The processes related to the final match of the Europa League held in Baku, which midfielder of the London Arsenal and captain of the Armenian national football team Henrikh Mkhitaryan had to miss, and which many Armenian fans could not attend, have become another evidence that negative consequences of the decades-long state policy of hatred towards Armenians cannot be overcome overnight. This sporting event, which could contribute to reconciliation of the societies of the conflicting parties, had the exact opposite effect and demonstrated the level of hostility by the Azerbaijani side to everything connected with the Armenians.
In this regard, it should be noted that xenophobia against Armenians has been actively used by the Azerbaijani authorities, in the context of the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict, as a tool in their policy of forcibly suppressing the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination. Over the years, intolerance towards Armenians not only did not weaken in Azerbaijan but began to penetrate into all spheres of public life, including the education system. The report of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) notes that in Azerbaijan “political leaders, educational institutions and media have continued using hate speech against Armenians; an entire generation of Azerbaijanis has now grown up listening to this hateful rhetoric”.[ ECRI Report on the Azerbaijan (fifth monitoring cycle). 17 March 2016]
The imposition of Armenophobia and promotion of hate crimes against Armenians were elevated to the level of state policy, which was formulated by the President of Azerbaijan in the form of the thesis “Armenians of the world are the main enemy of Azerbaijan”. The manifestations of racism and xenophobia towards Armenians in Azerbaijan have been also documented by several international organizations, in particular, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
One glaring example of encouragement by the Azerbaijani authorities of hate crimes against Armenians has been the extradition to Azerbaijan in August 2012, followed by pardon and nationwide glorification and making a hero of Ramil Safarov, a criminal who hacked to death a fellow Armenian officer, with whom he was taking part in the training courses under the NATO Partnership for Peace program in Budapest, and was convicted by a Hungarian court for life imprisonment.
The ECRI unequivocally noted that such actions could cultivate a sense of impunity for the perpetrators of racist crimes of the most serious nature,[ Ibid., par. 38] and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarded this step by the Azerbaijani authorities as condoning racial hatred and hate crimes and denying redress to victims.[ CERD/C/AZE/CO/7-9, par. 15]
The problem of xenophobia towards Armenians in Azerbaijan has reached such proportions that any Azerbaijani citizen who publicly advocates the establishment of any relations with Armenians is faced with intimidation and harassment by the Azerbaijani authorities, as it happened with Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli. Even participation in joint civil peace initiatives is a sufficient reason for the Azerbaijani authorities to fabricate criminal cases. In 2014, a number of leading Azerbaijani human rights activists and journalists, who had participated in projects aimed at confidence building and preparing societies for peace, were arrested in Azerbaijan on charges of treason and espionage in favor of Armenia.
Moreover, any person bearing an Armenian surname, regardless of citizenship and age, is faced with discrimination when trying to visit Azerbaijan. This situation even caused a lengthy comment by the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation on 6 July 2017. In particular, the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry had to admit that Russian citizens of Armenian descent visiting this country are indeed subject to ethnic discrimination. Contrary to the numerous recommendations of international organizations, the Azerbaijani authorities take no action to comply with their international obligations to eliminate all forms of discrimination.
Against the background of the continuing degradation of the situation with xenophobia in Azerbaijan, a shared responsibility of the international community is to influence on the Azerbaijani authorities to stop the propaganda of hatred and eradicate the negative phenomena caused by it. This state policy pursued for many years has led to a situation when public manifestation of hatred towards Armenians began to be perceived as a norm in the Azerbaijani society. In order to reverse this negative trend, effective measures will have to be taken with the support of the international community, which will allow the Azerbaijani society to get rid of man-hating norms and guidelines imposed by the authorities and take the path of recovery.