The pro-Armenian sentiments displayed at the Australian Open have sparked complaints from tennis officials in Azerbaijan.
Karen Khachanov has defended herself after her support at the Australian Open for the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh sparked strong complaints from tennis officials in Azerbaijan.
The Russian, who has Armenian roots, wrote a message on the television camera after winning the fourth race at Melbourne Park, which read: “Keep believing until the end. Artakh, wait!
In the previous episode, the actor, who reached the final on Tuesday, wrote: “Artsakh stay strong.”
The Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh, known by separatists as the Republic of Artsakh, broke away from Azerbaijan with Armenian support after a bloody post-Soviet war in the early 1990s.
In 2020, Azerbaijan launched a second war in the region, again winning part of the territory controlled by Armenian-backed separatists.
In a letter posted online, the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation said it had protested to the organizers of the Australian Open and the International Tennis Federation.
It demanded that Khachanov be “punished” by “painful means”.
“Writing heartfelt wishes on the camera lens is a kind of tradition in tennis, but Khachanov misused this, using it for his dirty ideas,” it said.
Khachanov said that he did not know about the letter and that he was not told to stop his messages after the game “until now”.
“I often say I have Armenian roots,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park after Tuesday’s quarter-final win. “From my father, from my grandfather, even from my mother. I’m half Armenian…to be honest. I don’t want to go deeper than that, and I just want to show strength and support to my people. That’s it.”
The Australian Open has taken a political stance at the tournament, banning Russian flags from hanging near the court where the Ukrainian player was playing.
Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon last year after the invasion of Ukraine but are able to compete as non-international athletes at the Australian Open.
Belarus is being used as a staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation”.