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We've Had Football Diplomacy, Ping-Pong Diplomacy ... Now Judo Diplomacy


Five athletes from Azerbaijan have arrived in Yerevan for the European junior judo championships, marking the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that Azerbaijani athletes have participated in a sporting event in Armenia.

Athletes from some 40 countries -- including Turkey -- will take part in the tournament, which starts on September 11. Azerbaijan's participation was made possible by a special agreement signed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani sport ministers in Yerevan last week.

The agreement commits Armenia to ensuring the Azerbaijani team's security, creating adequate conditions for team members, and playing Azerbaijan's national anthem if one of its competitors becomes a European champion, as is done for all champions.

Tight security measures were visible at a Yerevan hotel where the 15-strong Azerbaijani delegation -- which includes coaches, doctors, judo officials, and journalists -- will stay during the competition.

Gunduz Abbaszade, a sports reporter for Azerbaijan's ANS television, told RFE/RL that the Azerbaijanis must always be accompanied by security officers but that they feel safe.

Azer Garayev, an ANS cameraman, told RFE/RL that "This day will probably go down in history."

Aleksan Avetisian, chairman of the Armenian Judo Federation, said the Azerbaijanis have a good chance to do well in the tournament. He added that "they won a gold medal in last year's Olympic Games, something which many countries can only dream about."

The unresolved conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region has seriously hindered Armenian and Azerbaijani athletes' participation in sporting events held in each other's country.

Citing the conflict, the Azerbaijani government usually opposes the presence of various Armenian delegations on its soil. In 2007, the authorities in Baku refused to guarantee the security of Armenia's soccer team, which was due to play Azerbaijan as part of a qualifying round for the 2008 European Cup soccer championships.

The Armenian side rejected Azerbaijani demands that the games between the teams be played at a neutral site, leading Europe's soccer governing body, UEFA, to cancel the games.

Later that year, the Azerbaijani government reluctantly agreed to allow Armenian wrestlers to compete in a world championship in Baku, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee and FILA, the sport's world governing body.

-- Hasmik Smbatian

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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