Hostility toward Armenian Athletes at European Games in Baku


Roman Amoyan (L) of Armenia gestures with Elman Mukhtarov of Azerbaijan during their bronze medal fight of the Men's 59Kg greco-roman wrestling at the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, June 13 , 2015.   REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Roman Amoyan (L) of Armenia gestures with Elman Mukhtarov of Azerbaijan during their bronze medal fight of the Men’s 59Kg greco-roman wrestling at the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, June 13 , 2015. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

BAKU (AP, ArmeniaNow) — Azerbaijan is considered one of Europe’s lesser-known sporting nations. As the first European Games got into full swing on June 13, the first hosts showed the passion they have for their sportspeople, and they were willing to mix political wrangles with sporting rivalries.

President Ilham Aliyev, who also runs the country’s Olympic committee, was at the wrestling match, where the home fans roared as he presented Azerbaijan’s first wrestling gold medal of the games to Rasul Chunayev in the 71-kilogram category.

Wrestling is hugely popular in Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia, who are bitterly divided by conflict over the Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabagh region. On June 12, the discord even led to the Armenian delegation being booed during the athletes’ parade at the opening ceremony.

No surprise, then, who was booed frequently and loudly when Azerbaijan’s Elman Mukhtarov met Armenia’s Roman Amoyan in a 59-kilo bronze-medal bout. Amoyan was even booed while he was receiving treatment for a head cut. Flame jets at the side of the arena added to the heated atmosphere. Mukhtarov won, and celebrated with a somersault.

Some of the locals even booed a Russian wrestler of Armenian heritage, Stepan Maryanyan in his 59-kilo wrestling final against Soslan Daurov of Belarus. “It wasn’t easy,” Maryanyan said. “I tried not to pay attention to that weight in the hall, the pressure. I actually enjoyed myself, even though they had that attitude toward me.”

Despite all the booing and hissing from the hostile crowd in Baku, Maryanyan managed to win the gold medal.

Twenty-four other Armenian athletes are due to compete in six sports (sambo martial arts, shooting, judo, wrestling, boxing, and taekwondo) at the games that will be held through June 28.

The National Olympic Committee of Armenia made the decision to send athletes to Baku after representatives of the International and European Olympic committees as well as the government of Azerbaijan provided security guarantees for them.

Some leading athletes, including world wrestling champions Arsen Julfalakyan and Artur Alexanyan, decided to skip the Games, officially explaining their decisions by the need to train for the world championships due in September.

Many in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora have also criticized the country’s sporting community for its decision to send athletes to the games that are widely viewed as a means for Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime to promote its international image.