Why Hungarian nationalists should be mad that Armenia is still so mad at Hungary

A statement yesterday by the Hungarian foreign ministry that it has “not much else” to offer Armenia to help mend the diplomatic relations shattered by the Ramil Safarov affair suggests that the Hungarian government is really trying to draw a line under the ugly split.

I doubt it will work. Despite Hungary’s ongoing attempts to squelch the inferno of Armenian rage at the release and subsequent pardoning of the Azerbaijani axe-killer, the Armenian government and members of the large worldwide diaspora of Armenians seem united in their unwillingness to cool off.

Contrast this with the reaction in Hungary and among Hungarians abroad, who early on divided along partisan lines, with the left lashing out at the Orbán government for springing Safarov, allegedly as part of a deal with Azerbaijan involving monetary benefits for Budapest, and the right defending the government.

While such a split among Hungarians is quite predictable, I can’t help but find it incongruous, because there are good reasons why Hungarian nationalists of the sort that have backed the government throughout the controversy should be its biggest critics on the issue. Indeed, of all the countries that a nationalist Hungary should be cultivating good ties with, Armenia should be near the top of the list, for reasons of both principle and practicality.

One (literally) graphic illustration of why is offered by the pair of maps reproduced above. On the left, you’ve got a demographic map of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Transylvania, and on the right, one of Nagorno-Karabakh, the break-away ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

The two situations are obviously not identical. As a percentage of the population of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh (4%) is much smaller than the population of Hungarians living in Transylvania (12%). And relations between Hungary and Romania (or Slovakia, the other neighboring country with a large Hungarian minority) are on their worst day miles better than between Armenia and Azerbaijan on their best.

Still, the parallels are striking, and if there is any country in Europe (last year it began negotiations to become an associate member of the EU) that can identify with the challenges Hungary faces in this area, it is Armenia.

Meanwhile, for those who doubt whether Armenia has the clout to actually help Hungary and its ethnic kin abroad, the answer is yes. In the US, the “Armenian lobby” is widely seen as one of the top three such ethnic lobbies (the Cubans and Jews are the others). And it is not just in the US that the Armenian Diaspora flexes its political muscle.

But now, rather than that muscle being flexed on behalf of the Hungarian nation, it will be flexed against Hungary and the Hungarians. And it should be Hungarian nationalists – rather than their “internationalist” rivals on the left – who should be the most enraged by the supposedly nationalist government that has allowed this to happen.

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