The long-standing enmity between Armenians and Turks is reverberating through an unexpected venue: the Russian soccer club Spartak.
The Premier League club's billionaire owner, Leonid Fedun, is reportedly seeking to transfer two Armenian national team players who have run afoul of Spartak coach Murat Yakin, who is of Turkish origin.
The reports follow a spike in tension between Armenia and Turkey over ceremonies marking the centennial of the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, which Armenia and more than 20 other countries call genocide.
The Russian daily Izvestia reported on May 1 that Fedun has ordered the club's managers to initiate the transfer of Aras Ozbiliz and Yura Movsisyan, who are of Armenian origin, to other teams.
The dispute surfaced last week, when Spartak director Roman Askhabadze told reporters that right winger Ozbilis, 25, would be deprived of a substantial bonus for allegedly accusing Yakin of making a personnel decision based on racial bias.
Russian newspaper Sport-Ekspress had published an interview in which Ozbilis suggested that Yakin, a Turk from Switzerland, had refused to bring him back up to the club's first-string team after an injury last year because he is Armenian.
According to Sport-Ekspress, Ozbiliz said he had been informed of Yakin's decision on April 24 -- the day Armenia hosted solemn ceremonies marking 100 years since the World War I-era killings, which Turkey contends was not genocide.
On April 29, Ozbiliz told sports news site Championat.com that parts of his interview were distorted and that he would never have suggested an ethnic motive as he was born in Istanbul, speaks Turkish fluently, and has relatives and many friends in Turkey.
Movsisyan, 27, was quoted as saying recently that Spartak had performed better under its previous coach than under Yakin, who has dual Swiss-Turkish citizenship and took over in June 2014.
Movsisyan, who was born in Azerbaijan and holds Armenian and U.S. citizenship, has scored two goals in Premier League matches this season -- far off his pace of the past two years.
The agent for both players, Valery Ohanesian, told Russian newspaper Sovetsky Sport that Ozbiliz and Movsisyan were "focused now on playing for the club" and that he had not heard about transfer plans.
The pair "are not in their best psychological form now, but it used to be even worse before. We will see how it works out. We will decide the future after the Russian championship is over," he said.