Armenia-Azerbaijan: Has Sports Overcome Politics At European Games?

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Armenia-Azerbaijan: Has Sports Overcome Politics At European Games?

Armenia-Azerbaijan: Has Sports Overcome Politics At European Games? by EurasiaNet

Despite the Azerbaijani government’s assertion that the European Games in Baku would “promote rapprochement” with longtime foe Armenia, little sign exists for most Armenians that that has occurred.

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The controversy over Armenia’s participation in the June 12-28 mini-Olympics is rooted in the two countries’ unresolved 27-year-long conflict over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, a war that took tens of thousands of lives and displaced huge numbers of people. Despite a ceasefire agreement, unrest at the frontline keeps taking more lives on both sides – particularly in the past two years, when ceasefire violations have raised international concerns that a full-scale war could resume.

Against this backdrop, most Armenian politicans and public figures at first opposed Armenia’s participation in the Games. But when it became known that 11 of the 20 sports would qualify athletes for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Armenia’s National Olympic Committee reconsidered.

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“This is just another international sports event and we have to take part and win,” Armenian Sports Minister Gabriel Ghazarian commented to EurasiaNet.org.

European Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey termed Armenia’s decision “sports winning over politics.” But, so far, politics still appears to have the winning hand.

Boos and whistles met the appearance of the seven-member, all male Armenian delegation (aside from former Greco-Roman wrestling world champion Vaghinak Galstian, made up of officials and coaches) during the opening ceremony’s march of nations.

The country’s 25 participating athletes did not take part. Rather than staying for the entire Games, they have been traveling to Baku only for their individual competitions.

Armenia, rather than the Azerbaijani government, is covering the team’s expenses in Baku. Sightseeing does not occur, team spokesperson Karen Giloian commented to Baku2015.

The initial hostile audience response to these athletes has continued in individual sports events – even toward some of those 17 ethnic Armenian athletes who represent countries (Belarus, France, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine) other than Armenia.

Wrestler Stepan Maryanian, who won a gold for Russia in the 59-kilogram Greco-Roman event, condemned the “impolite reception” he had received during the competition, which included a match with an Azerbaijani wrestler. “This is sports. Competition should unite rather than divide nations,” he commented to the Russian sports news site Championat.com.

Armenia’s own athletes, competing in sambo, judo, shooting, wrestling, boxing and taekwondo, so far have secured one medal – a silver in the men’s 66-kilogram Greco-Roman wrestling for Migran Arutiunian.

The psychological pressure for these athletes is intense. 2012 Olympic silver medalist wrestler Arsen Julfalakian, who took part in the 2007 World Wrestling Championships in Baku, recollected that “it was not a matter of fear, our safety was guaranteed, but constantly being watched and guarded was quite depressing. We felt like prisoners.”

“It is rather unpleasant competing in such an environment,” he said.

Citing the need to train for September’s World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Julfalakian opted not to attend the European Games.

Armenia and Azerbaijan usually avoid attending international events hosted in each other’s countries. Amidst a frontline flareup, Armenian singers refused to take part in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by Baku. In turn, the Azerbaijani National Men’s Chess Team refused to participate in the World Team Chess Championship held in Armenia in April 2015.

The Armenian Ministry of Education and Science had planned to send schoolchildren to Baku for next month’s 47th International Chemistry Olympiad if their safety could be guaranteed, but recently decided that it could not.

With that tension in view, Armenia’s team members have been traveling to Baku only for their individual competitions; not staying long-term.

Many in Armenia criticize these athletes, though, for choosing to take part in an event seen as “boosting Baku’s image.”

American University of Armenia political science student Maria Poghosian described heated discussions among classmates about the Armenian team’s presence in Baku, with most reportedly opposing the decision.

Recollections run strong of the hero’s welcome extended to Azerbaijani Army Lieutenant Ramil Safarov when he returned to Azerbaijan in 2012 after being convicted for the 2004 axe-murder of Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization training in Budapest, Hungary.

“And what if there are others [in Baku] seeking a national hero’s title?” Poghosian asked. “This is not just about sports. This is a political issue and requires a political solution.”

But some Armenian analysts see the Games’ ultimate result as less about President Aliyev’s image, and more about a hefty boost in self-confidence for Azerbaijan after its de-facto defeat in the war over Karabakh.

Stepan Safarian, founding director of the Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs in Yerevan, sees a danger there. The Azerbaijani military, he reasons, could use “the moral capital” built up during the Games to take aggressive actions on the Karabakh frontline.

“[Aliyev] is trying to convince the public that they are a winner, a strong state, and can do anything they want…,” Safarian said.

Meanwhile, amidst the debate, the Armenian team says it is just trying to concentrate on sports alone.

“We came here to compete, not to relax and have a good time,” team spokesperson Giloian said to Baku2015.

Editor’s note: Gayane Abrahamyan is a freelance reporter and editor in Yerevan.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Nothing but a primitive lie. A Turkish national habit – the more you lie, the more they’d think your lie is the truth.

  2. Azerbaijan itself was first founded in 1918, but what for Artsakh (Karabakh) – it was given to the newly born Azeri state in 1921 by bol’sheviks, together with the then Armenian populated Nahidjevan. You ‘ve lost the Artsakh forever – now seems you want to lose the rest……. No problem.

  3. What Azerbaijian are you talking about, if this country was first founded in 1918?? And the province of Artsakh (NKR) is a well known historical part of Armenia for at least 3000 years…..Armenians have always populated this land…..And where were you damn Turkish barbarians at this time?? Yes yes, you lived in Mongolia and Altay, so please, now you know where to go – and do it ASAP.

  4. Stupid lie…..Was there a history before 1918?? Sure. But not for you. Not for Azerbaijian and Azeris. Yes for the rest of the world, for Armenia and Artsakh.

  5. Look at the result of Armenian greed. Armenia has invaded NK but lost its own sovereignty to Russia, in fact becoming an oblast of RF. Armenia can save itself only by returning Azerbaijan’s NK region back, building good relations with Azerbaijan and getting out of under Russia’s boots. But if Armenians feel comfortable down there, it doesn’t matter we will get our lands back anyway. We are just waiting for Sargsyan regime (Karabakhi clan) to destroy Armenia more and that means we will do our job with minimum losses.

    Again, Armenians should understand that Nagorno Karabakh is a piece that Armenia cannot swallow.Sooner you realize it, better it will be for you guys.

  6. You are lying. First of all, no one gave Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan. it was a part of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic from 1918-1920. Armenian Republic’s borders never included that region. Secondly, on December 1st 1989, Armenia SSR adopted an illegitimate decree to annex Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region which was a part of Azerbaijan SSR. This decree has not been declared invalid and it was stated among the founding principles of establishment of an Armenian state and was stipulated in the declaration of independence of Armenia, a component of Armenia’s constitution.Therefore, recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh contradicts not only the international law and Azerbaijan’s legislature but the very constitution of Armenia.
    It is no surprise that Armenia still doesn’t recognize NK as an independent state. Therefore, Armenia-NK relations cannot be like relations of two sovereign nations, but relations of the center and a province.

  7. Nakhijevan was a part of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as well and ruled by Azerbaijani general-governors and remained a part of it during soviet period despite of Armenian claims. Though the soviet leadership gave Azerbaijan’s Zangezur region to Armenia.
    Armenians are a small ethnic group and they have this complex of being small and unimportant and always been influenced by their stronger neighbors, including the Turks (just take a look at your names, language and culture). Therefore, they want to have a big territory, although they don’t have enough human resources to fill them. Today most of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan are uninhabited.

  8. Secondly, 1990 declaration of independence of NK cannot be considered legitimate as it did not consider the will of the Azerbaijani community of the autonomous region. Armenians of NK didn’t want to see Azerbaijanis there and with the help of Armenian troops massacred local Azerbaijanis. Those who were alive were forced to leave their homes. Khojaly genocide of 1992 is one of the most brutal moments of the process of ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis by Armenians.
    Armenia does not recognize NK as an independent state and keeps its troops in the region under the title of NK defence army. This is nothing else but an invasion. And the United Nations and all countries recognize Nagorno Karabakh as an integral part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

  9. You are lying. First of all, no one gave Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan. it was a part of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic from 1918-1920. Armenian Republic’s borders never included that region. Secondly, on December 1st 1989, Armenia SSR adopted an illegitimate decree to annex Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region which was a part of Azerbaijan SSR. This decree has not been declared invalid and it was stated among the founding principles of establishment of an Armenian state and was stipulated in the declaration of independence of Armenia, a component of Armenia’s constitution.Therefore, recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh contradicts not just the international law and Azerbaijan’s legislature but the very constitution of Armenia.
    It is no surprise that Armenia still doesn’t recognize NK as an independent state. Therefore, Armenia-NK relations cannot be like relations of two sovereign nations, but relations of the center and a province.

  10. It’s you who’s composing tales here……… Do you Turks have anything but tales?? A history, for example?? Nomads……..

  11. Ha ha ))) You are now pretending to all Azerbaijani territory ))) You have been badly deceived )))) Armenian Fairytales. No one killed armenians in 1905 here. There is not such a fact in history. Dont worry we have seen hatred when your president Sarkisyan killed Azerbaijanis in Karabakh!

  12. Ulya, and what did we Armenians do to you in 1905-08 in Baku when you Azeris were killing us? By the way the majority of Baku’s population was Armenian, as you have to know that the Armenians generally lived in cities (they were majority in most of Georgian and Azeri cities and towns, whilst the Georgians and then Tatars lived in villages). Yes the Armenians were far more progressive and modern than the Tatars, who never before had their own country – it was created only in 1918 and the people have received it’s ethnic name “the Azerbaijanians” only in 1936, 20 years later. And one thing more – when you say “hatred”, better listen to Ilham Aliyev and CO when they speak about Armenia and the Armenians. You will understand what a real hatred is…….

  13. Too much hatred, too much blame and accusassion- is it your tolerance as you call? Because of this hatred you killed hundreds of peaceful Azerbaijanis in Karabakh. 1 million refugess. 20 percent territory under occupation. What You want else? Repeating fairytales that is told you everyday. You are not even fed up form this hatred.How can a human keep too much hatred to another one? What did Azerbaijanis do to you? My roots are from Irevan. My dad was deported from Irevan in 1905 when he was 4. His family were killed. What did we do to you in 1905?

  14. Armenians have proved their tolerance many times, even when the so-called “disputed territories” of Artsakh, NK were presented to Azerbaiijian in 1923 and Western Armenia – to Turkey. We lived patiently side by side, with the neighboring Azerb. SSR, waiting for a fair solution… When the Soviets were over in 1990, the NK has announced its independence from Azerbaijian , to which borders it was connected in 1923 as autonomy. And the well known AZ aggression vs. NK has begun. So please be objective, Gunel. As for the AZ athletes in Armenia, they were treated very well and even traveled in Yerevan and communicated with the ordinary Armenians. So your 2nd sentence relates more to you and your compatriots, who profitably try to equalize or even to magnify the negative effects from both sides in this conflict to their favor. Useless……..You’ve lost the war on 1994 that you started in 1990, and even after RF President and Kazakhstan President have initiated the truce to stop the Armenian offensive towards Baku, your President for the 21st year can’t stop both an aggressive rhetorics and the arms race….You can’t swing your fists after a fight – same as in sports. Better think about Nakhijevan, also Armenian land which was presented together with Nagorno Karabakh to a newly born Azerbaijian by bol’shevicks in the same 1923 ……

  15. :)) You sound like Armenia did a favor to Azerbaijan. They had to play Azerbaijan’s national anthem, as it is one of the conditions of most of the international sports events. And a “coward” wouldn’t dare to win a gold medal in a hostile country.

  16. Azerbaijani athletes have competed in sports events in Armenia in previous years and faced worse attitude from Armenian spectators. I’d like this article to be more objective and not to reflect the author’s political biases.

  17. Unlike Armenians, Azeris are cowards. When Azeri wrestler won gold in Armenia no one booed or wooed him, in fact they even played an Azeri national anthem.

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