Arsenal has received a blow in their quest to land the UEFA Europa League after they confirmed that midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the rest of the squad for their Europa League final against Chelsea.
But what’s all about the tension?
As reported by iNews, born in Yerevan, just over 400 miles away from Baku, Mkhitaryan is by far the most famous footballer in Armenia. He has won the Armenian Footballer of the Year Award a record eight times, having started his career in his home country with FC Pyunik.
International relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are extremely poor. An ethnic and territorial conflict known as the Nagorno-Karabakh War broke out between the two neighbouring states – both former Soviet republics – in the late eighties and went on until 1994. Though there was a ceasefire, a peace treaty has not been forthcoming and there have been sporadic border skirmishes between the two countries ever since.
With the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict ongoing, Armenia and Azerbaijan have no official diplomatic relations. Armenian citizens and those of Armenian descent are routinely denied entry to Azerbaijan, though the Azerbaijani government has previously granted exceptions for sporting events.
Fiery nationalist rhetoric on both sides since the Nagorno-Karabakh War has fuelled ethnic tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. That has provoked fears over Mkhitaryan’s safety, even presuming he is granted a visa and can travel to Baku.
Mkhitaryan has sat out trips to Azerbaijan before with both Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. Earlier this season, at the Europa League group stage, he was left at home as Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners against Azerbaijani champions Qarabag in Baku.