Fame and celebrity

What did chef Anthony Bourdain do to get banned from Azerbaijan?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 1:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 1:41pm

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has travelled the world with his cooking show, Parts Unknown.

But top officials in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich country nestled between Russia and Iran, want him to know this: he just became a persona non grata.

His crime? Travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh, an extremely contentious pocket of land that is located, technically, in Azerbaijan. But right now, it’s controlled by Armenia. The 4,400 sq km enclave ihas been a sore spot between the two countries since 1988, when the region’s legislature voted to join Armenia. It did so because many of the region’s residents are ethnic Armenians.

Azerbaijan rejected the secession attempt. But after the Soviet Union fell, the region’s legislature declared independence outright. In 1992, a full-scale war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenia quickly gained the upper hand, seizing control of Nagorno and pushing even farther into Azerbaijan.

By 1993, Armenia controlled nearly a fifth of Azerbaijan. Hundreds of thousands of Azeris were displaced.

Today, more than a decade later, peace between the two countries is fragile, at best. Earlier this year, fighting broke out along the border, sparking fears that a full-scale political crisis was in the offing.

Azerbaijan makes it very difficult for its citizens to visit Nagorno-Karabakh. Visiting without permission from the government in Baku is considered a criminal offence. And Azerbaijan’s officials make it very hard for people to re-enter the country once they have gone to Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan maintains a list – with more than 700 names – of people from all over the world who are no longer welcome. The list includes government officials, European Union members, journalists and activists.

This week, one more name was added. Bourdain “has been put onto the persona non grata list for his disrespect of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev told Agence France-Presse.

“Filming a food show on Azerbaijan’s occupied territory is an insult to one million Azerbaijani refugees who were forcefully expelled from their homes.