By Edmond Y. Azadian
Outrage among Armenians and some human rights groups continue around the globe against the Hungarian government’s reckless violation of international law, parallel to the outrage in the Islamic world, triggered by the release of a video insulting the prophet Mohammed. Armenian outrage remains below the radar of the international news media, as opposed to the Islamic one, because the latter takes place in countries that affect the Western interests, i.e. countries that provide oil and host military bases.
The protest movement against the Hungarian government’s remanding convicted murderer Ramil Safarov to authorities in Azerbaijan and the latter country’s hero’s welcome for him took on a life of its own, beyond Armenian anger, because it undermined the European legal system and moral norms. Also, it provided ammunition to the opposition in Hungary, which joined the Armenians in protesting the government’s actions in Budapest.
The Hungarian opposition has been demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Orban, touching a raw nerve. That is why Hungary’s Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, adding insult to injury, has threatened Armenia with “serious ramifications” for severing diplomatic relations with Budapest.
The Hungarian government’s shoddy handling of the Safarov case and the failure of its economic policies domestically may indeed hasten the overthrow of the present administration. If that happens, no tears will be shed in Yerevan.
This brewing crisis coincided with the visit of Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general, to the Caucasus. In Yerevan he bluntly condemned President Ilham Aliyev’s actions, and he repeated the same comments in Baku. That helped tempers to cool down in Yerevan to a certain extent. But his comments did not go further than “deep concern” rather than what he should have said, “serious ramifications.” What is more disturbing is that the secretary general did not assume any responsibility on behalf of NATO, even though the crime was committed during a NATO-led language program, by one member of the military against another, Lt. Gourgen Markarian, who had been invited to Hungary by NATO for training.
In addition to Mr. Rasmussen’s inconsequential statement, the European Parliament, in its turn, condemned the Safarov pardon. In its lengthy resolution, the European Parliament specifically states that it “deplores the decision by the president of Azerbaijan to pardon Ramil Safarov, a convicted murderer sentenced by the courts of a Member State of the European Union” and that it “is further concerned that this act is jeopardizing all peaceful reconciliation processes within the society’s concern and may undermine the possible future developments of peaceful people-to-people contact in the region.”
This resolution was debated in the Armenian Parliament, where members expressed some satisfaction that the European Parliament had moved finally from its inertia towards a more assertive position.
The resolution did not make a dent in Azerbaijan’s position, however, because Mr. Aliyev’s least worry is that his actions may jeopardize the peace process. Thus far, he has been thumbing his nose at the civilized world because his main intention is to disrupt any
peace initiative anyway. War would be welcome there for many reasons, including bolstering his domestic position and the hope for seizing Artsakh.
The European Union resolution did not go far enough. In fact, it was off target, because in the first place it absolved Hungary, which supposedly had acted within the norms of international law. Second, there were no consequences brought against Azerbaijan for blatantly violating those norms of international law.
President Aliyev has cited a dissimilar case to justify his action, that of Varoujan Garabedian who was jailed in France for terrorist activities, and who upon being pardoned supposedly by the Armenian government, was granted asylum in 2001. The truth of the matter is that Garabedian, after serving part of his sentence in France, was pardoned by the French authorities and settled in Armenia as a free man. The Aliyev government has also cynically stated that “Hungary is member of NATO and EU and those structures could demand more from Azerbaijan but did not.”
In the first draft of the resolution, Hungary was also mentioned as a responsible party, but later on, Hungary was absolved, perhaps under pressure from its friends, threatening to vote against the resolution.
Every time Azerbaijan has violated the ceasefire agreement of 1994 with Armenia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), NATO, the European Union and the US have always resorted to verbal parity, cautioning both parties to restrain themselves, instead of addressing the aggressor. On the very same day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Yerevan this summer, Azerbaijan violated the ceasefire and killed six Armenian soldiers on Armenian soil guarding its border. The secretary of state, cold bloodedly, sang the same refrain, without any criticism of the perpetrator.
The European Parliament’s resolution and most of the statements coming from the West veer from the target, and rather than warning of consequences, they express pity that the violations — and even the crime — will jeopardize the peace negotiations. The European Parliament has resorted to the same trick as the US government. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has announced that the US has been in contact with the Azerbaijani government, appealing to the latter to honor its agreement with Hungary. Clearly the US has the wherewithal to take action and force the Azeri government to meet its international obligation rather than begging for positive action.
When elections took place in Armenia, the US government considered it its proprietary right to meddle in Armenia’s internal affairs and took punitive measures by curtailing Millennium Challenge Fund monies as the elections were not wholly transparent, hurting the agrarian sector in Armenia, the most vulnerable segment of the economy.
The US has the same leverage with Azerbaijan; it can cut its annual aid or, even more effectively, apply Section 907 of Freedom Support Act suspended by President George W. Bush citing Azerbaijan’s good behavior. The same presidential privilege has been exercised by President Barack Obama even after Azerbaijan’s reckless behavior as international outlaw.
Condemnation has its place but all protests must request action; actions by NATO, by the European Union and by the US. They are all failed at best and they are all off the target in focusing the issue in the wrong direction.