On August 31st, the Hungarian government, under direct orders from prime Minister Viktor Orban, extradited Azerbaijani Army lieutenant Ramil Safarov to Baku. Safarov had already served eight years in a Budapest jail for killing Gurgen Margarian in 2004. As has been widely reported in the press, Margarian, an Armenian officer who was a fellow participant in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise, was hacked to death in his sleep with an ax by Safarov. Orban first stated that he transferred the prisoner to Azerbaijan on the understanding that he would serve out the rest of his life sentence in his home country. In later statements, Orban admitted that he not only signed the extradition agreement himself, but that he had repeatedly been warned that if Safarov were extradited to oil-rich Azerbaijian, he would be pardoned and even celebrated by Ilham Aliyev's brutal dictatorial regime. In the past, Aliyev has referred to Armenians in only the most vile of terms and continually threatened to destroy Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh by military means. Not surprisingly upon his arrival in Baku, Lieutenant Safarov was pardoned by Aliyev, restored to military duties and promoted to major. He was also given an apartment and awarded back pay for his time in prison. In the press, Safarov has been hailed as a national hero. The pardoning of Safarov sets back the quest for peace in the Caucasus, as it is a direct provocation to the Republic of Armenia and increases the possibility of a renewal of armed conflict between Armenia and its neighbor Azerbaijian. Unfortunately both Margarian's murder and his murderer's pardon falls in line with continued violence and hatred against Armenians that has existed unabated for several hundred years. This type of barbaric act -- a hate crime pure and simple -- should belong to the dustbin of human history. Yet after the Safarov incident and the murders a few years back of Hrant Dink and Sevag Sahin Balikci in Turkey -- the first a renowned Armenian journalist, the second a young Turkish-Armenian man performing his military service -- we can only conclude that the continued hatred against Armenians that is propagated in Azerbaijian and Turkey in schoolbooks and the media -- is doing its job of fanning the fires of ethnic and religious hatred. The United States, the United Nations and other international organizations and governments should apply all available pressure on the Azeri government to honor its agreement with Hungary and return Safarov to where he belongs for the rest of his life -- a jail cell. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban -- who has most probably parlayed Safarov for loan guarantees or cheaper priced Oil from Baku, should on his end understand the grave consequences of his actions and of his remarkable moral bankruptcy and resign immediately.
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