We’re sorry, Armenia! Or… are we?

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Ironically, Hungarian foreign minister János Martonyi just said last week that the international opinion on Hungary seems to be stagnating on a not so bad position after all the turmoil around the IMF talks, controversial media legislation, constant disputes with the EU, just to name a few issues. Obviously, something needed to be done to ruin this.

To put it simply: the man committed a crime, got a reasonable punishment for it, now he should be serving his sentence. But he is not. To be able to fully understand this story, we should attempt to do it on a psychological level. This was not some ordinary killing to start with. In 2004 the Azerbaijani Ramil Sahib Safarov who happened to be on a NATO training in Hungary, thought he would contribute to his country’s war with Armenia, so one night he went in to an Armenian soldier’s room and killed him in his sleep with an ax. In our minds and in our Criminal Code we call this homicide. In his mind though it was no less than taking his part in his country’s war. This of course does not (or should not) change neither the legal status of the case, nor the judgement. It was not a war situation, not by any means in Budapest, and the “opponent” could not have been prepared for such an attack, let alone defend himself or fight back. If the Azerbaijani people seriously think that someone is a hero for attacking another in their sleep and brutally killing them, there must be some serious problem in their minds nationwide. Or these two nations must really hate each-other. In a case like this it should have been obvious for the Hungarian government that extraditing him would count as a political statement. That it would be like taking sides in the conflict.

Up until now, Hungary’s position was that extradition would defeat the ends of justice. The Azerbaijani government asked for Safarov’s extradition several times both before the prosecution, and after it, to carry out the punishment. It was clear all along that he is treated as some national hero in his home country, therefore it was sure his punishment would not meet international standards back there. Everyone knew it and everyone agreed. What changed now then?

Diplomacy is very much like road regulations that say people should drive assuming that everyone else is driving in compliance with the law. The same in diplomacy. States make their decisions assuming that their counterparts are playing by the rules. But “by the rules” does not always mean by the rules of law in this game. It very often includes gentlemen’s agreements, traditions, local customs, or interests that in international relations we call raison d’état. Diplomacy is quite usually something that builds from the grey spots between law and out of law. 

It is highly impossible to think that Hungary have believed Azerbaijani promises for even one minute. In this case I am pretty positive that there had been some unwritten, maybe even unspoken agreement, that Azerbaijani officials draft some meaningless official letter based on generalities and Hungarian officials pretend to believe it to be a guarantee.

Otherwise we should think there have been people among Hungarian decision makers who really did believe Azerbaijani promises. People, who really thought that quoting some international conventions really did mean that Azerbaijani leaders would go against the popular sentiment of their people and carry on with the punishment. Who could have ever been so amateur on this level? And who in the Hungarian government would voluntarily raise their hand when this question comes up?

I seriously think this is much more embarrassing than just admitting they sold justice for a few coins. At first I was among those who thought there could be some greater cause that would make this all worth it. This does not mean of course that I agreed, not for one moment, just considered the possibility that Hungary on a greater scale could get something worthy in exchange. But even if that was the case, there were some very serious mistakes made along the way, like underestimating the weight of this case in international affairs, the weight of international justice, and the weigh of the anger of people believing in it.

As for extinguising the fire once it was burning, amateurism continued. If indeed Hungarian officials thought that letter to be a guarantee, then why haven’t they condemned Azerbaijani actions at once? Why have they had to wait for wide range international disapproval? The answers they gave almost make it seem like they weren’t expecting this reaction at all. The only answer we heard yet says everything went according to international law and that Armenia ending diplomatic relations with Hungary is regrettable. It is, indeed. But why there was no apology? Why there was no admitting they made a mistake? What is it that we don’t know?

And will it ever come to light?

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