BAKU, Azerbaijan, Feb. 24
I do not want to talk about what happened to the Azerbaijanis who accidentally got into the territory controlled by the Armenian armed forces, wanted to visit their homes and were detained, taken prisoner and tortured. This is another topic, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said during the meeting with the leaders of Russia’s top mass media at the TASS headquarters, Trend reports.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev made the statement answering to a question of Margarita Simonyan, Editor-in-Chief of RT TV channel and the International News Agency “Rossiya segodnya”.
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, first of all, I have to say that the information you have shared with us is not accurate, to put it mildly. We do not have a ban on entry on an ethnic basis, and the numerous visits by representatives of the Armenian people to Azerbaijan testify to this. They have participated in sporting events such as the European Games. A team from Armenia participated, and I even remember personally handing a silver medal to a representative of Ukraine who was an Armenian by nationality. He stood on the podium next to the Azerbaijani boxer who won gold. I awarded him, shook his hand and congratulated him, and the audience, which, perhaps, was not fully tuned in to this applauded me for a long time.
Margarita Simonyan: I know this story.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, you see. Then it means that there is a certain bias in what you said. The same applies to the arrival of representatives of Armenia, not just ethnic Armenians. Representatives of Armenia have come to Azerbaijan for various events. There was a visit by Catholicos Garegin several years ago. I met with him in my office. He visited the Armenian church in the center of Baku and was surprised that we keep more than 5,000 books in Armenian in this church. He witnessed this himself. I can give many more such examples – MPs, public figures and citizens of other countries with Armenian roots. We don't have any restrictions. There are, or rather, there were concerns that in cases when this happens somewhat chaotically, there was a certain risk that there might be some kind of incidents. Because for almost 30 years, all Azerbaijani cultural, historical and religious heritage in Karabakh and Zangazur was destroyed. I have brought a book – in fact, it is not even a book, but more of a photo album, “Karabakh before and after the occupation”. I will present it to you, so you can see. This is better than any words about what happened there. And, of course, there are a lot of victims, a lot of people who have lost their parents and loved ones. We still have about 4,000 missing people. Unfortunately, they are not being returned. We are not being told about mass grave sites. We are responsible for the safety of our citizens and visitors, so our request was that in the event that either citizens of Armenia or citizens with Armenian surnames want to come to Azerbaijan, the relevant authorities should be notified. In particular, if we are talking about Russia, the Embassy and Ambassador Polad Bulbuloglu know these instructions. There were cases when entry was denied, but that happened precisely because these formalities were not observed.
I do not want to talk about what happened to the Azerbaijanis who accidentally got into the territory controlled by the Armenian armed forces, wanted to visit their homes and were detained, taken prisoner and tortured. This is another topic. But I think that after the end of the war, if the Armenian leadership accepts our ideas to start working on a peace treaty, such visits may become commonplace, as was the case before the war. Baku, unlike Yerevan, has always been a multinational city. Azerbaijan is still a multinational state, unlike Armenia, which is a mono-ethnic state, where almost all national minorities, primarily Azerbaijanis, have been deported and expelled. Therefore, the spirit of multiculturalism in Azerbaijan is visible practically everywhere. Moreover, thousands of Azerbaijani citizens of Armenian nationality live in Azerbaijan. There are fewer of them than the figure that is being mentioned – 30,000. There were 30,000 of them perhaps 10-15 years ago, but still they are there, they live and live normally, no-one makes any claims to them. So taking this opportunity to answer your question, I would like to invite you to come to Azerbaijan. And you will see that there are no restrictions.