Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told reporters on Tuesday that he had the last word in the decision to repatriate the convicted Azerbaijani murderer Ramil Safarov, and that he was not surprised by the killer’s subsequent release. This puts a new spin on events: last week the government was claiming that it had accepted reassurances from Baku that Safarov would sit out the remainder of his life sentence in an Azerbaijani jail.
Safarov brutally murdered a sleeping Armenian army officer in a premeditated axe attack during a NATO-sponsored language course in Budapest in 2004.
Igniting a firestorm
However, he was released and given a hero’s welcome after being handed over to Azerbaijan a fortnight ago. This enraged Armenia, which immediately broke off diplomatic ties with Hungary, and led the US and EU to demand explanations from both parties to the transfer. The ongoing row is also threatening to reignite a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed province of Nagorno-Karabakh.
New story weaved
Despite now admitting that he never expected Safarov to serve out his jail sentence following the handover under the Strasbourg Convention on the transfer of sentenced persons, Orbán maintained the government had acted “justly” in following international legal procedure.
Not innocent dupes
State news agency MTI quoted him as dismissing opposition claims that the government had been seeking economic help from the oil-rich Caspian Sea country. All relevant ministries were involved in the decision but the prime minister had had the final say “naturally… as always”, Orbán said.
Two days earlier the office of the EU’s foreign policy High Representative Catherine Ashton appeared to be taking at face value Hungary’s protestations of being innocent dupes. “It would appear that certain conditions and commitments that were agreed between Hungary and Azerbaijan on the transfer of Ramil Safarov have not been met,” spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told Radio Free Europe’s Brussels correspondent.
“We will continue or we will try to be in touch with the Azeri side to hear the explanation why this has happened and why the behaviour that is endangering the fragile situation in the region is continuing,” Kocijancic was quoted as saying.
Foreign Minister János Martonyi has written to his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian in a bid to assure him that the handover of Safarov was not intended as an insult to Armenia. In a letter sent to MTI last Friday, Martonyi spoke of “Christian values connecting the two peoples for a thousand years”. He urged a restoration of diplomatic ties, whose ongoing suspension would, he said, not serve Armenia’s interests.
Nevertheless, Armenian activists have continued to demonstrate outside Hungarian embassies, this week in Berlin, Bern and Prague.