Azerbaijan federation demands ITF action on Khachanov support for separatists

Azerbaijan federation demands ITF action on Khachanov support for separatists

The Azerbaijan Tennis Federation has demanded the International Tennis Federation (ITF) takes action against Karen Khachanov after the Russian sent messages of support to the breakaway Artsakh Republic from the Australian Open.

Khachanov, who reached the semi-finals of the Grand Slam tournament on Tuesday, wrote the message "Artsakh stay strong!" on a TV camera after two of his matches, later explaining he did it out of respect for his Armenian roots.

The ethnically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, known by the separatists as the Artsakh Republic, broke away from Azerbaijan with Armenian support after a bloody 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 the Armenian-backed separatists.

Azerbaijan tennis authorities sent a letter of protest to the ITF at the weekend demanding tough measures "to punish" Khachanov and prevent him from making similar "unacceptable provocations" at tennis tournaments.

The ITF said it was still considering a response, if any, to the letter and Khachanov said he had not been warned against writing similar messages on the TV camera after future matches.

"I say many times. I have Armenian roots," he told reporters at Melbourne Park after his quarter-final victory on Tuesday.

"From my father's side, from my grandfather's side, even from my mom's side. I'm half Armenian.

"To be honest, I don't want to go 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 issue during this tournament, banning Russian flags from the precinct after one was hung next to a court where a Ukrainian player was playing.

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

Belarus is being used as a key staging ground for Russia's war in Ukraine, which Moscow terms a "special operation".