I always thought that anyone who visited Artsakh without the agreement of the Azerbaijani government was immediately considered to be “persona non grata”. Of course the number of people who they grant permission to is probably very small and confined to international peace negotiators, so one would expect that the population of “offenders” would run into the thousands when you consider the number of tourists each year. But of course, what this list actually reveals is that the Azerbaijani government doesn’t really know who is entering the country, and that its previously threatening assertions are just vacuous. What it demonstrates is, that it is just an empty threat to try and deter visitors from finding out for themselves what life is like in this country, and that they are not subjected to sniper fire, bandits, minefields, and life-threatening situations but something quite different. Inevitably people have been deterred because of the official Azeri statements, as well as the compliant advice by one’s local Foreign Office.
I’m not entirely clear what binds the 335 people on the initial list together other than the fact that most appear to be parliamentary officials of some distinction, as well as media representatives plus an astronaut, and a singer. I expect that the majority bring publicity by virtue of who they are, or can engineer interest through their formal media channels. In view of this, the Azerbaijani Intelligence authorities must have been working strenuously, by searching Google, to establish this list of people whose names simply appear on news websites.
It is not transparent what the consequence is of being on the list, and why anyone should be concerned about their inclusion. If it means that a visa will not be granted to enter Azerbaijan then that does seem to be a limp weapon for most people. They go to Artsakh because they support the country ; most likely they have no intention of visiting Azerbaijan. I suspect also that most, if not all, don’t care that they are on the list.
A recent press release has disclosed that the Azeri Government will not stop at the 335 people. They will continue to “out” many, many more in the coming weeks and months. I have a suggestion for them that will save them a lot of time. Publicise an email address where people who have visited Artsakh can declare themselves as “persona non grata” and then let’s see how long the list is. I suspect it will increase to many thousands.
For me, I was “honoured” to be on the list. I am not someone whose visits make the news media, or has influence over the content of TV and print outlets, and am not famous for other reasons. I am just simply, someone who is trying to create a presence on the internet, and communicate with the wider world about the reality of life in Artsakh. The fact that they have chosen to give me this “badge” is helpful feedback for me, and reassures me that the work I am doing is upsetting them in some way and, because of that, I will continue with even greater vigour.