Washing Away Hate Crimes with Oil Is not the Only Path to Partnership

An unremorseful murderer was predictably pardoned and promoted last month after the Azerbaijani government secured military officer Ramil Safarov’s extradition from Hungary. Safarov had been serving a life sentence in that country for axing to death his sleeping Armenian colleague Gurgen Margaryan at a 2004 NATO Partnership for Peace course.

While swift to imprison domestic dissidents, the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev spared no effort to release Safarov–a hero for many fellow Azeris–by reportedly offering Hungary a loan as large as $3.8 billion, enabled by the Caspian’s energy riches. Unrepentantly proud of his success, Aliyev set Safarov’s picture as his Facebook cover photo. Capitalizing on anti-Armenian sentiment, fueled by the 1990’s bloody war over Nagorno-Karabagh, is likely Aliyev’s sole opportunity to connect with a large number of Azerbaijani citizens, whose subtlest criticism of the regime can otherwise land them behind bars.

Aliyev’s policy of securing short-term populist support, however, is clearly poised–if not somewhat intended–to exacerbate the already heavily tense relations with Yerevan.

Aliyev’s policy of securing short-term populist support, however, is clearly poised–if not somewhat intended–to exacerbate the already heavily tense relations with Yerevan, which charges that anti-Armenian hatred is Baku’s official state policy. Armenia’s response that it is ready to fight, if attacked, has further demonstrated the serious repercussions of the situation, prompting strong reaction against Safarov’s release from the mediators of the Karabagh conflict, France, Russia, and the United States.

To demonstrate his deep concern, President Obama has “request[ed] an explanation” from Hungary, implying that his administration was surprised by the extradition. A leaked U.S. diplomatic dispatch summarizing reactions to Safarov’s April 2006 conviction, however, reports that the Azerbaijani “Prosecutor General’s office has already announced its intention to seek extradition,” attesting to Washington’s knowledge of the extradition effort from day one. Furthermore, a Reuters report published a week before Safarov’s release noted the possible Azerbaijani loan to Budapest, which should have also raised a flag.

Instead of readily reacting to this potential development with a press statement, Washington and its partners should and could have proactively prevented the extradition by sending Budapest, whose growing cooperation with Baku hasn’t been secret, a strong message that an extradition would further complicate Nagorno-Karabagh negotiations. This willful negligence resonates with Washington’s and other mediators’ failure to halt another anti-Armenian action when, on Dec. 15, 2005, they were alerted to the Azerbaijani military’s destruction of the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery in Djulfa. Instead of demanding that Azerbaijan stop their ongoing irreversible destruction of the world’s largest complex of medieval Armenian material heritage, the State Department kept silent until after the cemetery was reduced to dust. In the meantime, it expressed internal displeasure, according to a leaked cable, not with the heavy-duty destruction, but with Armenia’s written protest of it.

A State Department officer once summarized for me Washington’s interests in Azerbaijan: “Energy, security, and human rights.” The first two–which include oil pipelines and possible attack grounds against Iran–have undoubtedly overshadowed the latter, especially in the context of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, which has already killed tens of thousands and displaced many more, the majority of whom are Azerbaijanis.

As a mediator of the conflict, Washington is expected to be neutral. But tacitly or negligently allowing state-sponsored hate crimes does not qualify as evenhandedness; it merely reinforces the prime cause of the Karabagh conflict: the Armenian perception that Azerbaijan has been systematically intolerant of everything Armenian without any international repercussion.

Budapest’s ill-advised decision to extradite Safarov and subsequent hesitancy to strongly criticize the release, as well as Washington’s inability to proactively prevent the transfer, are seemingly byproducts of self-interests. But a government needn’t always sacrifice its principles to forge a partnership, even with authoritarian regimes. When the Armenian inscriptions on a church used by minority Udis and nearby tombstones in Nij, Azerbaijan, were polished out during a 2005 renovation supported by a Norwegian non-profit, Oslo’s Ambassador Steinar Gil strongly expressed his outrage regarding the vandalism. Moreover, he actively publicized it, demanded accountability, and convinced all fellow ambassadors to join him in boycotting the reopening of the church. Azerbaijan, whose top Muslim cleric called the renovation and reopening “triumph of tolerance,” was expectedly unhappy.

“It is a question of principle,” Gil told me. Yet despite Gil’s persistent principled position on many human rights issues, Norway has continued to be one of the largest investors in Azerbaijan’s energy sector.

Washing away hate crimes with oil is not the only path to partnership with Baku.

Simon Maghakyan

Simon Maghakyan

Simon Maghakyan is a Denver-based educator and activist. He teaches political science at the University of Colorado Denver and Red Rocks Community College; coordinates community development for the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region; and previously campaigned for human rights in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia with Amnesty International USA. He writes in personal capacity.


  1. Fine article by Mr. Maghakyan – the bottom line is that Armenians should be demanding and channeling their anger to demand Independence for Karabagh.

    It is already understood that Karabagh-Armenians can not live with or under Azeri control. It is already understood that the US, Europe and the sinister-Brits (& their British Petroleum) will create conditions to cause the destruction of Armenians – for the sake of control and access to energy in central-Asia.

    So, instead of screaming “Shame” and “Justice” – why not direct the message to “Independence for Karabagh”, “Kosovo = Karabagh”, and “Self-determination and Human Rights Now for Karabakh”.

    Armenians have a golden opportunity to prove its case – and yet the likes of ANCA just want to shame Azerbaijan and Hungary. It is toothless. So was the EU, US and NATO response were a joke.

  2. We all should know, that he is designated dictator, oil man, for Western world, of course he has temporary license, in order to execute his executive duties over his beloved Sheikdom!!

  3. The whole west is “outraged” and “shocked” and taking us for idiots. We on the other hand are crying and wining as usual. Now is the moment for Armenia to recognize Artsakh and do something courageous. But then again our lackey government doesn’t have Russia’s permission.
    A friend of mine once said: “From the very start, our Third Republic had to surrender its sovereignty to Russia: Therefore, no question of an independent foreign policy. Our embassies are just an extension of Russia’s global diplomatic network.” Our previous and present presidents have sold everything to Russia. No wonder they are multimillionaires!
    Presently we are like a chicken without head.

    • Are you so sure Armenia would even exist today without Russia? Why doesn’t Azerbaijan attack again- they have much nicer toys now? As long as the US meddles in the middle east, Turkey is too valuable to the US for the US to prevent a possible Turkish invasion as well. Think I’m wrong about that last point? One word- Cyprus. The US embargo didn’t go so well. Tell me, oh wise one, what would you have Armenia do? Take the bait and attack Azerbaijan? Thereby legitimizing a heavily armed retaliation? Start a war so other people die while you follow said war from western websites and call others cowards? To your countries left and right there are 2 countries which consider themselves to be “one nation.” And Russia, the mortal enemy of the Ottoman Empire, scares the crap out of them.

      So please, don’t bite off the hands that feeds you, because Russia could have left you for dead.

    • AraK – more accurately – it is the diaspora that should be described as the “lackey” – Why hasn’t a single diaspora demonstration all over the US asked for Karabakh independence? Because in the US it is run by lackey organizations such as ANCA and AAA.

      We know that the Armenian government can not speak up, but the diaspora can – and should – which will lend backing to the government.

    • AraK,

      BIG talk. Who doesn’t want independence? You complain about Russian presence and influence? It is the least of the two evils, by far. We are still too weak to handle Turkey and Azerbaijan on our own. Is it so hard to see?

      I agree on this with RVDV. If there was no fear of Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan together wouldn’t waist a second to finish the job of exterminating Armenians and Armenia once and forever. I have no doubt about it. No matter how courageous or smart you are, their numbers alone are so overwhelmingly high compared to ours that we simply don’t stand a chance.

    • Arak,

      Are you ready to fight once the war starts? Or did you participate in the war in 1991? Let’s say Armenia recognizes Artsakh’s Independence tomorrow, what’s next?

    • Arak,

      Armenia WILL change for a better country, and there is no doubt about that in my mind …new ones are coming and they are learning world politics. Please remember we are not in the heart of Central Europe like Hungary, and we are not in the middle of Middle East like Israel!! Yes we are surrounded with sea of hostile Muslim nations, moderate or radical, we already learnt how to survive in a hostile place like Caucasus!! It is duty of each diaspora Armenian to help our young republic and Artsakh to get stronger and better, militarily, socioeconomically, and morally!!

  4. Poster AraK wrote these ‘wise’ words at another Armenian site just recently:

    “Azeris are much clever than…”
    “Aliyev is right”
    “diaspora should stop helping Armenia”

    Therefore, his biased evaluation of Armenia and RoA leadership cannot be considered anything other unsubstantiated mudslinging.

    Regarding recognition of NKR by RoA (and only RoA) : I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to what recognition by RoA will gain for NKR, other than trouble. NKR is quite independent and free now. And ANCA is nobody’s lackey: they are doing an outstanding job with the limited resources they have.

    And RVDV is correct re Russia: Armenians (NKR+RoA) can defeat Azerbaijan, if it invades NKR, and have done so before.
    However, RoA does not have the resources to withstand an all-out invasion by Turkey, if Russia was not in the equation: the disparity of forces is just too enormous. Armenia needs peace and stability to grow strong: there is nothing wrong being under the protective umbrella of Russia.
    Turkey went under the protective umbrella of NATO to eliminate any chance of invasion by USSR.

    RoA’s leadership has wisely chosen to strengthen RoA strategic ties with Russia.
    I am sure in the minds of some people both Saakashvili and Aliyev are great leaders.
    Sure they are: both leaders managed to add territory to their republics, and Armenian leaders lost land. Right ?

  5. Best wishes to the author Mr. Maghakian.We need such energetically ,brightly endowed Young -future-diplomats amongst us…
    May I add and bring to his attn: –
    To begin with(for all others to follow as well) our most important error so far ,after re-independence of RA(especiallyu ion Diaspora) has been to mistakenly believe that ourt business-so to say- is with Azerbaijan.Fact is in our Homeland right from beginning its re independence and war in NK, the word most used has been HIMNAHARTS(Main question).Totally WRONG!!!! Artsakh has always been a bone of contention not only with turkic Azeris but also Persia!!!
    Nonetheless our brave people of Syunik-Zangezur and artsakh(Gharabaghi Melikutyunner) Karabagh Princedoms, have FIRMLY stayed on these lands-as much of it as they could- and thence Nk/Artsakh is NOT MAIN ISSUE.
    Nakhijevan,plus Western armenian lands are HIMNAHARTS(Main Question)
    great Turkey has been enjoying/laughing over this Armenian error.Right from beginning and also in my books(Memoirs of a Free Lance patriot¨ I have pointed out that!!! We should have and should NOW -at least bundle them up into ONE CASE/TAHD, No more Question,BTW..
    We demand justice from World Powers and all nations that Justice be done to us and always mention OUR MAIN HIMNAHARTS AS WITH GREAT TURKEY. Indeed, this will be a bit ¨embarassing¨for both RA and Diaspora entities(see I do not label them anything else) to do so.But it is imperative that the The man on the Street in Johannesburg, Helsinki-if asked-what is the MAIN QUESTION OF THESE ARMENIANS, WHAT DO THEY WANT????
    KARABAGH to be independent or joined with their Armenian Mother land R.of Armenia??? they have not thje slightest idea that MAIN ISSUE IS w.aRMENIAN LANDS THAT WERE FORCIBLY AND cunningly taken away from us and INDEED THE 1.5 million innocents slaughtered or put on Death March. I humbly suggest both to RA and diaspora entities to not repeat OUR HIMNAHARTS IS NK. but…you know…
    Thence, have the other also included in HIMNAHARTS, that of BLOOD MONEY!!!!
    Yes, that also has been completely OVERLOOKED by said entities!!!
    it has the Best tangible ground for CLAIM, with precedents, not only the relatively small N:Y Life Inusrance and AXA Claims,but the Jewish one from Germany!!!! WE SHOULD SHOUT FOR BLOOD MONEY FIRST AND FOREMOST.Land issue is there,it will not pull the disappearing act.It can wait a bit longer when Kurdish problem for great Turkey ripens up!!!! and then some. Once a Persian friend told me Turkey is a tiger paper….he might have erred,in thinking it is not a power. But then his own country(now with Missiles and a much better army9 can be a bit problematic for neighbours that do not desire its such improvizations…but then again thse are int´l issues to be left aside.We demand BLOOD MONEY SHOULD BE THE MOTTO FOR US NEXT APRIL 24.Artsakh is Free and independent and those seven sisters(read oil companies) would not desire war there….

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