Hungarian President Katalin Novák met with her Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev on the occasion of the latter’s official visit to Budapest on January 30th.
Such a meeting is not insignificant on the part of the Hungarian Presidency. In a context of tensions over energy supplies resulting from the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Hungary is seeking to secure its supplies by diversifying its production sources. Azerbaijan and its rich gas reserves are therefore among the links to be cultivated as a priority, and Katalin Novák has described the Republic of Azerbaijan as a “key strategic partner.”
Novák’s choice is consistent with the diplomatic direction taken for many months by the European Union, which is also seeking to secure supplies of Azeri gas to replace Russian gas. An agreement negotiated by Ursula von der Leyen was concluded on July 18th with Azerbaijan to increase the supply of Azeri gas to EU countries.
But the rapprochement between Azerbaijan and the European Union is not unanimous. In the summer of 2022, several MEPs denounced an agreement that sacrificed the destiny of the Christian Armenian populations under Aliyev’s dictatorial control in the Nagorno-Karabakh region for gas needs. A few days ago, the Hungarian compromise—to the detriment of the Armenians—was denounced several times on President Novák’s official Twitter page.
Relations between Hungary and Armenia have experienced multiple ups and downs in recent years. In 2012, the two countries broke off diplomatic relations after Budapest allowed the extradition to Azerbaijan of an Azeri officer, Ramil Safarov Sahib, who had murdered an Armenian officer, Gurgen Margaryan, under particularly bloody circumstances.
At the time, Viktor Orbán justified his decision by explaining that the Azeri president, Ilham Aliyev, had promised to keep the murderer in prison, in compliance with the Strasbourg International Convention governing extraditions. But the Azeri President had not kept his promise. After pardoning the murderer, he offered him a military promotion, making Safarov a virtual national hero in Azerbaijan. An international investigation in 2017 found possible Azeri funds paid to Hungarian officials to facilitate the extradition process.
Despite these painful memories, Armenia and Hungary resumed diplomatic relations in December 2022, as Armenia sought support in its conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Hungarian position between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a delicate one. Mutual aid between Christian countries invites Hungary to support Armenia, but Hungary is also, since 2018, an observer member of the Organisation of Turkic States, an organisation that includes Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and that aims to promote cooperation between states with Turkic roots. Viktor Orbán was present at the organisation’s last summit in November 2022. Aliyev’s visit to Katalin Novák in Budapest is more proof that Hungary is not keen to cut ties with Azerbaijan just yet.