European Weightlifting Championship – Azerbaijan flag burned at opening ceremony

This year's European Weightlifting Championship in Armenia has started with a political incident. During the flag parade at the opening ceremony the Azerbaijani flag was set on fire. Azerbaijan immediately drew the consequences and returned its lifters to their home country.

It was supposed to be the beginning of a promising and cosmopolitan European Championship in Yerevan, Armenia, but this was already eclipsed at yesterday’s opening ceremony. During the flag parade there was a provocation against the country of Azerbaijan. After the country’s flag was carried into the hall, a man rushed onto the stage, snatched the flag from the bearer’s hands and set it on fire.

According to reports from Azerbaijani media, the man carried the flaming flag out of the hall and was detained by security guards, but was probably released shortly after. Moreover, as Azerbaijani Ambassador Nasimi Aghayev tweeted, this man is said to be a member of the Armenian host committee.

At the opening ceremony the Azerbaijani flag was set on fire.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan has now also commented on this incident. The statement said:

“We strongly condemn this ethnic hate act against Azerbaijan in Armenia.

The Armenian government, as the organizer of the event, should have prevented such incidents in time and taken appropriate security measures. Although the perpetrator of this crime was initially apprehended, his subsequent release to great applause raises serious concerns. The Armenian side should immediately bring the person who committed this hate crime to justice.

We call for strong condemnation of this act, which is a gross violation of the rules of conduct of the World Weightlifting Federation, the International Olympic Committee and other international organizations for sports competitions, to take certain punitive measures against the organizers under the rules.”

Azerbaijan brings athletes home

The Ministry of Youth and Sports and the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan also issued a joint statement, Azerbaijan’s APA news agency reported. In it it was announced that the Azerbaijani lifters will not participate in the European Championship and will be taken back to their homeland.

“At the opening ceremony of the European Weightlifting Championships on April 14, 2023, in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, the Azerbaijani flag was demonstratively burned by an officially accredited person.

Committing such a barbaric act at a ceremony in the presence of the Armenian Prime Minister and its approval by the Armenian public, as well as calling the person who committed this act a hero, are a clear example of ethnic hatred, racism, xenophobia and Azerbaijanophobia in this country and completely contradict the noble goals and principles of sport, which promotes peace and mutual understanding between peoples. The politicization of sport is absolutely unacceptable.

Due to the psychological pressure in Armenia, where there is such an atmosphere of hatred and security is not guaranteed, normal participation of Azerbaijani athletes in competitions is impossible. In view of this, it was decided to return the Azerbaijani athletes to their homeland. Armenia should ensure their safe return.

We call on the international community and international sports institutions to strongly condemn this barbaric act. We also call on the European Weightlifting Federation to impose sanctions against Armenia.

We believe that this incident shows that Armenia is not capable of hosting international sports competitions and ensuring the safety of athletes.”

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