Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Azerbaijan: Ethnic Azeri Immigrants in Rights Struggle
Families caught up in the requirements of Azerbaijan’s tough new law on immigration say they are trapped in an endless bureaucratic maze.
The new requirements, which came into force in stages between 2006 and 2008, have particularly affected couples where one partner is an Azeri from Georgia – like the majority of so-called mixed families in the country.
Ethnic Azeris from neighbouring countries used to find it easy to gain permanent residence permits and could enter and leave Georgia with identity cards. After the changes, they were subject to the same restrictions as other foreigners and required a passport to travel.
“What kind of law demands the destruction of a family? Do you know how many mixed families there are of Azeris from Georgia and from Azerbaijan? Those who married ethnic Armenians can live calmly in Baku, but I married an Azeri girl, with the same blood, the same religion,” ranted Khayal Kazimov, a 29-year-old Baku resident.
“We are insulted just because she is from Georgia. What should I do? Get divorced, just to please the state?”
Kazimov has Azerbaijani citizenship, but is from Georgia originally. When the time came for him to marry, he found a bride among his relatives in the neighbouring country.
“Since the day of our marriage, almost every day we have to go to the migration service. How many documents have they demanded from us? I have given them proof of my bank account, my property, my work, my salary. We also had to collect a heap of documents for my wife,” he said.
“But every time we go to the migration service, it turns out that we are missing another document. As a result, every time they refused to give my wife permanent residency in Azerbaijan, and she had to leave the country every three months and then come back. And when our child was born, they refused to register him as mine. That was when I had had enough. I had to pay a bribe of 700 manats (875 US dollars). Only after that was my child registered, and my wife could receive permission to live in Azerbaijan for three years.”
According to the Georgian census of 2002, some 285,000 ethnic Azeris live in Georgia and they have intermarried freely with their ethnic kin in Azerbaijan for centuries. In Soviet times, there were no restrictions on intermarriage, and even after independence, the two countries were very relaxed on the issue.
According to Zalimkhan Mammadli, a member of the Azerbaijan parliament and chairman of the Borchaly society, which campaigns for the ethnic Azeris, some 70,000 migrants from Georgia live in Azerbaijan and almost all of them are Azeris.
He proposed changes to the law when it was amended in 2007, to make it easier for ethnic Azeris from other countries to move to Azerbaijan.
“We suggested that for a period the conditions imposed on our fellow-countrymen from Georgia be simplified. After several years of living here on equal terms with local citizens, it was very hard for them to change immediately to a tough regime. We needed to give Georgian Azeris time to adapt,” he said.
The Georgian and Azerbaijani authorities began to demand that citizens use passports to travel between the two countries in 2005. Before that, identity cards were sufficient.
Sevda Qaralova, a 32-year-old Georgian citizen, has lived in Baku since 1994 when she finished her schooling in the city. She studied at the Baku State University, and remained to work in Azerbaijan after she graduated.
“I came to Baku to my older sister. My sister was already a citizen of Azerbaijan and had a flat in Baku,” she said.
She received a three-year residency permit without trouble in 2005, when the new passport regime was introduced. But when that permit ran out, she discovered the full force of the new rules.
The regulations were initiated by a presidential decree of July 25, 2006. The state migration service was created in a new form in March 2007, and in July that year the migration law was amended, to treat all foreigners in Azerbaijan the same way, and end any special treatment for foreign Azeris.
This was a major blow to Azeris from Georgia, and for those Azerbaijani citizens who had married them. According to state statistics, more than half of all marriages each year between Azerbaijani citizens and a foreigner involve an Azeri from Georgia.
To gain registration, Qaralova now needs more than just a sister who is an Azerbaijani citizen with her own flat. She now needs a close relative to be a citizen of Azerbaijan who can show proof of a bank account containing at least 10,000 manats and be prepared to be her guarantor.
“My problem with registration is going to get even worse because soon I am intending to marry. My fiancé is a citizen of Azerbaijan. We could go to Georgia and marry there without any trouble, but all the same we would have to come back here, since he has a house here and work. We do not want to lose all that and start from nothing. And it is a big question whether my registration will be extended after the wedding,” Qaralova said.
Natiq Muqadda, a consultant for the migration service, said the rules had to be the way they are. There could not be special treatment for ethnic Azeris from other countries, because the vast minorities in Iran and elsewhere could swamp the country.
“In the whole world there are more than 50 million of us. How can we make an exception for them all?” he asked, pleading for understanding from people who have to undergo registration.
“We are just obeying the law. We did not write it.”
But Georgian Azeris attempting to follow the law in Azerbaijan are finding it almost impossible. Khanlar Qurbanov, for example, has run his own restaurant and supermarket in Azerbaijan for a decade. He owns a flat in Baku, and married a local woman four years ago.
“They say that some relative has to be my guarantor, although I myself have savings in a local bank, a flat, a car, a decent business. Thanks be to God that my family and my children need for nothing. My wife is a citizen of Azerbaijan. Why does someone else have to be my guarantor? There is no one who can do this for me. What should I do? Lose everything and move back to Georgia and start again?”
Samira Ahmedbeyli is an IWPR staff reporter in Baku.
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