Partners in Crime

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenians are rightfully outraged over the extradition of the Azeri criminal, Ramil Safarov, to Baku, where authorities accorded a hero’s welcome to that convicted murderer.

Yes, Armenians all over the world are outraged, but not necessarily the rest of the civilized world, and that is cause for more outrage than the mockery that the governments of Azerbaijan and Hungary made of international law.

Outrage and anger will not solve this serious problem; a sober analysis of what happened and what we can learn from this international scandal may prove to be more constructive.

This blatantly illegal act is concurrently reverberating in three major directions: a) domestic political impact in Hungary, b) domestic political impact in Armenia and c) international ramifications.

Hungary has been a friendly nation to Armenia since historic times. Armenians settled in Hungary after the Seljuks overran the medieval Armenian capital city of Ani in the 11th century. The tide of immigration led Armenians to Crimea and then on to Transylvania, which has been part of Hungary since 1526. However, with the Treaty of Trianon in 1921, the region changed hands and Transylvania was transferred to Romania. Many Armenians moved to Budapest and those remaining in Transylvania continued to use Hungarian as their mother tongue. Armenians were well integrated in the fabric of Hungarian society, while preserving their ethnic identity. At times they were granted local autonomy, and they produced many revolutionary heroes and prominent statesmen and artists. Today, the local Armenians count between 12,000-15,000, with an additional 2,000-3,000 recent immigrants from Armenia and the Middle East.

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Unlike other European nations, Hungary presently has recognized and supports the Armenian minority’s self-government in the Budapest coalition, one of 13 different ethnic groups that elect their president and representative in the Hungarian parliament.

After joining the European Union, Hungary experienced a serious economic crisis which caused the collapse of the Socialist government, paving the way for the current Young Democrats, an extreme rightist party, which won a landslide election and now controls more than two-thirds of the parliament. The party, therefore, can pass any laws without seeking the support of a coalition partner. It is this government, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which has negotiated the deal with the Azerbaijani government to enact the extradition of Ramil Safarov upon the assurances of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan that the convicted criminal will serve the balance of his sentence in Azerbaijan.

Since the Hungarian government has fallen on hard times, it has opted to undertake the shameful act of transferring the criminal to his native country, hoping that the Turkish government will broker a deal between the two parties, whereby the Baku government will buy Hungary’s government bonds to the tune of 3 billion euros. (One can call it blood money.) This, after Hungary had failed to receive guarantees from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to internationally market its bonds at a lower interest rate.

It is believed that Azerbaijan has not yet met its part of the deal and even if it does at this late hour, it will serve as a political bomb and blast the legitimacy of Orban’s government. The opposition has taken up the Safarov case as a cause célèbre. The president of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ conference, Cardinal Peter Erdo, has issued a statement expressing “solidarity with the Armenian Christians.” There is a groundswell of popular support for the Armenian side in Hungary and it looks like this rash decision by the government will boomerang and hit the government where it hurts.

Recently, Hungary’s president, Pal Schmitt, resigned after having been caught plagiarizing one of his doctoral theses. Growing anger caused him to resign, thus showing a precedent in converting moral outrage into political action in Hungary.

The Safarov extradition had a different impact on the Armenian domestic political scene. As President Serge Sargisian’s administration was fully engaged in the forthcoming presidential election, it did not need to deal with yet another political hot potato. That is why he has taken a resolute stand in order not to lose the momentum in the domestic political game. Upon learning about the extradition, he convened the National Security Council for an emergency meeting and announced the severing of diplomatic relations with Hungary. This must grant him some brownie points domestically, as Armenians are prone to sacrificing political rea ism for macho stances.

Former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian, head of the opposition in the parliament, labeled that decision as a “wrong step.”

However, it seems that the crisis may turn into a blessing in disguise, as most of the Armenians are outraged enough to support any tough action.

Many ideas and recommendations emerged as a consequence of the scandal, most popular among them being the recognition of Artsakh as an independent nation by Armenia, although this involves a serious political risk as Azeris may use that to rekindle the hostilities. Last time around the Armenians won the Artsakh War through the acquiescence, if not the outright support of Moscow. Armenia cannot afford that risk without Russia’s consent, but rumors are out that the Azeri tycoon Ilham Rahimov had kept his former classmate Vladimir Putin abreast of secret negotiations and perhaps that has been the reason for the low-key response of the Russian government to the crisis.

Armenia’s second president, Robert Kocharian, has come up with another interesting idea, which makes sense if the Budapest government is in the mood to appease Armenia. He has proposed to ask Hungary to recognize Artsakh, to make amends to the Armenian side.

But above all, one political point can be promoted internationally that Armenians in Artsakh can never be ruled by Azerbaijan, given the racist nature of that government which promises the “highest level of autonomy to Armenians under Azeri rule.”

As the barbaric nature of that rule has become amply visible to the international community, the theory of territorial integrity sounds hollow to any sane political observer.

Of course, the opposition in Armenia did not miss the opportunity to use the scandal to criticize the administration, blaming it by asking: were you asleep when secret negotiations were going on?

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry issued a clarification that as late as week before Safarov’s release, the Hungarian government had assured the Armenian side that no such deal was in the making.

The upshot is that the Azeri government duped the Hungarian government, which in turn had duped the Armenian government. Having witnessed the mass hysteria in Azerbaijan upon Safarov’s conviction, the Hungarian government was fully aware of the consequences of its action. But it went head with its decision, using the Azeri assurances as a legal fig leaf to announce to the Armenian side that Hungary “acted within the norms of the

international law.” The third dimension of the crisis is the international reaction to

Hungary’s action. If there is anything more outrageous than Hungary’s shameful act, it is the benign reaction of the international community that makes Armenians painfully aware that Armenia is isolated and does not have friends, meaning political allies who have a stake in Armenia.

Whether the present government or any other party in power could do better than what Armenia is doing now is up for debate. It boils down to the relative clout of Armenia versus Azerbaijan, in the world political scene and the cliché that Azeri oil is worth more than Armenian blood Azerbaijan understands as well as Hungary does. They have acted in full awareness of Armenia’s limited options to react. What does Hungary lose when Armenia severs its diplomatic relations? Not much. Whereas Baku’s actions — or reactions — may have much higher consequences.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation’s Minsk Group, which has been engaged in an idle shuttle diplomacy regarding Karabagh for the last two decades, has come up with a mild statement that the Budapest-Baku extradition game may impact negtively the ongoing negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is no condemnation, not even a slight criticism of the monstrous legal scandal.

The European Union has kept the parity between the criminal and the victim, as usual, preaching calm not to escalate the tension. Some parliamentarians have called upon Margeret Ashton to learn some civilized conduct, before dispensing that advice to Armenia.

Russia, Armenia’s strategic ally, has issued a statement through a low-ranking representative of the Foreign Ministry, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has yet to utter a word on the subject. A spokesperson of Foreign Ministry, Alexander Lugashevich, made the following statement: “We believe that the actions undertaken by the Azerbaijani and Hungarian authorities contradict the internationally-agreed efforts and in the first place the actions of OSCE group to reduce the tensions in the region.” No qualifications nor any reprimands were issued to the two governments involved. The president of the Russian-Armenian Congress Ara Abrahamian released a statement demanding an unequivocal condemnation from President Vladimir Putin himself.

Thus far the outrage has been directed towards Budapest and Baku, the main actors in the extradition deal. But NATO Command and the United States government, as the leader of NATO, bear a heavy responsibility.

Armenians certainly appreciated the strongly-worded condemnations released by Rep. Frank Pallone, Brad Sherman and Adam Schiff. But those are no substitute for the administration’s responsibility.

The National Security Council has issued a statement expressing President Barack Obama’s “deep concerns” about the extradition, which the president finds “contrary to the ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation.” The State Department has come up with more specific wording, finding the action “extremely troubling.”

But all these statements place the US in the role of a third party, whereas the US administration and NATO are the parties bearing primary responsibility by failing to guarantee the security of Lt. Gurgen Markarian, who was enrolled in a NATO Partnerships for Peace Program at the time of his assassination. As if that failure were not

enough, the US administration and NATO officials were certainly aware of the ongoing secret negotiations over the faith of their “guests” and they could certainly nip the deal in its bud. Standing aloof and expecting clarification for other parties sounds more hypocritical than genuine concern over the fate of military personnel being trained under their jurisdiction.

Through this scandalous deal, Azerbaijan was able to prove that Armenia is isolated politically and should Baku decide to unleash a war, Armenia is on its own.

Armenia may certainly reap some political dividends from the Hungarian-Azeri scandal if it can package the case adequately and market it in the international political arena.

If the US did not find it important to stop the deal, the Armenian government certainly could not do any better.

But Armenians must take the blame for abandoning their homeland, leaving the responsibility of defending the borders to the remaining few and then beating their breasts as patriots from a distance, from Moscow, Europe or Glendale, and occasionally, criticizing the government to cover their guilty feelings. Yes, Azerbaijan and Hungary are partners in crime and they can only be stopped at the border of Artsakh.

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