The last few months have been rich in Armenian-Azerbaijani sporting confrontations, which, as a rule, have not been lacking in political implications.
First, the qualifying matches for the 2008 European Football Championship between the national teams of Armenia and Azerbaijan scheduled for September 8 and September 12, 2007 were cancelled by the European football's governing body, UEFA, because of security concerns.
After this decision was made there was a general impression that Azerbaijanis were inspired and heaved a sigh of relief and Armenians accepted the ruling unwillingly since our national team had been in good form and had a fair chance to beat the opponent both in Baku and in Yerevan. After the cancelled matches, the passions did not cool for the World Wrestling Championship 2007 which took place in Baku from September 17 to 23, with Armenian athletes participating.
A tragedy for Azerbaijanis
Last May Azerbaijani the online newspaper Day.az published an excerpt from an interview with a Georgian coach (who preferred not to reveal his name) with Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. “I doubt whether the Armenian flag will be hoisted in Baku. Today Armenians don’t have athletes who aspire to the championship; half of their teams (in Greco-Roman and Free styles) are Caucasians turned into citizens of Armenia. If they were promising, the Russian team would certainly not let them go,” the Georgian coach said.
Inspired by these words and by the unsuccessful performance of Armenians at the European championship in Sofia, the Azerbaijanis persuaded themselves that the Armenians would return home from Baku empty-handed. Day.az pointed out that Azerbaijanis won one gold and one bronze medal in Sofia, and Armenians got only one bronze medal.
Apparently, neither the Georgian coach nor the Azerbaijanis knew or remembered that one year earlier, in 2006 in Moscow, Roman Amoyan (55 kg, Greco-Roman style) and Karen Mnatsakanyan (60 kg, Greco-Roman style) became European champions, Denis Forov (84 kg, Greco-Roman style), Ruslan Kokayev (74 kg, free style), Shamil Gitinov (96 kg, Free style) came in second, and Vadim Laliyev (84 kg, Free style) and Karine Shadoyan (63 kg, free style, women’s championship) got bronze medals. And at the 2006 World Championship in Guangzhou, China Ruslan Basiyev (120 kg, free style) won a bronze medal.
In fact, all the imported wrestlers performing under our flag since 2006 have won silver or bronze medals in the European and World Championships. But according to the unnamed Georgian coach, our imported competitors are unpromising. It turned out, however, that Yuri Patrikeyev (120 kg, Greco-Roman style) who unlike the other imported players hadn’t won a medal for our team yet earned a medal in Baku. Patrikeyev’s bronze medal was the only one for the Armenian team. The ethnic Russian wrestler has also earned the right to compete at the Beijing Olympic Games. Earlier that right had been earned by another Greco-Roman wrestler, Arman Adikyan (66kg, 5th place).
However, before that Azerbaijanis had had time to rejoice over the Armenian wrestlers’ setbacks. Last year’s European champion, Roman Amoyan, yielded at the last moment to this year’s champion, Rovshan Bayramov from Azerbaijan. Guided by the slogan “Just not the Armenian!” Azerbaijanis inspired the opponents of the Armenian wrestlers by hissing at our athletes and the mass media “tolled” the failures of our athletes - “The Armenian wrestlers got no medals in the first day of the World Championship;” “In the second day of the World Championship the Armenian wrestlers remained without medals;” “At the World Championship in Baku the Armenian free style wrestlers won neither medals nor the right to compete in the Olympics…”
Yuri Patrikeyev’s victory over Azerbaijani citizen Anton Botev in one of the encounters for a bronze medal was a cold shower for fervent Azerbaijanis and his victory over a Hungarian wrestler in a decisive duel was a tragedy for them. For the first time in 16 years the flag of the Republic of Armenia was hoisted in Baku though the TV cameramen left our tricolor off the screen.
Understandable though it may be, the speech by vice-president of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan Chingiz Husseinzade quoted in Day.az is not entirely logical. The high-level Azerbaijani sports official said: “A Russian sportsman won the only medal for the Armenian team. It proves once again that Armenia is Russia’s outpost. Armenians achieve successes only with Russia’s help. They have occupied Karabakh with Russian help as well.” One wonders what the Azerbaijani would have said if Azerbaijani citizen Anton Botev had won. Husseinzade said of the latter, “When getting on the mat the athlete should fight without looking at the opponent.”
On October 2, 2007 national teams of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in a qualifying round of the European Football Championship for women under the age of 19. The group tournament, with the participation of the national teams of Ukraine and Scotland, took place in Lvov, Ukraine instead of Baku as previously scheduled. Like the Azerbaijani men’s team, the women’s team didn’t wish to host our women, and UEFA moved the tournament to Lvov. Though our neighbors were leading 2 to 0 at halftime, the Armenia-Azerbaijan match ended in a 2-2 draw. This was a setback for the Azerbaijanis, since before the game they were the favorites and, were, perhaps, confident of victory. Both teams are now out of the tournament.
The Footzal (mini-football) World Championship Qualifying Group Games will be held in the beginning of 2008. The national teams of Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic and Finland are in qualifying group #6. The matches will be played in the Czech Republic. The favorites are the hosts, followed by the Azerbaijanis and then by the Finns and the Armenians.
“I have faith in victory over Armenia. We have a higher rating. Our clubs and the national team are stronger than the representatives of the enemy country,” Day.az reported the head coach of the Azerbaijani team Baba Askerov as saying. He ruled out the possibility of canceling the game since it will be played at a neutral field. “You know the kind of hysteria that has been aroused in Azerbaijan,” said the president of the Armenian Football Federation, Ruben Hayrapetyan, referring to the upcoming match. “They just would not tolerate a defeat. Think they are simply afraid and are not ready for the game. That is why I don’t rule out the possibility of the match being cancelled. One can expect anything from the Azerbaijanis.”
Azerbaijanis are afraid of traveling to Armenia
The Azerbaijani chess players didn’t come to Yerevan to participate in the World Junior (under-20) Chess Championship (October 3-17, 2007). The reason was again the security concerns though the organizers had given all the necessary security guarantees. The Turkish chess players didn’t come either.
The September football matches didn’t take place because of the security problems. The Armenian side has always given security guarantees at a very high-level, which is not the case with the Azerbaijani side. The only exception was the World Wrestling Championship, where the security of our athletes was guaranteed by President Ilham Aliyev.
There may be two reasons for avoiding traveling to Armenia. First, the Azerbaijanis are in fact afraid of setting foot in Armenia. However, from time to time Azerbaijani journalists visit Armenia, but these visits are accepted in different ways. It is a separate issue that these journalists present what they had seen and heard in Yerevan in a distorted manner to please their countrymen. Nevertheless, it is one thing to visit alone and another thing to come with a whole delegation - something that the Azerbaijani officials are especially afraid of.
Last February former secretary general of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan Fuad Asadov told Haykakan Zhamanak in relation to the September matches: “There is no guarantee that members of the Dashnaktsutiun party will not shoot at me at the Yerevan airport even after seeing a cheerful and warm reception by my Armenian colleagues. Who will answer for that in such case?”
The second reason is that the Azerbaijani wish to appear better than Armenia in the eyes of the international community. As evidence of this, one of the Azerbaijani commentators wrote that denying Armenian wrestlers entry visas would be a mistake. According to the journalist the Armenians should be received and seen off with utmost responsibility (which was the case) in order that the international community see the big difference between Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a matter of fact, not sending their chess players to Yerevan for security reasons was a logical sequel of this idea.
Our athletes will not go to Baku
On October 13-14, 2007 the Judo World Cup will take place in Baku where the athletes will also compete for the right to participate in the next Olympics. For understandable reasons, the Armenian judo team will not be traveling to Baku.