person” would “serve the remaining part of their prison sentences in the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
In a diplomatic communication to Azerbaijan accompanying the release of this letter to the press , the Hungarian government states that they were shocked to be informed about the amnesty granted to Safarov. The same letter, however, concludes with an emphatic expression of Hungary’s “high regards” of its recipients.
Opponents of the government had called upon the Hungarian government to issue a condemnation of Safarov’s pardon, as this would prove their actual disapproval. Analysts critical of Viktor Orbán’s administration also note that, by deferring any responsibility over the matter to the Azerbaijani government, the Hungarian government has managed to make not only one but two enemies in the Caucasus region: after involving themselves in a conflict with the Armenians, today they have also found themselves at odds with previous “ally” Azerbaijan as well. At this point, receipt of the money that Azerbaijan was going to pay for Safarov is uncertain. International awareness of the matter would likely make its payment impossible even if the Azeris kept their word about their purchase of the Hungarian state-bonds.
* Protest against Hungary’s Extradition To Be Held on Tuesday by the Hungarian Government’s Democratic Opposition: One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary, an internet initiative against the Orbán government’s curtailing of media freedoms has called for a demonstration against the Hungarian government’s exchange of a common criminal for hard cash.
* Extradition Previously Requested: Former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány had told the press that the Azeri state also approached his previous administration with requests for extradition. The Gyurcsány administration refused such requests because they did not see it as a realistic prospect that Safarov would continue to serve his time once in Azerbaijan.
“A government that lets go of the honor of a nation for 30 pieces of silver, one which lets a murderer free of his punishment in jail had better not introduce morality classes in school,” stated Gyurcsány in an event organized by his political party the Democratic Coalition on Sunday – the focus of which happened to be the government’s conservative remake of the Hungarian school system.
* Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Issues Statement of Solidarity with “Catholic Armenia”: The Hungarian Catholic Church “most deliberately rejects all forms of ethnic violence and hatred,” stated Péter Erdő in a letter addressed to Catholicos Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
As it is well-known, the Azeri-Armenian conflict is aggravated by religious differences between the two nations. Surprisingly to many who know the religious fervor sometimes reached in the communications of the Christian Democratic Orbán government, in this instance the same politicians sided with the Muslim Azerbaijani government.
* Gruesome Details of the Murder: Those unfamiliar with the circumstances under which Safarov murdered the Armenian soldier Margaryan can read his confession to the Hungarian police here. He describes his deed as the premeditated act of a soldier for whom it is a duty to kill Armenians.
* Hey Armenia, Sorry About Our Prime Minister: A great resource for following the reactions of Hungarians shocked about the Hungarian government’s meddling in the Azeri-Armenian conflict is the Facebook page Hey Armenia, Sorry About Our Prime Minister: http://www.facebook.com/SorryArmenia .
For those who are only just starting to follow Hungarian affairs, “Hey Europe, Sorry about our Prime Minister” was a famous text carried on a placard during an anti-government rally on January 1, 2012. The photo of the placard had become the emblem of the massive demonstration organized against the Orbán government’s unilateral change of the Hungarian constitution. Hungary’s new constitution had been criticized internationally as well as domestically because of it elevated radical conservative beliefs advanced by the governing party to the level of the country’s fundamental law.
The Armenia, Sorry About our PM Facebook page contains many English-language updates on the Safarov affair as well as messages posted by average Hungarians with the intention to reach the citizens of Armenia and the world.
*** MONDAY, SEPT. 3. UPDATES ***
* Dilettantism of Safarov Transfer Seen as Proof of Centralization of Power by Prime Minister: Hungary has plenty of competent diplomats, and those employed in the Foreign Ministry of the country are respected internationally for their professionalism. How did it come about then that the Hungarian administration committed a mistake as blatant as the extradition of Ramil Sahib Saharov to Azerbaijan?
Recent reorganization of the government structure has strengthened the dominance of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his small group of advisors in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Critical of the performance of Foreign Minister János Martonyi – and citing especially the Western “attack” on Hungary, i.e. vocal criticism of a variety of legislation introduced by his government – Orbán delegated key functions in the conduct of Hungary’s foreign relations to his assistant Péter Szíjjártó in June of this year. Szíjjártó was made responsible for the government’s “Eastern Opening”: he was placed in charge of unusual relationships (of which the Safarov transfer may only be the tip of the iceberg) with newly-found diplomatic allies such as Azerbaijan, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.
* Azerbaijani Embassy in Hungary Opened Specifically for the Purpose of Bringing Safarov Home: At the time of Safarov’s gruesome murder of Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan, Azerbaijan did not have diplomatic representation in Hungary. “The main purpose of establishment of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Hungary was to ensure the legal protection of Ramil Safarov,” told Zahid Oruj, a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Security, to the Azeri press.
“Safarov’s action is not an ordinary criminal case,” he went on to say. “Figuratively speaking, the verdict was passed not against Ramil Safarov, but against the Karabakh war.”
“The Supreme Commander defended his officer,” Oruj also added about Safarov’s presidential pardon. “With this, the President of Azerbaijan has made a contribution to the liberation of Karabakh. The president has proved that he will protect his soldiers, his officers under any circumstances.”
* Hungarian Solidarity with Armenia Included Small Protest on Sunday: For a summary of expressions of solidarity from Hungarians to the Armenian nation, see this article from the Armenian press: Thousands of Hungarians Apologize, Condemn Government for Safarov Extradition.
* Armenian Government Raises Its Grievance with Hungary to International Level: On Sunday, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian held negotiations with the Minsk group about the Safarov’s transfer and its repercussions for the region. The Minsk group is comprised of Russia, France and the United States; its participants are tasked with finding a political solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In the meantime, signatures are being collected in Armenia to call for an extraordinary session of parliament to be held this Wednesday. The legislative meeting would pronounce an official end to Armenian diplomatic relations with Hungary.
* Clarification on International Law – Hungary Misinterpreted Azeri Assurances: Hungary’s (moral) defense of allowing the Azeri’s to buy the freedom of Ramil Sahib Safarov stands on even shakier ground than one may have originally thought. Legally, of course, the extradition took place in accordance with international law. At the same time, however, the Hungarian government claims that they did not and could not have expected that the Azeri’s would forgive their soldier from his life sentence. As evidence of guarantees they received to this effect, the Hungarian administration made public a diplomatic communication dated August 15 by the Azerbaijani Minstry of Justice.
The problem with this argument, as the Hungarian blog Ténytár reports (link in Hungarian) is that the letter in question contains no such promises. The Azerbaijani letter does in fact contain guarantees that the receiving country would not change the penalty imposed by the extraditing country through the court system – e.g. by retrying the prisoner. However, there are no guarantees in the letter against a customary and widely used procedure in extradition cases: the changing of the extradited person’s punishment by a presidental pardon (which is a power issuing from the sovereignty of each nation). There may be a problem with the lack of knowledgability in the Hungarian government regarding international practice in extradition cases, or else the Hungarian government is lying aboout what they assumed would be the fate of Safarov once released to Baku, concludes the blog.
*** UPDATES FROM MONDAY PM ***
* Prime Minister Orbán on the Safarov Transfer: Early in the afternoon on Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán finally addressed the growing controversy. The prime minister stated that he “acknowledges” the dispute following Safarov’s presidential pardon “with calmness and in a collected way.” Orbán then went on to dismiss Armenia’s diplomatic protests against Hungary. His government did not plan to do anything about these, he said, as Hungary is capable of treating every problem in accordance with its significance. Hungary’s prime minister also added that he felt respect for the Armenian people and had hopes that good relationships may be cultivated within the two nations in the coming decades.
* European Commission and OSCE Concerns over Safarov’s Pardon: European Commissioners Catherine Ashton and Štefan Füle issued a joint statement urging Armenia and Azerbaijan not to escalate regional tensions (pdf). Out of similar concerns, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk group -which is working through Russian, French and US ambassador to negotiate a peaceful conclusion of the Azeri-Armenian conflict – met with the Armenian foreign minister on Monday and scheduled talks with Azerbaijan’s minister of foreign affairs for Tuesday.
* Paris Protest Organized Against Hungarian Role in Safarov’s Extradition and Freeing for Thursday:
Manifestation devant l’ambassade de Hongrie
Jeudi 6 septembre à 18h30
78, avenue Foch
Métro: Porte Dauphine
* US Protest In Front of Los Angeles Consulate of Hungary and Azerbaijan on Thursday: The Armenian Youth Federation has called for a protest of the Hungarian and Azeri consulates in Los Angeles, CA, which happen to share the same office building. The protest will take place on Thursday 9/6 at 3PM outside at 11766 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025. For info and statement see this link.
* Protest in Budapest, Hungary tomorrow: Meet at 6pm at Kossuth Square.
* Azerbaijan Will NOT Pay for Safarov: Tuesday’s most important news in the Safarov affair is that Azerbaijan will not render payment of the 2-3 billion euros to the Hungarian government and news of planned Azeri business investments in Hungary are also being emphatically denied by Azerbaijan’s state oil company. Depending on where you stand, this should leads to one of two conclusions:
a. that Hungary is blameless in the affair, since there had been no quid pro quo in Safarov’s extradition case OR
b. that the Azeri’s reneging on the promise only supports the amateurism of the Hungarian government’s, which was already notable from other details of the case.
Hold your horses, however, because Azerbaijan may have already made the payment for Safarov. According to the Panarmenian news portal, “it is no secret that Ankara stands behind all this deal; it organized the talks and specified the sum Ilham Aliyev had to pay.” The lack of specifics is bothersome, though what is almost certain is that any ransom, if paid, would have been much lower than the 2-3 billion sum thus far circulated.
*** FINAL UPDATES ***
* Thousands Participate in Anti-government Protest in Budapest: against the Hungarian government’s dilettantism, lack of morality, and selling out of the nation. View a photo report of here:
read Reuters’ reporting on the protest here:
or watch a video:
* Hungarian Government Admits They Were Aware of Possibility of Safarov Pardon: Deputy Secretary for Foreign Affairs Zsolt Németh told Hungarian public television on Wednesday that the Hungarian government was aware of the possibility that Safarov may be pardoned in Azerbaijan (link in Hungarian). At the same time, Hungary did not expect the “unfriendly response” of the Azeri government in the face of the Hungarians’ “friendly gesture.”
Németh blamed “appearances of dealing in corps” for the debacle concerning the economic aspects of the affair: for the Azeris’ announcement that they will step back from making investment’s in cash-strapped Hungary.
Németh joins a long list of Hungarian government officials who have found explanations for the bizarre affair at the most unexpected places. Antal Rogán, leader of the governing-party’s parliamentary caucus for example said that responsibility for today’s affair should lie with anyone who thought that “putting up an Azeri and an Armenian soldier in the same floor of a dormitory” was a good idea.
In other report’s, Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi officially accepted the help offered by the Swiss government to mediate between Armenia and Hungary in moving beyond the break-down of their diplomatic ties.
* NYT Reports about “Tensions Reignited” in the Caucasus Thanks to Hungary’s Release of Safarov: “The backlash has embarrassed Hungary,” wrote Ellen Barry for the newspaper, “and it threatens to end the lengthy peace process that has kept Azerbaijan and Armenia from sliding back into bloody conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.