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



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

Khachanov, who is of Armenian descent, has written “Artsakh stay strong” on TV cameras after matches in Melbourne.

Artsakh is the Armenian term for the breakaway state of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian-majority region on Azerbaijani territory that focus of decades of conflict.

Armenian forces took control of large areas of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s; fighting then flared up intermittently until 2020, when Azerbaijan seized control of large parts of those areas in a bloody six-week war.

“I have Armenian roots,” Khachanov told reporters on Tuesday after his quarterfinal win against Sebastian Korda.

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

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

Renewed 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 areas in Nagorno-Karabakh and helped Russia broker a ceasefire between the two countries.

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

According to Reutersthe letter calls for sanctions to ensure that Khachanov no longer carries out “unacceptable provocations” at tennis tournaments.

The ITF told CNN it “received a letter from the Azerbaijani tennis federation, which we have forwarded to the relevant authorities.”

It added: “Rules for player conduct during a Grand Slam event are governed by the Grand Slam rulebook administered by the relevant organizer and regulator.”

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

CNN has reached out to Khachanov’s representatives but received no response, while a request for comment from Tennis Australia, which hosts the Australian Open, also went unanswered.

The 26-year-old Khachanov represents Russia, although he comes out 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 flags or recognition from the country”.

This week, four people attending the tournament were questioned by Victoria Police after they “disclosed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson said. Organizers previously said fans would not be allowed to bring the Russian or Belarusian flag onto the Australian Open grounds in order to enforce the “neutral flag” policy.

On Friday, Khachanov will attempt to reach his first grand slam final at the Australian Open when he takes on Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas.

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