Vol. 4, No. 15 (August 01, 2011)
Azerbaijan grapples with visa issues
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy
As is the case for most countries, visa issues present a series of complex challenges for Azerbaijan. On the one hand, Azerbaijan is naturally and vitally interested in asserting its sovereignty and exercising control over those who apply to visit it. But on the other hand, Azerbaijan has an interest in reducing visa formalities not only to facilitate tourism and business travel into the country, but also to make it easier, when other countries reciprocate in eliminating or simplifying visa procedures for Azerbaijani nationals.
Azerbaijani tourism officials and businessmen currently are pressing for the introduction of an electronic visa system so that foreign applicants will be able to apply online and get an answer within 15 days, a reform that if implemented will make it far easier for any foreigner seeking to visit Azerbaijan to know whether he will receive a visa or not and one that other countries are likely to copy for the citizens of Azerbaijan, thus facilitating travel by Azerbaijanis as well. 
But however that may be, the question of visa-free travel between Azerbaijan and two of its neighbors came to a head this month in a way that highlights the particular problems Baku faces in easing or eliminating its visa regime. Both Iran and Turkey want to eliminate the visa requirement for Azerbaijanis who want to visit one or the other of these countries, Ali Hasanov, the head of the social-political department of the Presidential Administration, pointed out during the course of a visit to Ankara, but he continued, for that to happen, Azerbaijan must do the same for both, something that it is not yet prepared to do “from a technical point of view.” 
According to Hasanov, the border crossing points on the Azerbaijani-Iranian and Azerbaijani-Turkish border and the crossing point in Nakhchivan “are still not ready for a massive flow of citizens” that a visa-free regime would make possible. “The system of checking citizens at border points also are not prepared for this,” and Azerbaijan has good reason for making sure that it controls its borders.
Hasanov told Turkish journalists that “for a long time, the United Nations and other international structures have informed that narcotics from Afghanistan pass through the territory of Iran into Azerbaijan, and from there, they are carried to Russia and other countries.” In addition, he said, “there is the problem of the supply of narcotics to Iran from the territory of the Nagorno-Karabakh,” which is occupied by Armenia and thus is not currently controlled by Azerbaijan.
Therefore, the presidential advisor said, both from the point of view of security and the regulation of immigration flows, Azerbaijan is still not ready for the liquidation of the visa regime with Turkey and Iran.
 See http://news.day.az/society/280328.html (accessed 28 July 2011).
 See http://news.day.az/politics/279478.html (accessed 28 July 2011).