MOSCOW (RFE/RL) — Russia again demanded on Friday that Azerbaijan stop barring Russian citizens of Armenian descent from visiting the South Caucasus country, saying that the practice is “incompatible with friendly relations between the two countries.”
“We have repeatedly raised this issue with the Azerbaijani side and said that such instances are becoming a tradition, a bad and wrong tradition,” said Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
“In our view, such facts constitute a blatant violation of the rights of Russian citizens,” Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow.
“The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly brought the Azerbaijani side’s attention to the unacceptability of the existing situation. We have demanded an end to detentions and expulsions.The practice is incompatible with friendly ties between the two countries.”
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.
According to Zakharova, in 2018 there were at least 16 cases of Russian nationals denied entry to Azerbaijan “on ethnic grounds.”
The most recent of them was reported late last month. Kristina Gevorkyan, an ethnic Armenian holder of a Russian passport, said that she was held in detention at Baku’s Heydar Aliyev international airport for 13 hours before being deported to Russia.
Moscow already publicly denounced the practice in July 2017. Reacting to that criticism, an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman cited continuing “Armenian occupation” of Azerbaijani territory.
“Unfortunately, some ethnic Armenian individuals display ethnically motivated hostility, and that is why we take certain measures,” he said at the time.
Incidentally, Russia’s longtime Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was born to an ethnic Armenian father. Lavrov visits Baku on a regular basis.
The Azerbaijani 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.