Russia has formally complained to Azerbaijan about "ethnic discrimination" against Russian citizens of Armenian origin, saying that 25 Russians so far this year have been denied entry to Azerbaijan because they had Armenian names.
"Russian citizens arriving in Azerbaijan are truly discriminated against on ethnic grounds," the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on July 5. "We demand the cessation of this outrageous practice, inconsistent with the friendly relations between our two countries."
Azerbaijan has long denied entry to citizens of all countries, not just Russians, whose names end in the standard Armenian surname suffixes -ian or -yan. So why did Russia decide to complain publicly about it just now?
It could be a coincidence, but the statement came just after the start of a trial in Baku of a Russian citizen for illegal entry into Nagorno Karabakh, the territory that is de jure part of Azerbaijan but administered by an unrecognized, de facto Armenian-led government.
Azerbaijan complains, not without justification, that travelers who visit Karabakh are breaking international law. But the extreme measures taken to prosecute this blogger -- including extraditing him from Belarus -- have struck many as excessive.
Moscow's geopolitical whataboutism skills are unmatched, and the Russian MFA statement is a crafty way to call attention to Azerbaijan's own unprincipled border entry standards.
The Russian-Armenians who try to enter Azerbaijan are often detained for several hours without food, water, or medical attention, the MFA noted. It said that the reason usually was an Armenian last name, but it also noted that there have been cases "when people with Russian last names, first names, and patronymics have been interrogated for the purpose of detecting 'Armenian ancestors.'"
The spokesman for Azerbaijan's MFA, Hikmet Hajiyev, responded to Russia's complaint by countering that "Azerbaijan is proud of the traditions of multiculturalism, which is an example for the whole world."
Hajiyev added that Azerbaijan was forced to bar entry to Armenians because some of them are hostile: "Unfortunately, some people of Armenian nationality display hostility on ethnic grounds. Therefore, we take some measures."
The Russian statement was "tendentious and prejudicial," the director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Azerbaijan, Farhad Mamedov, said. "Recently we have seen increasing numbers of tourists from Russia to Azerbaijan, the positive impression of which contrasts sharply with the Russian MFA's statement," Mamedov said.
And Mamedov tried a bit of whataboutism himself. "Unfortunately, we have observed ethnic discrimination on the part of the Russian MFA on the part of their own citizens," he continued, noting the case of Dilgam Askerov, a Russian citizen who was arrested in Karabakh and accused of "an attempt of a diversion-scouting penetration into the Azerbaijani territory."
"We have not seen such a tone taken with Armenia, in whose captivity Russian citizen Dilgam Askerov remains," Mamedov said.