Karen Khachanov: Azerbaijan calls for sanctions for tennis player’s pro-Armenia posts at Australian Open


The Azerbaijan Tennis Federation has called for Karen Khachanov to be sanctioned after the Russian player voiced support for the majority Armenian population living in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region during the Australian Open.

Khachanov, who has Armenian heritage, wrote “Artsakh stay strong” on TV cameras after games in Melbourne.

Artsakh is the Armenian term for the breakaway state of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian-majority region on Azerbaijani territory that has been at the center of decades of conflict.

Armenian forces took control of large swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s; fighting then erupted intermittently until 2020, when Azerbaijan took control of large parts of these territories in a bloody six-week war.

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

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

This month, vital supplies dwindled in Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijani militants were accused by Armenian authorities of blockading the region. Azerbaijan denied the allegation through spokespersons on Twitter.

The resumption of fighting in the region in November 2020 lasted nearly two months, killing at least 6,500 people, according to Reuters. Hostilities ended after Armenian-backed separatists agreed to relinquish control of Nagorno-Karabakh territories and Russia helped broker a ceasefire agreement between the two countries.

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

According to Reuters, the letter calls for sanctions to ensure that Khachanov does not make any more “unacceptable provocations” at tennis tournaments.

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

He added: “Rules of conduct for players at a Grand Slam event are governed by the Grand Slam rule book administered by the relevant organizer and regulator.”

Asked by reporters about the letter to the ITF on Tuesday, Khachanov said he had heard nothing about it.

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

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

This week, four people attending the tournament were questioned by Victoria police after they “revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security officers”, a Tennis Australia spokesperson said. Organizers previously said fans would not be allowed to bring the Russian or Belarusian flag to the Australian Open venue to enforce its ‘neutral flag’ policy.

On Friday, Khachanov will look to reach his first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.


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