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There is a question you need to ask yourself before reading this post, and it’s one of those questions that every man needs to look within and answer for himself. The question is: How many times can you read the phrase “Azerbaijani axe murderer” without bursting out laughing? The story related here is serious business—it might well  spark another war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, only this time with more and better weapons, the interim since the last dust-up having seen the kind of arms buildup that only oil money can buy. Laughter would be highly inappropriate. Still, it’s a funny phrase, and we are only human.

The trouble began last week when Hungary agreed to transfer  Azerbaijani axe murderer Ramil Safarov from a Hungarian prison to one in his native country. Eight years ago Safarov hacked Gurgen Markarian to death in his sleep, with no motive other than a desire to kill an Armenian. Both men were in Budapest for a NATO-sponsored language course. (Some reports have said that the two were roommates, which would have been really boneheaded on NATO’s part, but that is a mistranslation.) Safarov then left Margaryan’s room with the bloody axe intending to kill the program’s other Armenian participant, Hayk Makuchyan , but had trouble finding his victim’s room. Shortly before the police arrived, Safarov ran into an Uzbek classmate in the hallway and asked for directions, then invited his friend to join him in the second murder. The Uzbek guy took a rain check and, God bless him, persuaded Safarov to pause and have a cigarette with him.

This past Friday, after getting the Hungarians to hand over their axe murderer on the understanding that he would serve out the rest of his prison sentence, Azerbaijan instead pardoned Safarov, threw him a parade, and gave him eight years of back pay, a new house, and a military promotion. Which is exactly what everyone expected would happen. Baku had been trying to get Hungary to give them Safarov since he was first convicted, his criminal exploits having made him something of a national hero . They were able to prevail upon Budapest this time only by promising to purchase 3 billion euros worth of specially issued Hungarian government bonds conveniently denominated in Turkish lira. (Hungary denies that any secret deal was made, but then, they also professed surprise that Azerbaijan would pardon Safarov and give him a hero’s welcome, so disingenuous protestations are clearly not beneath them.) Three billion euros: who knew Azerbaijani axe murderers had a market price. Armenia has responded by severing diplomatic relations with Budapest and putting its army on high alert.

I don’t know if it’s something in the Hungarian national character or what, but this is the second time this summer that a very serious story out of Budapest has caused me to laugh inappropriately. Last time it was Romania instead of Armenia, and instead of “Azerbaijani axe murderer,” it was “a bag of dead fascist ashes.” James Kirchick laid out the details of the story here , minus the farcical bits. The basic idea is that Hungary wanted to have a grand reburial ceremony for József Nyír?, a novelist who served in the fascist Arrow Cross Party government of 1944-45 and who died in Spain in 1953, where his corpse had remained until recently. From what I can tell, his support for the Arrow Cross regime was genuine and full-throated, not a grudging accommodation to political realities. Certainly no one questions that he was a hater of Jews, or that the magazine he edited was called (yikes)  Hungarian Might .

The intended reburial site was Nyír?’s hometown, which is now across the border in Romanian territory. Romania did not fancy soiling the Carpathian basin with dead fascist ashes, nor did they want to humor Hungarian ambitions of reclaiming their former Transylvanian territory, so they made it known at the last minute that the train car carrying Nyír?’s ashes would not be allowed past the border. The Hungarians were quite put out—they had decked out the train car in nationalist flair and everything—but they decided to proceed with the ceremony anyway, ashes or no ashes.

This is where the Hungarians start acting like Keystone Kops and making me laugh at fascists, which I hate to do. The Romanians anticipated that the Hungarians might try to smuggle the ashes over the border undetected, so they set up a roadblock. A taxi carrying the Nyír? gang’s communications director was stopped, but he refused to let them search the car without a warrant. When the necessary authorization was obtained a short time later, the search revealed an urn, official papers granting permission to transport human remains . . . but no ashes. The urn was empty.

Now, no one knows what took place in the interval between the car being stopped and the search being carried out. But we do know that a mysterious leather bag was given an oddly prominent place on the bier during the eulogy (see above, far left), and several of the people involved have hinted that the ashes were secretly present during the ceremony. The minister in the above picture, Géza Sz?cs, said later that he could “neither confirm nor deny” that the bag contained Nyír?’s ashes.  This article  seems to explain the whole escapade; unfortunately, Google Translate is crap at Hungarian:

They found an irredentist pants, one sock at a xenophobic anti-Semitic ümögöt . . .   And finally they found what they were looking, they found the Lord! No, lit up that you Itten’s casus belli, and soon moved to Bucharest. And so glad, and so were amateurs, and so impatient that they stood still definitely open Korond b?röndöknél, when he traveled to the Romanian press, the news that Luke found Csaba Hungarian journalist Joseph Nyir? ashes. And then my friend Csaba started to stick to it to open the urn. And opened. And there stood the urn surrounded by a bunch of Romanians, and they were there to Kusturica cried a prescription. Because the urn was empty!
The resurgence of anti-Semitism in Hungary is no laughing matter—which is why the last thing I need to be picturing in my head is a bunch of far-right activists in the back of a taxi fumbling with an urn and saying “To hell with propriety, just dump it in the bag, the cops are going to be back any second!”

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