The Russian Supreme Court has upheld a prior decision to shutter the country's largest Azeri diaspora organization, a move that was sharply criticized by Baku.
The All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress (ARAC) was liquidated on September 19 at the request of the Russian Ministry of Justice. Hikmet Hajiyev, spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the verdict was “surprising” and caused “deep regret.”
“In general, we regard the decision to eliminate ARAC, which played an important role in the development of humanitarian relations between Azerbaijan and Russia, as an unfriendly step from the political point of view, which severely impacts the development of the strategic partnership of the two countries at a high level,” Hajiyev told the AzerTaj state news agency. He also called into question Russia's objectivity as part of the international team mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded with a statement calling those accusations strange and bewildering. "We have provided comprehensive explanations on this matter. However, Mr Hajiev continues to uphold the idea, which we consider strange, that this decision by a Russian court regarding a Russian public organisation is not just “an unfriendly step” towards Azerbaijan, but one that can somehow complicate Russia’s mediatory mission in the Nagorno-Karabkah settlement. Growing bewilderment is the only emotion this position provokes."
The Russian Supreme Court had ruled, on May 15, to revoke the registration of ARAC, the largest and most influential Azerbaijani diaspora organization in Russia. ARAC's appeal was rejected.
The Russian Ministry of Justice filed the original petition to the Supreme Court after noting significant legal violations during the organization’s inspection. The Ministry of Justice also highlighted the fact that the Congress ignored these violations, failing to amend them by the October 2016 deadline.
The violations are technical in nature, such as the ARAC Charter’s failure to mention the nature of the Congress’ activity, and the fact that the Congress does not periodically hold presidium meetings.
Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped many in Azerbaijan from interpreting the organization's legal troubles as somehow directed at Baku.
Hajiyev accused Russia of favoring Armenia with the decision: "While an unfair ruling is used against representatives of the Azerbaijani diaspora in Russia, the Union of Armenians of Russia is fully supported and continues its work," Hajiev said.
Nazim Ibrahimov, the chairman of the Azerbaijani State Committee on Work with the Diaspora, has expressed regret over the verdict.
"The adopted decision in no way corresponds to the spirit of strategic partnership that exists between our countries," Ibrahimov said in a September 19 statement. "Undoubtedly, the abolition of the ARAC serves the interests of powers intent on weakening our countries' mutual confidence, as well as state relations," he said.
The organization plays a role in the lives of hundreds of thousands of labor migrants living in Russia who send remittances back to Azerbaijan. Many of those are not Russian citizens and work there temporarily as guest workers. Remittances from Russia to Azerbaijan totaled $739 million in 2016.
Fazil Gurbanov, president of the ARAC, expressed his disappointment in a statement on the website of the Congress.
“I think the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is flawed and counterproductive!” Gurbanov said in his statement. “In fact, it is infringing the civil rights of Azerbaijanis in Russia.”
The All-Russian Azerbaijan Congress was established in 2001.