Scuffles between Georgian and Azerbaijani football fans at a stadium in Baku prompted two countries’ presidents to speak on phone on August 1 and the Georgian PM had to release a statement reiterating “friendship and partnership” with Azerbaijan.
The incident in question occurred on July 31 during UEFA Europa League third qualifying round’s first leg match between FC Chikhura from a small town of Sachkhere in Georgia’s Imereti region and Baku’s Neftçi PFK.
The match, which ended with goalless draw, was marred by scuffles reportedly triggered by a huge banner that was displayed by Georgian football fans and which was depicting a map of Georgia with parts of Azerbaijani territory, Zaqatala and Qax regions, also included on it.
Scuffles also took place outside the stadium after the match including with the police; several people, among them cameramen and journalists from Tbilisi-based Imedi, Maestro and TV3 television stations were taken to police stations; members of TV crews said that they were released after video footage filmed on the scene of incident was deleted.
Azerbaijani Interior Ministry said in a statement on August 1 that the law enforcement agencies’ prompt actions prevented confrontation, caused by the banner, from growing into “mass unrests.”
“It is possible that this provocation was carried out by those forces, which are interested in worsening of friendly and good neighborly relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia,” the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry said and added that the two countries law enforcement agencies were cooperating in investigating the incident.
Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili also condemned the incident as “provocation”, which, he said, possibly aimed at triggering discord in “good neighborly relationship” between the two countries. He also said that those behind such “provocation should not be left unpunished.”
On Friday evening, Georgian President’s office said that President Giorgi Margvelashvili spoke by phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev during which the incident at the stadium in Baku was also discussed.
“The two presidents have noted that such incidents will not affect friendly relations between the two countries,” the Georgian President’s administration said.
Also on August 1, citing its new regulations, Azerbaijan restricted movement of vehicles on the border with Georgia, not allowing entry from Georgia into Azerbaijan of cars not meeting Euro-4 standards. It immediately triggered speculation in Georgia that the move was in response to the incident at the stadium. But the Georgian Foreign Ministry said new regulations in Azerbaijan went into force from August 1 and it had nothing to do with the football incident; it also said that it was agreed with the Azerbaijani side to delay enforcement of regulations for two weeks in order to properly inform population about details of new rules, as well as how and in what cases these rules will be applied.
FC Chikhura will face Neftçi PFK in a second leg match in Tbilisi on August 7.
FC Chikhura’s previous match in the tournament’s second qualifying round’s second leg was also marred by controversy. After scoring a winning goal in penalty shootout following a goalless draw with Bursaspor from the Turkish city of Bursa on July 24 in Tbilisi, Chikhura’s player celebrated success with offensive gesture made towards the Turkish football fans, triggering latter’s angry reaction. It was then followed by a scuffle between Georgian and Turkish journalists during a post-match press conference.