MOSCOW (RFE/RL) — Russia publicly demanded on Wednesday Azerbaijan stop barring Russian citizens of Armenian descent from visiting the South Caucasus country, saying that the “blatant discriminatory practice” could hurt Russian-Azerbaijani ties.
The Azerbaijani government has long maintained a travel ban for not only Armenia’s citizens but also ethnic Armenians from other countries because of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.It considers any Armenian presence on Azerbaijani soil a security risk and an affront to the country’s honor and territorial integrity.
The TASS agency quoted an unnamed official at the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that 25 Russian nationals with Armenian surnames have been detained and deported after attempting to enter Azerbaijan so far this year. The official said Azerbaijani immigration officers have also interrogated individuals with traditional Russian names suspected of having Armenian ancestors.
“We have to conclude that Russian citizens arriving in Azerbaijan are really discriminated against on ethnic grounds,” said the official.
“We are continuing to demand an end to the blatant discriminatory practice which is not compatible with friendly relations between the two countries. We will certainly be drawing conclusions from the existing situation.”
According to TASS, the Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly demanded explanations from the authorities in Baku and has been told by them that the travel ban is needed for averting “undesirable incidents.” The ministry official dismissed the explanation as unsatisfactory.
Commenting on the unusually strong Russian criticism later in the day, a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry cited continuing “Armenian occupation” of Azerbaijani territory. “Unfortunately, some ethnic Armenian individuals display ethnically motivated hostility, and that is why we take certain measures,” the official said, according to the Turan news agency.
Incidentally, Russia’s longtime Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was born to an ethnic Armenian father. Lavrov has visited Baku on a regular basis.
The Azerbaijan ban also applies to presumed or actual ethnic Armenians from Turkey, Azerbaijan’s closest ally. In 2014, a Turkish arm-wrestler called Zafer Noyan was reportedly barred from entering Azerbaijan and participating in a major competition there because of his last name which officials at the Baku airport felt is Armenian. Noyan was forced to flow back to Istanbul despite his assurances that he is not of Armenian origin.