Scandal in Yerevan: Azerbaijani national team refused to participate in the European Championship
The participation of the Azerbaijani team in the European Weightlifting Championship in Yerevan has turned into an international scandal. During the opening ceremony, a man ran out of the front rows and set fire to the national flag of Azerbaijan. The culprit’s name is Aram Nikolyan, founder of the Nikolyan fashion house and head of the design studio of the Public Television of Armenia.
After the incident, the Azerbaijani team refused to participate in the European Championship and decided to leave Armenia. The athletes could not get on the Yerevan-Antalya flight and they were not released from the hotel for security reasons. But the organizing committee of the championship informed them that they would ensure their safe exit from Armenia.
The Azerbaijani weightlifting team decided to refuse to participate in the European Championship in Yerevan because of a scandalous incident during the opening ceremony of the competition.
In the hall where the ceremony was held with the participation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the presidents of the world and European weightlifting federations Mohammed Jaloud and Antonio Conflitti, the state flag of Azerbaijan was set on fire by the famous Armenian fashion designer, Aram Nikolyan.
He was arrested and taken to the police station, from where he was soon released. At this point it is not known what charges were brought against him or even whether they were brought. Locals who gathered in front of the police station greeted him with applause.
The Azerbaijani national team failed to fly to Baku last night. Tickets for the Yerevan-Antalya flight were purchased for twelve members of the Azerbaijani delegation, but Armenia did not let the team out of the hotel, citing security concerns.
Official statements about the incident were made by the National Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Youth Sports of Azerbaijan, and Armenia’s Foreign Ministry.
Statement by the NOC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports
“Along with the fact that the commission of such a barbaric act at a ceremony in which the Prime Minister of Armenia took part, and accompanied by the applause of the Armenian public, presenting the perpetrator of this act as a hero, is a vivid example of ethnic hatred, racism, xenophobia, Azerbaijani phobia in this country, it is also completely contrary to the noble goal and principles of sports that promote peace and understanding between peoples. The politicization of sports is categorically unacceptable,” the NOC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan said in a joint statement.
“In conditions when such an atmosphere of hatred reigns in Armenia, security is not ensured, the normal participation of Azerbaijani athletes in competitions is impossible due to psychological pressure. Considering all this, it was decided to return the Azerbaijani athletes to their homeland. Armenia must ensure their safe return.
We call on the international community, international sports organizations to strongly condemn this barbaric act. We also call on the European Weightlifting Federation to impose sanctions against Armenia,” the document says.
Comment by the Minister of Sports of Azerbaijan
According to the Minister of Sports and Youth of Azerbaijan, Farid Gayibov, during the opening ceremony of the 2023 European Weightlifting Championships in Yerevan, “a barbaric act took place.”
“This is deeply unacceptable and shows that Armenia is not ready to host such events. Since Yerevan cannot guarantee the safety of our athletes, the Azerbaijani delegation will not participate in the competition and is expected to return home.
Armenia must ensure the safe return of our athletes, but now they are locked in their hotel without access to the media. We call on the international community and international sports organizations to strongly condemn this barbaric act,” the minister said.
Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan
“We strongly condemn this act, which is an example of the ethnic hatred towards Azerbaijan that is rooted in Armenia,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry.
“The Armenian government, as the party organizing the event, had to prevent such incidents in a timely manner and take appropriate security measures. Although the perpetrator was initially detained, his subsequent release to a standing ovation is of great concern. The Armenian side must immediately bring to justice the person who committed this hate crime.
We call on the International Weightlifting Federation, the International Olympic Committee and other relevant international organizations to categorically condemn this act, which is a gross violation of the rules of conduct at sports competitions, and take action against the organizers,” the Foreign Ministry concluded.
Comments from Azerbaijani users on social networks
“Burning the flag of any country is the most stupid and senseless political act.
Aram Nikolyan, who burned the flag of Azerbaijan, is a wealthy and privileged designer in Armenia. Sitting in his comfort zone, turned into a hero in minutes by committing an act of hatred.
He did not serve in the war, and if there is another war, he probably will not serve there either.
The political will of all reasonable people should be to disenfranchise those who sit in their comfort zone and sow hatred, they should feel that they can become the next victims.
Only in an environment where there are no privileged people, where people are equal before the fear of losing their lives, can one hope for peace and justice.”
“The most depressing thing about what happened is that the person who burned the flag of Azerbaijan is the owner of one of the most famous local Armenian brands, Nikolyan.
If you look for an analogy with this in Azerbaijan, then imagine that the owner of the company Emiland [a well-known Azerbaijani clothing brand – JAMnews] burns a flag in some opening ceremony.
This is unthinkable for us. No entrepreneur would allow himself this, would not do this at an international event.
This is the whole absurdity of what happened.”
“I think the decision to send the athletes home is wrong. An act of hatred by some idiot or provocateur should not have caused a big scandal. In such cases, one should not follow the lead of the hate-spewing crowd, one must oppose those who do not want peace.
The issue must be resolved at the international level, through diplomatic channels …
There is no alternative to peace for our region.”
Statement from Yerevan
The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Armenia considers the decision taken by the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan and the National Olympic Committee to stop the further participation of Azerbaijani athletes in the European Weightlifting Championships held in Yerevan on April 15-23, “problematic in terms of sports ethics” .
“The Republic of Armenia provided all safety standards from the very beginning, and there were no problems related to the safety of weightlifters who arrived in Yerevan to participate in the championship, and could not arise. The incident that occurred during the opening ceremony, which was resolved very quickly, has nothing to do with the safety of the athletes and providing them with normal conditions for participation in the competition. All necessary conditions were fully provided.
The Republic of Armenia remains committed to fulfilling its obligations to the International Weightlifting Federation and confirms its readiness to hold the European Championship 2023 at a high level,” the statement says.
Clarifications from Aram Nikolyan
After the incident, Aram Nikolyan recorded a video in which he explains the motives of his act:
“I want to make an important statement regarding my act. My act is exclusively the act of an Armenian, an Armenian with dignity, who does not belong to political power, has his own opinion and vision.
My desire was to prevent the Azerbaijani flag from flying in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia. And most importantly, never think that Armenians get used to or try to adapt to certain situations. I’m sorry, there is an opinion that my act may reflect badly on the men standing on the border. I pray for our men guarding the border.
If there are people who think that I should not have done this … let them think about it at home, hang the flag of Azerbaijan in their house, take comfort in this. I thank those Armenians who supported me and waited at the police station at such a late hour.”
Comments from Yerevan
How can you not see an elephant in the room, not foresee the possible consequences?
It’s not about wanting peace. Obviously, the vast majority of people in Armenia want peace. Personally, I do not dream of the destruction of Azerbaijan, but that someday we will be sincerely friends with this country.
But the fact is that now, today, thanks to the dictatorial regime of Azerbaijan and its propaganda, Azerbaijani society is extremely hostile towards us and represents an existential danger for us.
Wasn’t it possible, as the host country of the championship, to inform the international federation that the presence of the Azerbaijani team in Armenia is problematic precisely because of Aliyev’s aggressive behavior?
Imagine a situation where your neighbor killed your brother and says almost every day that he will kill your children too. And one evening you go into the house, you see your neighbor is sitting on the sofa and drinking tea. What would you do? To be honest, I wouldn’t know what to do, but I definitely know what not to do. A murderous neighbor who threatens to kill again must not be allowed into the house.”