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That time we got banned from Azerbaijan


Azerbaijan. After 12 days in the country we head toward the border to leave. The Georgian border, although we want to go to Armenia. But there is no other way than through Georgia. Relaxed, we approach the office window, handing in the passports. The officer (first and only not nice person we met in Azerbaijan) doesn’t speak any English. He starts babbling about a missing registration. But what registration? We have visa for 30 days, we stayed for 12 days, what is this registration about? The officer calls somebody speaking English. There is a mandatory registration for stays longer than 10 days. But the law does not mind that we didn’t know, that nobody informed us at the border when we entered, that nothing is written in the visa application. We are supposed to come back to the nearest big city (Sheki, 120 km, at least a couple of minivans ride) and pay the fine. FINE. More than 300 euro for both of us (and that’s just because the manat/euro exchange now is low, a few years ago it was 500 euro). We don’t have such money at hand. Neither time, as this part of the journey is coming to an end. We sit on a bench close to the office and start to call. We met some people during our stay in Azerbaijan, maybe they have some advice for us, or at least more information. We spent more than a hour on calling, asking, giving the phone to the officer, looking for a Wifi spot, checking different options. Finally, it turned out that if we cannot pay, we can ask to be deported. It sounds odd, we are not convinced. A “deportation” stamp in the passport may not be appreciated trying to pass another border, and we still plan to cross many. All in all it doesn’t matter, either we ask for deportation or we pay the fine, we cannot do it at the border. We need to come back to Sheki. There are some buses, but not too often. Finally we reach the city in the evening. Fortunately, Aygun agrees to host us one more night and prepares delicious khinkali (completely different from those we tried in Georgia). In the morning we go to the Migration Office, at the end of the city. We tell the officers about our case. They invite us to sit, ask how are we and few other polite icebreaking questions. Finally one of them, the one who knows English, says:

- Ok, so there are two options. You can pay the fine: 300 manat per person. Can you?

We shake our heads with sad faces.

- The second option is a deportation order. We will issue a document according to which you are required to leave the country within 48 hours and you cannot come back for some time. It should be five years, but you are so friendly, let’s make it one.

He says that there is no unfriendly stamp involved, this information will be visible only in their internal system and after one year it will fall. This finally makes us really at ease.

Then, he even asks if we had breakfast, as he can offer some.

Few more minutes filling documents (everything in Azerbaijani, including the question: do you speak Azerbaijani?) and after 30 minutes we can move on to the border again.

We take the two minivans back, have the last tea and less relaxed than the day before we come to the border office. There is a different officer, this one is smiling, makes small talks. He stops smiling seeing our deportation paper. He becomes really sad we cannot come back. Well, we are sad too, even though we didn’t plan to come next year anyway. But once our punishment will be over: yes, we definitely come back. Because of people. We received so much care, support, help, invitation for dinners and workshops… it’s hard to name it all.

We have no doubts, it’s worth visiting Azerbaijan. Just remember to register.

PS. All the situation makes me realize one more thing. Our calmness. Not even for a second we became angry or impatient, we reacted calmly, which actually helped. Last year, it would not be that way. Is it our spiritual and emotional development bringing results? Or maybe it’s just experience of being on the way, where things like that happen from time to time? Probably, as always, a bit of both.

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