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April 2018: Valentine’s Day Pro Bono Asylum Victory

April 2018

The firm secured a victory in New York Immigration Court for pro bono client Kirill Likov, who was granted permanent asylum on February 14, 2018. Mr. Likov is of mixed Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Russian ethnicity. Born in the former Soviet Union, Mr. Likov and his family ultimately fled to Azerbaijan after facing years of persecution for being “black” (which is how many Russians refer to individuals from the Caucasus region, which includes Azerbaijan and Armenia). The persecution did not stop in Azerbaijan and only grew worse, as Mr. Likov and his family faced threats, continued physical assaults, and verbal abuse, now on account of being Russian and Armenian.

The persecution of Armenians and Russians by Azerbaijanis stems from a deep-rooted conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh that is controlled by ethnic Armenians but that was granted to Azerbaijan by Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Persecution of Armenians in Azerbaijan is rampant, and perpetuated by the Azerbaijani government. Just calling someone “Armenian” is considered a curse. Over the course of the last several decades, Armenians have fled Azerbaijan because of the persecution, and the ones who remain live in hiding. Because of Russia’s siding with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, Azerbaijanis commonly associate Russians with Armenians, discriminating against them as well.

Upon moving to Azerbaijan, Mr. Likov’s family destroyed all documents evidencing their Armenian ethnicity. But this did not stop Azerbaijanis from persecuting Mr. Likov because of his part-Russian ethnicity. Mr. Likov suffered numerous beatings, including several that resulted in hospitalizations and permanent mental and physical injuries. However, the last straw came when, after gaining employment at a café and working there for several years, a co-worker learned of Mr. Likov’s Armenian roots. Immediately, the coworker began an onslaught of threats and slurs that quickly escalated. Fearing for his safety, Mr. Likov was forced to resign. That did not stop the former coworker from tracking down Mr. Likov, and one evening, surrounding him in a dark alley with a group of friends, putting a knife to Mr. Likov’s throat, threatening his life, and promising that this “visit” would not be the last for Mr. Likov or his family. It was after this attack that Mr. Likov fled to the United States to seek asylum.

Mr. Likov applied for asylum within the one-year deadline after entering the United States, but, likely due to a lack of preparation and poor translation during the interview, the asylum officer found inconsistencies in Mr. Likov’s personal account of the persecution he suffered. The case was removed to Immigration Court. Enter Quinn Emanuel. Over the next four years, the firm met with Mr. Likov and learned every detail of his story. We filed a revised application for asylum. We worked with an expert on Azerbaijan country conditions to prepare a report corroborating the treatment of ethnic Russians and Armenians in Azerbaijan. We had Mr. Likov evaluated by a physician and psychiatrist to corroborate the physical and psychological trauma he had suffered. We met with a woman who was Mr. Likov’s neighbor in Azerbaijan who witnessed an attack on him and helped her prepare an affidavit to the Court corroborating that attack.

At the merits hearing, it became clear how much our preparation and hard work paid off. After our direct examination and the government’s cross-examination of Mr. Likov, the government waived its right to cross-examine any of our other four witnesses, the judge granted asylum, and the government waived appeal, rendering the judge’s decision final – or, in Mr. Likov’s words, “forever.” Mr. Likov, who suffered a lifetime of abuse in two countries that he tried to call “home,” and who has been living in limbo for four years, suffering from constant nightmares and anxiety attacks for fear of being returned to Azerbaijan, is finally at peace – and finally at home.