Resolution Condemning Pardon of Ramil Safarov Embarrasses European Parliament

Azerbaijan did something very understandable, but very stupid, recently.

At Azerbaijan’s request, Hungary extradited Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani native of the Armenian occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, who was convicted of murdering Armenian Gurgen Margaryan during their participation in a language course as part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 2004. Safarov had served over eight years in prison when Hungary agreed to Azerbaijan’s extradition request.

Hungary extradited him on the understanding that Azerbaijan would hold Safarov in custody until he had served at least thirty years of his sentence. Azerbaijan agreed, Safarov was transferred to Azerbaijan, and was awarded a hero’s welcome, a pardon, back pay for the time in prison, and a promotion to major.

Hungary is not overly thrilled with this turn of events, and diplomatic relations between the two states have soured. Azerbaijan has responded that the international Convention under which the transfer took place allows for the receiving nation to pardon prisoners under its own laws.

Perhaps sensing where this was going, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, the former commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh region during the war with Azerbaijan, suspended its diplomatic relations with Hungary as a result of the agreement. Anti-Hungary protests among Armenians and the Armenian diaspora followed.

As with all well-timed protests among Armenians in the diaspora and Armenia, no one has bothered to ask if they were coordinated.

The events echo the case of Varoujan Garabedian, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for terrorism before being released by France in 2001 for transfer to Armenia. Armenia promptly pardoned and feted Garabedian, leading to widespread rejoicing in Armenia and its diaspora.

The battle shifted from street protests to the European Parliament, where a minority resolution to condemn Azerbaijan’s actions appears to have failed as a series of amendments and vote defections have left the attempt stalled.

The resolution was on shaky ground from its inception, and it quickly became weighed down with debate and amendments. The early defection of left-of-center blocs left the matter as a minority resolution, which in the end was so controversial and so convoluted that it received the support of only about 6.5 percent of the MEPs present, with more subsequently withdrawing their affirmative votes. Not even all of the Hungarian MEPs voted for the resolution.

Even by European Parliament standards, this was a fairly poor showing.

The resolution had the effect of briefly unifying the entirety of Azerbaijan’s polity, a rare accomplishment indeed, as the entire group can rarely agree on the time of day. “Nothing but an attempt to conceal the military crimes carried out by aggressive Armenia,” was the cutting, but not entirely unfair, description.

Safarov’s pardon and victory celebration were frankly stupid and unbecoming a modern nation, but the entire sequence of events is yet another reminder of the deep and longstanding scars borne by Azerbaijan as a result of the Armenian occupation.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict saw the deaths of tens of thousands, the ethnic cleansing of over one million Azerbaijanis, the destruction of enormous amounts of property, and war crimes, such as the Khojaly Massacre effected by the Armenian forces during the conflict.

All of this recent drama is a sideshow to the unresolved conflict, the final resolution of which has been just around the corner for twenty years as the Minsk Group – the United States, Russia, and France – pretend to mediate the dispute while Azerbaijan and Armenia re-arm, the occupation ossifies, and the Azerbaijani refugees and public grow angrier and angrier.

One would hope that yet another, vivid reminder of the conflict between the two neighbors would encourage the Minsk mediators to work harder to press to a final resolution.

Given their track record to date, hope is all we should expect.

Image Copyright Shutterstock.com/Daniele Carotenuto