Citing ethnicity, Azerbaijan bars photojournalist

New York, July 7, 2011–Diana Markosian, a freelance photographer for Bloomberg Markets magazine was denied entry to Azerbaijan last week by authorities who cited her ethnicity as a reason, international news reports said. 

On June 27, border guards at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku detained Markosian on arrival from the Latvian capital, Riga, then expelled her the next day, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. Markosian told CPJ that the border guards took her passport, saying that she had an Armenian last name and that they “needed to clarify something.” Then they put her in the airport’s transit zone where she spent 16 hours until she was put on a flight to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Markosian holds both U.S. and Russian citizenship, she told CPJ.  

A government spokesman told the Baku-based news agency APA that Markosian was deported because authorities would be unable to provide her with “security” since she is an ethnic Armenian.

Markosian told CPJ that before her travel to Baku she and the newsroom told the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry about her visit, and were assured there would not be any complications. APA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov as saying the government had sent a letter to Bloomberg management saying that Azerbaijan is at war with Armenia and because of this “there will be problems to provide security for Armenian Diana Markosian.” Authorities asked Bloomberg to send another photographer instead of Markosian, Polukhov told APA. There have been no reports of other ethnic Armenians being denied entry to Azerbaijan.

Ty Trippet, a spokesman for Bloomberg LP, told CPJ that the company had not put out any statements on the case.

“It is deeply disturbing that Azerbaijani authorities would cite the ethnic background of a foreign reporter as a reason for barring her entry to the country,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Diana Markosian should be allowed to work in Azerbaijan as freely as any other journalist.”

Azerbaijan and Armenia are engaged in peace talks over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, populated by mostly by ethnic Armenians. A violent conflict over the territory erupted in 1988. Although the ceasefire was declared in 1994, the conflict has not ended and violent incidents continue to take place on the border. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The second paragraph has been modified to reflect that Markosian flew to Tbilisi, not back to Riga.