The abusive nature of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s regime, was dramatically thrust into the international spotlight ahead of the country hosting the Eurovision Song Contest earlier this year.
This week Aliyev and his cronies are once again facing pressure from around the world after giving a hero’s welcome, a house, a hefty pay-cheque and a promotion to Ramil Safarov- the Azerbaijani soldier who returned home from Hungary where he had been in jail since brutally murdering an Armenian eight years ago.
Safarov had been taking part in an English language course in Budapest during 2004, when he entered the room of a sleeping Armenian attendee called Gurgen Margarjan and hacked him to death with an axe. Safarov claimed that the horrific act was revenge for the two countries war over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which ran from 1988-1994 killing over thirty thousand people and forcing more than a million to flee their homes.
Tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh still run high. Sporadic clashes since the end of the war have frequently stoked fears of a return to full-scale conflict, with soldiers from both sides killed as recently as June this year. Aliyev’s public praise and celebration of Safarov’s actions will only heighten these fears, particularly in light of Armernian President Serzh Sargsyan’s response that “we are not afraid of killers, even if they enjoy the protection of the head of state.” NATO and the EU have been quick to register their concerns about the affect of the incident on what was already a seemingly lifeless peace process.
The Hungarian government, for its part, has also been deeply humiliated. Safarov was handed over on the condition that he would serve the remainder of his twenty-five year sentence in an Azerbaijani jail, yet he has received freedom, substantial rewards and compensation for the eight years that he was incarcerated. Armenia swiftly cut all diplomatic ties to Hungary, whilst opponents of the ruling administration aired claims that it was effectively paid off via the Azerbaijani purchase of Hungarian bonds.
Still, Hungary’s problems will pale into insignificance should the war of words between Armenia and Azerbaijan develop into something more serious…whcih it has every potential to. Ultimately the Aliyev regime’s jingoistic and provocative heralding of a cold-blooded murderer has raised the temperature in one of Europe’s most volatile regions. That, in the long run, could lead to far more bloodshed.