Officials in Azerbaijan have called for Karen Khachanov to be punished after his messages of support for Nagorno-Karabakh
The Azerbaijan Tennis Federation has expressed its fury at Russian tennis player Karen Khachanov after he shared support for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh at the ongoing Australian Open.
Khachanov, 26, is into the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne and has used his traditional post-match messages - in which the winning player writes onto the lens of a courtside camera - to draw attention to tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
"Artsakh, stay strong!!!" wrote Khachanov following his victory over America's Frances Tiafoe on Friday. Khachanov referenced the region again after his fourth-round win against Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka at the weekend, writing onto the camera: "Keep believing and fighting until the end. Artsakh stay strong!"
Khachanov was born in Moscow but has Armenian heritage. In his messages, the tennis star was using the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh - the disputed region mostly populated by ethnic Armenians which broke away from Azerbaijan in 1988 before establishing its own republic. Yerevan and Baku have contested the area ever since, with fighting breaking out sporadically.
The Azerbaijan Tennis Federation expressed its anger in separate statements following both of Khachanov's messages, describing it as an attack on the country. "The Azerbaijani Tennis Federation has sent a letter of protest to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in view of the unacceptable attack," read an initial message shared on the organization's website.
"The letter provides facts and legal documents relating to the attack on our country. The Azerbaijani Tennis Federation has called for tougher measures to punish the tennis player and to avoid such incidents in the future. We hope that quickly the issue will find an objective solution," it added.
A second message followed at the weekend, and said that Azerbaijani tennis boss Ogtay Asadov had spoken to his counterpart at the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, on the matter. "As the Azerbaijani Tennis Federation, we hope these attacks will never happen again, and we expect Karen Khachanov to be punished for these actions," read the statement.
The messages from Khachanov angered tennis officials in Azerbaijan.
Khachanov's camera messages come amid renewed tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a blockade of the Lachin corridor, a vital road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. The route has been blocked by protesters since mid-December, disrupting supplies into Nagorno-Karabakh and increasing talk of a humanitarian crisis. Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of being behind the protests, although Baku has vehemently denied those claims, saying the protesters are environmentalists angered by illegal Armenian mining in the area.
Khachanov, meanwhile, will play his Australian Open quarterfinal against American rival Sebastian Korda in Melbourne on Tuesday. The Russian is aiming to reach the semifinal of Grand Slam for the second time in his career, having progressed to the last four of the US Open in September of last year.