YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Two athletes from Nagorno-Karabakh will travel to Baku later this week to participate in the ongoing European Games as members of Armenia’s national sambo wrestling team.
The wrestlers, Sose Balasanian and Ashot Danielian, are poised to become the first Karabakh Armenians to compete in a sporting tournament in Azerbaijan since the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1988.
Like many other residents of Karabakh, Balasanian and Danielian hold Armenian passports. They are also the reigning sambo champions of Armenia, the reason why they were included in Armenia’s national team. They are scheduled to depart to Baku via Tbilisi on Saturday.
A total of 25 athletes will represent Armenia in the games, which began on June 12 and will end on June 28.
Razmik Hovsepian, Karabakh’s top sports official, acknowledged on Monday that he is against Armenia’s participation in the games. He said that while he has no worries about the safety of the Armenian athletes in Baku, he believes that the Azerbaijani hosts will try to intentionally prevent them from winning medals.
“They will strive to ensure that Armenia’s flag is not hoisted,” Hovsepian claimed in comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I think they will take any step to prevent our athletes from winning medals.”
One Armenian athlete, Migran Arutyunyan, has already blamed referees for his controversial defeat in the final of the men’s 66kg Greco-Roman wrestling in Baku. He said they were influenced by a hostile Azerbaijani crowd that heckled him and cheered wildly for his Russian opponent during Sunday’s bout.