Azerbaijan’s tennis federation has called for Karen Khachanov to be sanctioned after the Russian player expressed support for the Armenian-majority population living in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region at the Australian Open.
Khachanov, who has Armenian heritage, has written “Artsakh stay strong” on TV cameras after matches in Melbourne.
Artsakh is the Armenian term for the breakaway state of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian-majority region located in Azerbaijani territory that has been the focus of decades of conflict.
Armenian forces took control of large swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s; fighting then flared intermittently until 2020, when Azerbaijan seized control over large parts of those territories during a bloody, six-week war.
“I have Armenian roots,” Khachanov told reporters after his quarterfinal victory against Sebastian Korda 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.”
This month, vital supplies have dwindled in Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijani activists were accused by Armenian authorities of blockading the region. Azerbaijan has denied the allegation through spokespeople on Twitter.
The renewed fighting in the region in November 2020 lasted almost two months, killing at least 6,500 people, according to Reuters. Hostilities ended after Armenian-backed separatists agreed to relinquish control over territories in Nagorno-Karabakh and Russia helped to broker a ceasefire deal between the two countries.
In a letter addressed to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) dated January 21, Azerbaijian’s tennis federation called for Khachanov to be punished for the messages of support he has written on cameras at the Australian Open.
According to Reuters, the letter asks for sanctions to ensure Khachanov makes no more “unacceptable provocations” at tennis tournaments.
The ITF told CNN that it has “received a letter from the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation, which we have passed on to the relevant authorities.”
It added: “Rules for player conduct at a Grand Slam event are governed by the Grand Slam rulebook administered by the relevant organiser and regulator.”
When asked by reporters about the letter to the ITF on Tuesday, Khachanov said he hadn’t heard anything about it.
CNN has contacted Khachanov’s representatives but did not receive a response, while a request for comment from Tennis Australia, which organizes the Australian Open, has also been unanswered.
The 26-year-old Khachanov represents Russia, although he is competing under a neutral flag in Melbourne. In light of the war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian tennis players have been permitted to play at the Australian Open but must do so “without flags or country recognition.”
This week, four people who were attending the tournament were questioned by Victoria Police after they “revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson said. Organizers previously said that fans would not be allowed to bring the Russian or Belarusian flag to the site of the Australian Open to enforce its “neutral flag” policy.
On Friday, Khachanov will attempt to reach his first grand slam final at the Australian Open when he faces Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.