There are often comedic moments that expose some rather serious truths. This is, of course, the essence of a good joke: a lighthearted jest that passingly reveals an underlying, formidable truth. We have all seen it performed on an improv stage. However, when it is performed by a country, it sometimes exposes matters of legal consequence—and we notice.
On November 3, 2017, the Armenian Rights Watch Committee—ARWC of the Armenian Bar Association was alerted to the fact that one of its co-chairs, Garo Ghazarian, had been placed on a list of people declared personae non gratae by Azerbaijan. The list is an interesting assortment of international figures: lords and ministers of parliament from across Europe, journalists from internationally renowned publications, writers, professors, musicians, an astronaut—and even Anthony Bourdain. The sin of these nearly 450 publicly-declared “undesirables”: they traveled to Artsakh without permission from Baku.
First, nostra culpa: Mr. Ghazarian did recently travel to the Artsakh Republic—again. When presenting himself at the border, however, he was greeted by Artsakh passport control. It is they who granted Mr. Ghazarian access to the Artsakh Republic—not Azerbaijan. In fact, Azerbaijani authorities were nowhere to be found. Mr. Ghazarian presented his passport and, upon being granted entry, traveled to Stepanakert and met with the Artsakh Republic’s Human Rights Ombudsman to lay the foundation for a ground-breaking legal clinic at Artsakh State University. In fact, just a few weeks ago, we announced the opening of the legal clinic in Stepanakert, which was made possible by an amazing collaboration among the Armenian Bar Association, Yerevan State University and Artsakh State University.
Azerbaijan must have become aware of Mr. Ghazarian’s travels in the Artsakh Republic—but not as a result of any sovereign functions on the ground like Azerbaijani police contact, the work of Azerbaijani clandestine services and/or informants operating within the territory of the Artsakh Republic. Azerbaijan likely became aware of Mr. Ghazarian’s travels by trolling the Armenian Bar Association’s Facebook page. Stellar work. Perhaps by hitting the “like” button, they could have greater access to our work in Artsakh including, of course, our upcoming annual meeting scheduled to take place in Stepanakert in May 2018.
But, like everything absurd, there is a revealing truth laying just beneath the surface. Beneath this public relations charade by Azerbaijan is the reality that the Artsakh Republic is, in truth and in fact, already a state under international law. While an exposé on the subject is beyond the scope of this statement, we stress that our reference to Artsakh statehood is not a political position, but a legally impregnable fact under international law. And to be clear, Azerbaijan’s placing of our ARWC co-chair on its list of undesirables—along with those 400 or so other unsavory political leaders, human rights activists, performers, writers, a chef and an astronaut—reveals the utter absurdity in Azerbaijan’s puerile mulishness in itself not recognizing the Artsakh Republic.
Rather than shaming an Armenian Bar board member and the other undesirables, Azerbaijan’s list only evidences nervous impotence breeding a patently vacuous exercise of state power—declaring personae non gratae. This, while the Artsakh Republic, in fact and on the ground, continues to provide hope, progress and society for its citizens—while protecting them from what otherwise would be the certainty of utter annihilation. And this is not conjecture.
We know that the Azerbaijanis had lists of “undesirables” during Sumgait pogroms in 1988. We know that the Turks had lists of “undesirables” during the Istanbul pogroms in 1955. And, of course, we know that the Ottomans had lists of “undesirables” in 1915. The fact that Azerbaijan has a list of “undesirables” today may be ridiculous—but it’s not funny.
Armenian Rights Watch Committee—ARWC
ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION