Our Best in Budapest?

Our Best in Budapest?: Can Armenia’s choice handle the environment of an
international murder trial?

April 23, 2004
Commentary by Naira Manucharova, ArmeniaNow Deputy Editor

Political tension in Yerevan has shifted focus from the upcoming trial in
Hungary in the death of Armenian Army Lieutenant Gurgen Markaryan.

The slain officer was memorialized in Yerevan.

Markaryan was murdered February 19 while attending a NATO “Partnership for
Peace” conference in Budapest. Ramil Safarov, an officer in the Azerbaijan
Army has been charged.

Armenians were shocked by news of Markaryan’s brutal murder, and were
outraged by commentary in Baku that turned Safarov into a national hero.

Funds have been established in Azerbaijan for Safarov’s defense and he is
regularly visited by countrymen concerned for his well being. Azeri
politicians, lawyers, public figures and his country’s ombudsman are
manipulating pre-trial developments. His family receives money from a
special fund established specifically for their purpose, called “Ramil
Safarov Stipend”.

Meanwhile Markaryan’s family is almost forgotten.

Ombudsman Elmira Suleimanova has written to Hungarian officials “reminding”
that Safarov is a victim of Armenian aggression. A chief rights advocate
attached a document to the letter “concerning outrages committed by Armenian
‘monsters’ in Khojalu”.

One needn’t peculiar insight to conclude that Azeri measures will aim at
influencing a favorable outcome in Budapest. Nor should one doubt that
neighbors to the east will be intent on a verdict that in effect indicts
Armenia, while vindicating Safarov as a victim out to avenge his family’s or
nations death.

Simply, in Budapest there is a murderer, witnesses, a weapon and, in a
Yerevan grave, a victim. But what, without these extenuating conditions
might be a routine trial, promises to be an extraordinary theater in which
relations between two republics are examined.

That the murder took place in NATO’s very front yard and was neither an
example of “peace” nor “partnership” does not inspire confidence for
Armenia-Azeri collaboration in upcoming joint-operations; specifically,
multi-national military training to take place in September in Azerbaijan.

It is logical to presume that NATO might side with the aggrieved party in
the hostility that not only escalated Armenian-Azeri hatred, but sullied
NATO in the process.

But there is no evidence of such a bias as, till now, only Azerbaijan’s
interest is obvious. Little is yet known as to how the Armenian side will
protect its citizen’s rights or its honor.

About all that is known, is that Markaryan’s rights will be defended by
Yerevan attorney Nazeli Vardanyan. And about all that could be learned about
Vardanyan, is that she specializes in environmental law.

It would be unfair to judge the attorney’s effectiveness before she’s even
had a chance to prove it. It is not unfair, however, for concerned citizens,
aware that a country is on trial, to question why someone of her specialty
has been appointed the task.

Journalists who might want to tell the citizenry who this woman is, are
rebuffed, as if her very identity represents national security. Vardanyan
herself referred us to a committee of five lawyers who will be working with
her on the case. Attempts to get information by those means were not
unsuccessful, but were dismissive.

There would be little reason for wanting to know the pedigree of an
attorney, if this were merely a case of citizen against citizen. Clearly,
though, it is not.

At stake is the reputation of a republic, and the risk of courtroom rhetoric
being perceived as national foreign policy. Don’t, then, the people of
Armenia deserve to know their representative has earned confidence?

Why did the Armenian International Lawyers Union appoint an environmental
attorney to manage a case that could have exceptional repercussions? More
significantly, why did the State react indifferently to the appointment?
Typically, secrecy is maintained during investigations. But this secrecy of
defense is something new for Armenia.

Ombudsman of Armenia Larisa Alaverdyan was asked whether Armenia, not to
mention the rights of the victim, can adequately be represented by the State
‘s appointment to the case.

“The upcoming court battles in Budapest will be too much for one lawyer,
even if he or she is very talented and clever,” Alaverdyan said. “I think
there must be at least two lawyers and one expert on the issue of the
Karabakh problem because it is clear that the Azeri side is going to use
this incident for carrying out a public trial against Armenia and Karabakh.
Besides, as I know Nazeli Vardanyan is not experienced enough in criminal
cases, moreover, in cases where crime is loaded with political and
interstate relations.”

Alaverdyan also says it is unacceptable that a second charge against
Safarov – attempted murder on the life another officer, Hayk Makuchyan – has
been completely neglected. The Ombudsman is of the opinion that the crime
against the officers was premeditated and had far-reaching political goals.

“Supporting proper representation of the Armenian side at the forthcoming
trial is a responsibility and duty of the government,” Alaverdyan says.

Why, then, trust the task to an attorney who is respected as an
“eco-jurist”, but unknown in the field of criminal prosecution?

In October of last year, Vardanyan attended an international conference on
ecology, in Hungary. Can it possibly be that Markaryan’s, and Armenia’s
representation was selected merely because she has a Hungarian stamp in her

Of course it seems absurd. But in the absence of information, we are left to

No doubt, “environment” will have a role in the Budapest trial. It is likely
to be an environment bristling with slander, innuendo and attacks on
nationality from both sides. We hope, nonetheless, that Armenia’s counsel
has not been sent for her knowledge of enviro-law, but that she truly is a
secret weapon, worthy of secrecy.

For it is clear that our neighbors are sparing no effort and means preparing
for trial in Budapest. Head of the World Azerbaijani Congress expressed
readiness to hire the best lawyer in Europe for defending the “national
hero”. Notorious Azeri businessman Fizuli Mamedov (nicknamed Al Capone) has
offered to finance all actions of defense. At the same time, Azerbaijan is
providing the Hungarians with their peculiar history of the Karabakh

What will be Armenia’s answer? What will our government’s mouthpiece be able
to do for protecting legal successors of Gurgen Markaryan and,
correspondingly, national dignity?

We wonder. And worry. Days into preparation for the trial, the coalition of
lawyers assisting Vardanyan complained they hadn’t yet even received the
Hungarian Criminal Code. They said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is late
with translation. They also complained that Armenia’s lead lawyer Vardanyan,
did not even have a laptop computer or roaming services on her mobile
phone – conditions that make communication a distraction if not an outright

Internal concern over the latest opposition activity has shoved this
internationally-significant trial down the list of priorities set in

Among the many questions we have about the personnel charged with defending
an officer’s rights and a republic’s name, none is more crucial than a
question that lingers while others, too, are unanswered:

Is this the best our government can do? And isn’t it worth the attention of
the public, even while Yerevan’s attention is on political rumbling?

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS