The Seventh Summer Pan-Armenian Games opened in Stepanakert in a ceremony held at the Nagorno-Karabakh capital’s stadium on August 6.
The quadrennial Games bringing together hundreds of ethnic Armenian athletes from around the world are designed to foster closer relationships between Armenia and its far-flung Diaspora.
This year Stepanakert has been chosen to co-host the Games. Most of the competitions, however, will still be held the Armenian capital of Yerevan.
Armenia is an ethnically homogenous country that has a population of about 3 million. But twice as many ethnic Armenians are believed to live abroad. Most of them are descendants of survivors of the 1915 massacres in Ottoman Turkey that more than two dozen governments of the world as well as many historians recognize as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Summer Pan-Armenian games have been held in Armenia since 1999. In 2014, the first winter Pan-Armenian Games took place in the Armenian ski resort town of Tsaghkadzor.
Nearly 5,300 athletes and sports delegation members coming from more than three dozen countries are attending the current Games that feature sports like soccer, basketball, volleyball, golf, swimming, badminton, tennis, track and field athletics, cycling and others. The Games will close in Yerevan on August 17.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian also attended the opening ceremony at Stepanakert’s Stepan Shahumian Republican Stadium.
Meeting with organizers of the Games earlier on Tuesday, Pashinian called it “symbolic” that this year the opening of the pan-Armenian sporting event takes place in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital. He said that the Games can become “a good platform for our pan-national conversation.”
“I think that it will be very useful if we really manage to expand the idea of pan-Armenianism. In this sense, of course, the Pan-Armenian Games have a very important and exceptional significance,” the head of the Armenian government underscored.
Addressing a rally in Stepanakert the day before, Pashinian also called for a pan-Armenian consolidation. Outlining a number of strategic goals that he said Armenians should achieve by 2050, Pashinian said that “Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] is Armenia, period.”
The remark was strongly condemned by Azerbaijan that does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s sovereignty and considers it to be its territory.
Azerbaijani media quoted presidential aide Hikmet Haciyev as describing Pashinian’s statement as provocative and stressing that by such rhetoric Armenia’s leadership is bringing the region to the verge of a “serious crisis.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan are locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated region that has been de-facto independent from Baku after a three-year war in the early 1990s, in which an estimated 30,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Despite a 1994 ceasefire, loss of life has continued in the conflict zone in recurrent border skirmishes and sporadic fighting.
An internationally mediated peace process spearheaded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group has so far failed to produce a lasting settlement of the conflict.