Unwelcome: Armenian athletes get booed at during Baku Games opening

Armenian athletes got a hostile reception from the crowd during the opening ceremony for the first-ever European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Friday.

Tens of thousands of spectators at the Olympic Stadium in the Azerbaijani capital booed and hissed at the Armenian sports delegation led by Hrachya Rostomyan, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia (NOCA).

A total of 25 Armenian athletes are due to compete in six sports (sambo martial arts, shooting, judo, wrestling, boxing, and taekwondo) at the Games that will be held through June 28.

Since the late 1980s Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a bitter conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 30,000 people were killed in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in 1992-1994. Despite the current ceasefire soldiers on both sides continue to lose their lives cross-border skirmishes.

The NOCA made the decision to send athletes to Baku after representatives of the International and European Olympic committees as well as the government of Azerbaijan provided security guarantees for them.

Some leading athletes, including world wrestling champions Arsen Julfalakyan and Artur Alexanyan, decided to skip the Games, officially explaining their decisions by the need to train for the world championships due in September.

Many in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora have also criticized the country’s sporting community for its decision to send athletes to the Games that are widely viewed as a means for the Azerbaijani authoritarian regime to promote its international image.

The Friday ceremony in Baku hosted by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his wife and chairwoman of the organizing committee Mehriban Alyeva was attended by a number of world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, and others.