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Battle rages on over freed Azeri convict

September 3rd, 2012

Commentators argue over the moral and political implications of what critics consider a diplomatic blunder. Right-wing pundits accuse Western critics of hypocrisy, while Népszabadság finds the official protest from the government hardly credible.

Ramil Sahib Safarov, the Azeri lieutenant sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his Armenian room mate with an axe, was freed by Azerbaijan upon transfer from Hungary, provoking international criticism. (See BudaPost September 3) The heads of Hungarian Christian churches issued a statement on Saturday to express sympathy with Armenia and condemn the Azeri move; on Facebook, several spontaneous groups formed to “apologize” to Armenia. The Hungarian government leaked a letter from the Azeri government which, they claim, shows that Hungary acted in good faith and according to international law. On Sunday, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry summoned the Azeri ambassador to protest against the pardon Safarov received. In a press conference on Monday morning, Prime Minister Orbán denied that there had been any background negotiations or deals.

In its editorial, Népszabadság finds it highly unlikely that the government had no inkling of the real Azeri intentions. If the government really believed that they were sending Safarov back to jail in his own country, then cabinet members, all foreign relations experts and analysts as well as the leading diplomats in government service are fools and should go, before they inflict more damage.  Yet, the editorial claims, such a conclusion is hard to believe, as the government initially showed no trace of surprise. Népszabadság accuses the Prime Minister of having been seduced by the prospect of Azeri investment in Hungarian euro-bonds and finds Mr Orbán guilty of “trading in death.”

Zsolt Bayer, a leading commentator at Magyar Hírlap and an arch supporter of the government, writes that the only victim in this story is Armenia. He recalls the case of Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, convicted by a Scottish court for the Lockerbie bombing, who was transferred to Libya on humanitarian grounds, after medical experts said he had incurable cancer and only three months to live. Bayer quotes accusations directed at Gordon Brown at the time, that the UK government put pressure on Scotland after a secret deal with Libya. He also recalls that MI6 was on the best of terms with Muammar Kaddafi and that activists of the Libyan opposition were turned over by Britain in the full knowledge that they were going to be tortured and killed. The Hungarian government could quote this precedent if they wanted to, he says, but Hungary should be above the amoral dealings of great powers. “It is a shame”, he concludes, for Hungary needs both the Azeri connection as well as the friendship of Armenia.

In Magyar Nemzet’s editorial, Gábor Stier shares the opinion that the Hungarian government should have known better than to interfere with a sensitive international controversy, providing  “the spark” that may even lead to “a conflagration of hatred.”  It could have been foreseen that Azerbaijan would give a hero’s welcome to Safarov, a brutal murderer. The government only fed “malicious speculations” and provided ammunition for its critics “from Obama to the Hungarian opposition,” whose interests are hurt by Hungary’s “Eastern approaches”. This “unfortunate story” shows how much power lobbies wield in international affairs, and that Hungary had better exert herself more, to organize Hungarian lobbies at least as powerful as the Armenian lobby around the world.

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