By Peter Hall
BAKU (Reuters) – An Arsenal fan was stopped by Azerbaijani police searching for supporters bearing the name of Henrikh Mkhitaryan on their shirts or flags ahead of the Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku on Wednesday.
Arsenal’s Armenian midfielder Mkhitaryan did not travel to Azerbaijan over fears for his safety due to the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Andrew Simes is a 37-year-old Arsenal fan who has travelled to Baku for the match.
“I was just passing through security and I speak a bit of Turkish, which is close enough to Azeri, and I could hear the policeman say ‘look under the flag, look on his back’,” Simes told Reuters.
“They pulled up my flag to see if it said Mkhitaryan on the back, and two or three times it has happened to me since I have been here. They thought I was trying to cover up a name with the flag.”
Television footage emerged on Tuesday of two Arsenal fans with Mkhitaryan on their shirts being questioned by local police.
Leyla Abdullayeva from the Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs played down the incident.
“It is not something that every and each fan wearing a Mkhitaryan T-shirt will be approached by police, not at all.” she said in a statement.
“It is also a fact that we are a country suffering from the conflict. The Azerbaijan FA and the relevant state agencies stated numerous times that they would ensure fully the security of all the players and the fans as well and we are against putting politics and sport together.”
(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond)