European Games: First Armenian “gold” in Baku

European Games: First Armenian “gold” in Baku

Despite all the booing and hissing from the hostile crowd in Baku, Russia’s ethnic Armenian wrestler Stepan Maryanyan managed to win the gold medal at the first-ever European Games taking place in the Azerbaijani capital.

The match between Maryanyan and Soslan Daurov from Belarus in the men’s 59kg Greco-Roman final took place in extraordinary conditions as spectators in the hall were exerting great psychological pressure on the Armenian all the time.

“It wasn’t easy,” Maryanyan said as quoted by Associated Press after the match. “I tried not to pay attention to that weight in the hall, the pressure. I actually enjoyed myself, even though they had that attitude toward me.”

On the way to the final Maryanyan beat Armenia representative Roman Amoyan as well as Elman Mukhtarov, a Greco-Roman wrestler from Azerbaijan who was fiercely supported by the home crowd during the bout.

Later, Amoyan lost to Mukhtarov in the bronze medal match that also took place in conditions of spectator pressure on the Armenian. According to media reports, Amoyan was even booed while he was receiving treatment for a head cut.

Twenty-four other 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.

The Armenian delegation was already booed and hissed at during the athletes’ parade at the Games opening ceremony on Friday.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a bitter conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since the late 1980s. 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 in cross-border skirmishes.

The National Olympic Committee of Armenia 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 Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime to promote its international image.