Official Baku has sent a note of protest to the United States over the visit of American citizen Dan Bilzerian to Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to official sources, U.S. Charge d'Affaires William Gill was summoned to the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan over this matter earlier this week and was given an official note of protest addressed to the U.S. Department of State.
Bilzerian, a 37-year-old American social media celebrity of Armenian descent nicknamed the “King of Instagram”, made a trip to Armenia in late August to be issued a passport of an Armenian citizen.
The professional poker player, who is primarily known for his playboy lifestyle and has tens of millions of followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter attracted by his regular photos of private jets, scantily clad women, piles of cash and guns, then traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh where he fired various weapons at a local shooting range.
Azerbaijan, which considers ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh to be its territory, saw it as a violation of its laws. “It was brought to the notice of the senior American diplomat that Bilzerian had violated the law of Azerbaijan on the state border and the country’s Migration Code as, without presenting relevant documents, bypassing our checkpoints, he entered the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” said Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev.
The note of protest directed to the American side also claims that Bilzerian “illegally acquired firearms and for provocative purposes demonstratively opened fire on the positions of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces.” “We also informed the American diplomat that this person was making insulting and immoral statements on camera affecting the dignity and moral values of the Azerbaijani people and contradicting the spirit of friendly relations between Azerbaijan and the United States,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Immediately after Bilzerian’s visit to Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijan launched a criminal case against the flamboyant millionaire. A court in Baku issued an arrest warrant for Bilzerian and put him on the international wanted list.
In response to this development, Bilzerian, who is no stranger to controversy, told the American magazine People that he thinks the arrest warrant was politically motivated. “They only issued the warrant for my arrest, and nobody else on the trip,” he said. “I think it’s because I am a public figure and they want to try to make an example out of me.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan does not conceal the demonstrative nature of the criminal case against Bilzerian to prevent visits of U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries to Nagorno-Karabakh. “We have informed the American side about the charges brought against Bilzerian and about the steps taken to bring him to justice. The Azerbaijani side expects the U.S. Government to take seriously the concerns of Baku and take the necessary measures to ensure that U.S. citizens refrain from visiting the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” Hajiyev said.
At least on one occasion in the past authorities in Baku already acted on their warnings by arresting a foreign national over his visit to Nagorno-Karabakh. In December 2016 at the request of Azerbaijan the authorities of Belarus arrested blogger Alexander Lapshin, who has the citizenships of Israel, Russia and Ukraine. The blogger was then handed over to Baku where he was tried and sentenced to three years in prison for violating Azerbaijani laws. Lapshin was released from Azerbaijani prison in September 2017 after numerous calls from human rights organizations and some backstage negotiations with official Baku.
Baku has a long list of international figures who are declared personae non gratae in Azerbaijan and are banned from entering the country.