Arsenal, the British football club, has announced that its veteran midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian, will not accompany his team to its May 29th Europa League final match against Chelsea, to be played in Baku, Azerbaijan, due to "security reasons" stemming from the ethnic and territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
I was surprised to learn this, because I do not recall any prior instance in Azerbaijan when any athlete of a different nationality – including an Armenian – was endangered. No do I know of any international event being cancelled in Azerbaijan due to the nationality of any of its participants.
Tolerance and multiculturalism are hallmarks of Azerbaijan society. More than thirty thousand Armenians live peacefully and undisturbed in Azerbaijan. They do not feel threatened, and Azerbaijan is renowned for its good nature and hospitality.
Moreover, in recent years, numerous well-known Armenian athletes have visited Baku. Many recall the Armenian national team’s solemn march at the first European Games. Armenian athletes marched with their country’s flag raised high, in the very same arena where Mkhitaryan was supposed to play.
Azerbaijani authorities have never mixed sports with politics. However, a scandal was needed for the sake of political interests. The Europa League final is the first time Azerbaijan has hosted a major tournament final, and it will also host games at next year’s European Championships. The Europa League final at the modern Baku stadium is an extraordinary event for the post-Soviet space. Therefore, they decided to manufacture a scandal using Mkhitaryan.
Azerbaijan is a secular democratic state, which supports various different communities and ethnic groups, including an active Jewish community. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of neighboring Armenia, which has become a mono-ethnic state and, according to a recent statement by international institutions and organizations, is ranked first in its aggressive policies.
Over the past 27 years, Armenia has continued to illegally occupy 20% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory, including the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts. The Armenian occupation has resulted in brutal massacres and ethnic cleansing against the Azerbaijani civilian population. More than 800,000 Azerbaijani civilians were forcibly expelled from their land. Combined with 250,000 Azerbaijanis expelled from Armenia, the number of Azerbaijani refugees has reached over 1 million.
Despite the Armenian occupation, and the suffering that is has endured due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan, country with a Muslim majority, embraces all religions and ethnic groups. Through the centuries, people fleeing persecution have found refuge in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan has taken important steps regarding international, regional and global cooperation. It has organized a large number of major international events, including the first European Games and the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games.
Those who compare Mkhitaryan’s decision to avoid travel to Azerbaijan to the instances of Israeli athletes not competing in events held in Saudi Arabia are mistaken. Israelis are prohibited from entering Saudi Arabia. Athletes and other official figures of Armenian nationality, on the other hand, have never been banned from traveling to Azerbaijan.
It is also worth mentioning that there is no history of any antisemitism in Azerbaijan. Jews and Azerbaijanis have always lived together in peace and harmony. Azerbaijan is the only place in the world, other than Israel, where Jews can live without anti-Semitism and nationalism.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – or any other foreigner, for that matter – would not be endangering himself by visiting Azerbaijan. By becoming involved in the intrigues of Armenian nationalists, he has deprived himself of visiting the stunningly beautiful city of Baku.
Moreover, both the Azerbaijani ambassador to Britain and the Azerbaijani government have provided all the necessary guarantees related to ensuring his security. As the Azerbaijani statement confirms, over the past ten years, a large number of Armenian athletes have taken part in various international sports competitions organized in Azerbaijan without incident.
Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry insisted they had offered all the guarantees necessary to ensure Mkhitaryan would have been safe ahead of the game against Chelsea.
Elkhan Mammadov, the general secretary of the Azerbaijan Football Association stated: "Our government authorities provided guarantees to UEFA for Mkhitaryan to come to Baku, so there is no issue of security and safety. We are disappointed to see the statement from Arsenal that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be traveling with his team to Baku to participate at the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea next Wednesday. We very much regret this unwarranted decision taken, as we understand, collectively by Arsenal, the player and his family.”
“While we recognize the right to make a personal decision not to travel, we would like to reiterate that as the host country Azerbaijan has provided all the necessary guarantees required by UEFA to ensure the personal safety of Mr. Mkhitaryan.
“There is no reason whatsoever to put in question the seriousness of these guarantees provided by Azerbaijan. Over the past decade a large number of Armenian athletes have taken part in various international sports events in Azerbaijan without any issues.”
“Finally, we believe that this regretful decision will not affect in any manner the quality and the attraction of this great match. We look forward to welcoming both teams in Baku shortly.”
One must come to the conclusion, therefore, that the Armenian diaspora, in collusion with the Armenian authorities, continues to blacken the good name and international image of Azerbaijan and intimidates its own people and the world community. The Armenian charges are baseless and like a soap bubble, will burst the moment that the athletes land in Baku.
Their slanderous attacks will not disturb the tolerance of the Azerbaijani people, like the waves of the Caspian Sea that crash in vain against the rocks of the beautiful Absheron peninsula near Baku itself.