Last week the U.S. Department of State updated travel advisories for American tourists. The document titled "Index of Sympathy for Americans" divides world nations into four groups in order of travel safety.
The document says that there are no risks to visiting 129 countries included in Level 1 (Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk). The Department of State notes that the 50 countries included in Level 2 (Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security) pose some risks that are not so serious. The Department of State believes that Americans can face criminal acts in these countries. The Level 3 countries (Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security) are where terrorist attacks are likely to be carried out. In addition, Americans can face aggressive attitudes from local residents, officials, and law enforcement agencies. As regards Level 4 (Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks) these countries are not recommended at all. In these countries, the rates of crime, terrorist attacks, civil war, and military conflicts are soaring. The Department of State has put 19 countries in Level 3 and 11 countries in Level 4.
Azerbaijan is among the Level 2 countries. It is feared that there are certain risks for Americans in Azerbaijan, but these risks are not that serious. Our country is not alone on this list. Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain and Ukraine are also among the Level 2 countries. From CIS countries, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan are in the "safe group", while Azerbaijan and Ukraine have been listed as "less dangerous". Russia, on the other hand, comes in the "dangerous group". Among the countries classified as "very dangerous", there is no post-Soviet republic: The countries in the “very dangerous” group are Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen.
As can be seen from the list, there are many controversial points. For example, what is the point of including Russia, which is going to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, in the list of countries “dangerous to travel"? Or is it that the risk of terror was not considered when choosing the World Cup host country? This does not sound convincing. Or why does the Department of State consider France and Germany, which became targets of terrorist attacks last year, more dangerous than Burma, which committed genocide against the Muslims of Rohingya? There are many questions. Before answering such questions, you first need to answer another question: "Have the U.S. Department of State determined its list on the basis of the policy that it conducts against certain countries?"
This question can be answered with a "yes" or "no". In fact, the issue is not connected with sympathy for US foreign policy because the index was worked out on the basis of the following three principles:
- The number of Muslim population in the country (the number of growth),
- The numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons and economic migrants in the country,
- The number of citizens of the country fighting within the ranks of IS and other terrorist groups.
Based on these criteria, the department included Russia in the "dangerous" group, Azerbaijan and Ukraine in the "less dangerous" group.
According to various figures, 10-15 percent of Russia's population are Muslims, the number of Muslims in Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan accounts for 90 percent. Muslims make up more than 50 percent in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. In general, if we take into account economic migrants from Azerbaijan and Central Asian republics, we can assume that about 20 million people in this country are Muslims.
Russia is also a country of labor migrants. According to the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) estimates, last year the number of registered labor migrants in Russia amounted to 8.1 million, most of whom were migrants from Muslim countries. Finally, as regards the third criterion, according to the estimates of Soufan Group, an American consulting company, Russia ranks first in the number of foreign citizens fighting in the ranks of Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL, ISIS, Daesh) terrorist group. In 2017, more than 40,000 mercenaries from nearly a hundred countries joined IS terrorists, with 3,417 of them being Russian nationals. Some 400 of them returned to their homeland. The number of terrorists of Russian origin killed in Syria and Iraq is not yet known. Russia’s Interior Ministry announced that 1,800 citizens of the country went to fight in Syria and Iraq in 2015.
Given these indicators, it is not difficult to understand why the U.S. Department of State has listed Russia among the Level 3 countries. Of course, political factors and tensions in US-Russia relations played a role here, but the inclusion of Russia in the list of Level 3 countries is related to the abovementioned statistical indicators.
The fact that the Department of State has listed Azerbaijan among “less dangerous countries” for American tourists is also related to these three criteria. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, and according to official statistics of 2015, 93.4 percent of the country’s population professes Islam. In the wake of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, over a million people became refugees and internally displaced persons. And, finally, there are Azerbaijani Salafis among IS militants. However, there is no official figure on their number. Earlier, Soufan Group announced that about 500 people from Georgia and Azerbaijan have joined the ranks of Islamic State. Most of the terrorists of Azerbaijani origin are from the country’s Gusar, Shabran districts and Sumgayit city. In addition, about 100 Azerbaijani citizens were jailed for fighting in the ranks of illegal armed groups in Syria and Iraq. This is statistical data. That is, the fact that over 90 percent of Azerbaijani population is Muslim, there are no changes in the number of refugees and IDPs for more than 20 years and a small number of Azerbaijani fight in IS ranks is an invariable factor. Therefore, the U.S. Department of State has listed Azerbaijan among “less dangerous countries” for Americans.
One can come across each of these three criteria in any country, but the existence of all three factors was taken into account while preparing a report. For example, Kazakhstan is also a Muslim country, but in this country the number of Muslims relative to the population is not as great as in Azerbaijan, there are no migrants in this country, the number of Kazakhs fighting is IS ranks is very few, etc. These factors contributed to the inclusion of Kazakhstan in the list of safe countries for Americans to visit.
As for the objectivity of the criteria for determining the “Index of sympathy for Americans”, this issue can be argued endlessly. At least, it is wrong to regard people’s religious beliefs as a criterion, this is a biased approach. Besides, the failure to take these criteria into account and bringing political relations to the forefront while listing the Level 4 countries violate general principles. For example, North Korea is not a Muslim country, Muslims in the country are hard to come by. There is no evidence that terrorists from North Korea are fighting in IS ranks and finally there are almost no refugees in this country ("all citizens of the country are immigrants" is another issue). Nevertheless, the U.S. State Department considers North Korea to be one of the 11 most dangerous countries for Americans to visit.
So, by summarizing it, almost all countries with the highest probability of U.S. citizens facing terrorism and other crimes have been determined on political grounds and other groups have been determined based on the three criteria.
Vugar Huseynov, APA Analytical Center
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