Arsenal Player Left Off Squad's Azeri Final Draws Armenia's Ire

Sara Khojoyan
Arsenal Player Left Off Squad's Azeri Final Draws Armenia's Ire

(Bloomberg) -- Armenia criticized neighboring Azerbaijan for refusing visas to soccer fans of Armenian origin "irrespective of their nationality" to attend the UEFA Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea.

The denial of visas raises "serious concerns" and is evidence of "deep-rooted intolerance,” Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan said Wednesday in a statement. Arsenal’s decision not to include Armenian player Henrikh Mkhitaryan in its squad for the May 29 final showed the "incapacity of Azerbaijan to provide a credible security environment," she said.

The Azeri Foreign Ministry rejected the criticisms as "baseless" in a website statement that said it had committed to ensure the security of Mkhitaryan "as well as all the fans" attending the final in the capital, Baku, of European club soccer’s second-most important competition. Armenian athletes have been involved in past sports events in the country, it said.

The two nations are embroiled in a decades-long conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The dispute flared into a brief war in 2016, the worst outbreak of violence since Armenians took over the enclave and seven adjacent districts from Azerbaijan in fighting after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. While major hostilities ended in 1994, years of attempts by international mediators to resolve the conflict have failed to produce a peace agreement between the two sides, who have no diplomatic relations.

The soccer dispute took place even as Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev agreed at March talks in Vienna to seek to establish contacts between their citizens as part of new efforts to resolve the conflict.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Khojoyan in Yerevan at skhojoyan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory L. White at gwhite64@bloomberg.net, Tony Halpin, Paul Abelsky

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