Russian tennis star Khachanov defends Nagorno-Karabakh messages

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Anti-Armenian sentiment expressed during the Australian Open led to a complaint from Azerbaijani tennis officials.

Karen Khachanov made a strongly worded complaint to Azerbaijani tennis officials after his support for the disputed Armenian enclave Nagorno-Karabakh at the Australian Open.

The Armenian-born Russian wrote a message on a television camera lens after his fourth-round win at Melbourne Park, saying: “Keep the faith till the end. Artsakh, wait!

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The player, who reached the semi-finals on Tuesday, wrote in the previous round: “Stay strong Artsakh.”

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The ethnically Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh, known by separatists as the Republic of Artsakh, broke away from Azerbaijan with Armenian support following the post-Soviet ethnic conflict in the early 1990s.

In 2020, Azerbaijan launched a second war in the region, successfully winning back part of the territory controlled by Armenian-backed separatists.

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In a letter posted online, the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation said it protested the Australian Open organizers and the International Tennis Federation.

It sought to “punish” Khachanov with “harsh measures”.

“Writing warm wishes on the camera lens is a kind of tradition in tennis, but Khachanov misused it, using it in his dirty schemes,” it said.

Khachanov said he was not aware of the letter and that he had not been asked to stop the post-match messages “until now”.

“I say many times that I have Armenian roots,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park after Tuesday’s quarter-final win. “From my father’s side, my grandfather’s side, even my mother’s side. I’m 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’s it.”

The Australian Open has taken a stance on political issues during this tournament, after a Russian flag was banned from being hung next to a court where a Ukrainian player was playing.

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon last year after the invasion of Ukraine, but they are able to compete at the Australian Open as individual athletes without national affiliation.

Belarus is being used as a key staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation”.

Russian tennis star Khachanov defends Nagorno-Karabakh messages

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