Karen Khachanov: Azerbaijan calls for sanctions over pro-Armenian messages by tennis player at Australian Open


Azerbaijan tennis The federation called for sanctions against Karen Khachanov after the Russian player expressed support for the Armenian population living in the disputed area. Nagorno-Karabakh region at the Australian Open.

Khachanov, who is of Armenian descent, wrote “Artsakh, be strong” on TV cameras after the matches in Melbourne.

Artsakh is the Armenian term for the breakaway state of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian-majority region in Azerbaijan that was focus of decades of conflict.

Armenian forces took control of large swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s; hostilities then flared intermittently until 2020, when Azerbaijan seized control of much of that territory in a bloody six-week war.

“I have Armenian roots,” Khachanov told reporters after his quarter-final victory over Sebastian Korda on Tuesday.

“From the side of the father, from the side of the grandfather, even from the side of the mother. I am half Armenian. To be honest, I don’t want to go into it, I just wanted to show strength and support for my people. That’s all.”

This month, vital supplies in Nagorno-Karabakh dwindled after Armenian authorities accused Azeri activists of blockading the region. Azerbaijan denied this accusation through representatives on Twitter.

A fan displays the Armenian flag during Khachanov's match against Korda at the Australian Open.

Renewed fighting in the region lasted almost two months in November 2020, with at least 6,500 deaths, according to Reuters. The fighting ended after the Armenian-backed separatists agreed to relinquish control of territories in Nagorno-Karabakh and Russia helped negotiate a ceasefire between the two countries.

In a January 21 letter to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation called for Khachanov to be punished for messages of support he wrote on cameras at the Australian Open.

According to ReutersThe letter asks for sanctions so that Khachanov no longer commits “unacceptable provocations” at tennis tournaments.

The ITF told CNN that it “received a letter from the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation, which we have forwarded to the relevant authorities.”

It added: “The rules of conduct for players in Grand Slam tournaments are governed by the Grand Slam rulebook administered by the appropriate organizer and regulatory body.”

When asked by journalists about the letter to the ITF on Tuesday, Khachanov said he had not heard of it.

CNN contacted Khachanov’s representatives but received no response, and a request for comment from Tennis Australia, which organizes the Australian Open, also went unanswered.

Khachanov, 26, represents Russia, although he competes under a neutral flag in Melbourne. In light of the war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian tennis players have been allowed to play in the Australian Open, but they must do so “without flags and country recognition”.

This week, the four people who attended the tournament were interrogated by Victoria Police after they “displayed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards,” a spokesman for Tennis Australia said. The organizers have previously said that fans will not be allowed to bring the Russian or Belarusian flag to the Australian Open venue to enforce the “neutral flag” policy.

On Friday, Khachanov will attempt to reach his first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open when he faces Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.