The extradition of Ramil Safarov, who brutally killed a sleeping Gurgen Magaryan, and, in particular, his pardon by President Aliyev, has created an unprecedented situation, rife with unknown expectations, in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and the Artsakh conflict settlement process.
We can’t say for certain who will emerge victorious from Hungarian-Azerbaijani transaction.
Both Hungary and Azerbaijan had specifically calculated the consequences of the scandalous transaction. This is why Hungary avoided informing Armenia about it before the extraction was taken, understanding that under international community pressure the operation wouldn’t have been able to be implemented. Baku also had this concern. This is why it maintained a cover of secrecy until Safarov touched down on Azerbaijani soil and even declared his pardon before the plane even had landed. By doing so, Baku attempted to place all before the fact, being confident that the international community, like it or not, would accommodate itself to the situation created. Baku had carried out a type of blitzkrieg action, attempting to pull several chestnuts out of the fire for domestic consumption.
- The return of Safarov was presented as a diplomatic victory over Armenia, which was resigned to uselessly punch the air after what had happened. Against the backdrop of the frozen Karabakh negotiations, this step had to convince large sectors of the Azerbaijani public that Baku was in a strong position and that the government wouldn’t budge an inch from its declared principles.
- Aliyev showed that he was not only behind the “national heroes”, but that he was ready to do everything to safeguard their security. This was the first step to raise his status as a national and state leader.
- By reacting to the evaluations of practically all international bodies with contempt, the Azerbaijani authorities, at the same time, attempted to portray Aliyev as a decisive and independent diplomat ready to go head to head with the international community in the name of national and state interests. In a word, this was done as a public relations step for the Aliyev administration in light of the upcoming presidential election.
This was all calculated on two pivotal factors. First, by depending on the traditionally passive and compliant politics of the Armenian diplomatic corps, Azerbaijan was convinced that Armenia, on the one hand, wouldn’t be able to raise the issue on an international level to the extent of creating widespread pressure on Baku and a change in attitude towards Azerbaijan and, on the other, that international institutions wouldn’t pay much serious attention to the protestations of Yerevan, thus maintaining the principle of parity between the two opposing nations of the southern Caucasus. This was particularly evident in the official stance of the European Union.
The second important factor, was the expectation that Armenia would take extreme, perhaps even hysterical and unbalanced measures, especially related to the Karabakh negotiations process; in particular, that Armenia would pull out of the talks, immediately recognize Artsakh, or even go so far as to physically remove Safarov. These steps would have changed the existing balance and Armenia, rather than Azerbaijan, would have been started to be regarded as the one torpedoing the peace talks; thus leading to a barrage of international pressure directed against Yerevan. The emotional reaction shown by the Armenian public and especially in the directives laid out by President Sargsyan during the special session of the National Security Council, leads one to believe that the expectations of Baku and perhaps some international power centers were justified, even though the risk later weakened a bit.
What to do?
However, taking a cold hard look at the issue, it is evident that Safarov can be turned into a real nightmare for Aliyev if Armenia wants to do it and if it can. By pardoning a common murderer and making him into a hero, the Azerbaijani authorities showed that the main issue was merely returning Safarov in order to boost their rating. Now, when that has been done, the Aliyev administration doesn’t know what to do with Safarov against the backdrop of the negative portrayal now created around Azerbaijan.
On the external front, it seems that Baku has nothing more to lose, given that it is clear that Yerevan doesn’t fully comprehend how to exploit the negativity surrounding Azerbaijan and to cull diplomatic and political gains according to the rules of real-politik. At most, what Yerevan can strive to obtain is a severe condemnation of Azerbaijan and Hungary from international bodies. This will deepen the negative aura surrounding Baku but will not result in any practical results.
However, Armenia should take the following specific steps:
- Adopt a completely different tone with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. Yerevan must forcefully press for the strengthening of the principle that Artsakh, in the name of guaranteeing the safety of its people from the real threat of Azerbaijani fascism, cannot be included within the framework of Azerbaijan in any format. At a minimum, Yerevan must demand that Artsakh be included as a full member in the negotiations process.
- Armenia must take advantage of the lobbying resources of the diaspora and launch a strong campaign in PACE and the United Nations General Assembly to get its initiatives accepted.
- Yerevan must officially and publicly demand specific explanations from NATO regarding Safarov’s extradition and the position of NATO member Hungary.
- The issue of applying to the European Court of Human Rights must be studied regarding Safarov’s extradition ad pardon.
- At the same time, the matter of Azerbaijan again imprisoning Safarov must be raised with international organizations in order that demand the same.
All this is necessary, so that the discredited state honor of Armenia, both in the eyes of the world and at home, can be restored and with the aim of improving our position in the Karabakh matter.
How this dramatic historic moment plays out and to what extent we will force the world to respect us and come to terms with us, depends on the subsequent stance taken by Armenia.