The ‘#BoycottBaku’ campaign appeared on petition website change.org with the description revealing how a signature meant supporters ‘will be taking a stand in solidarity’ after news of Mkhitaryan’s omission.
Armenia captain Mkhitaryan had been assured by UEFA that he would be safe during his stay in neighbouring Azerbaijan but Arsenal have concluded it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the rest of the squad to have him on the trip.
An online petition has been set up to get the Europa League final moved to Wembley Stadium
Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not travel with the rest of the Arsenal squad due to fears for his safety
There are political tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The full supporting statement for the petition reads: ‘In addition to the numerous & unprecedented logistical issues that have precluded a majority of fans from both Arsenal & Chelsea from attending the Europa League Final, Uefa’s decision to host the match in Baku, Azerbaijan, is one that has forced Arsenal’s Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan to be left out of the North London side’s squad, for fear of bodily harm stemming from Armenia and Azerbaijan’s century-long violent conflict.
‘This decision by Uefa is one that unabashedly prioritises profit over the sanctity of the beautiful game & the safety of its players; and while recognisably unrealistic, this petition calls for Uefa to recognise the nefarious effects of their decision, & sanction of move of the Final from Baku to London’s Wembley Stadium.
Serhat Akgun, one supporter of the petition, wrote: ‘No player should be denied access to a football match because of their race, nationality or beliefs and it is appalling that UEFA have decided to host the finals at Baku, knowing well that the country has ongoing conflicts with Armenia.’
The petition quickly gained support online as fans rallied behind the Armenian midfielder
Arsenal were given assurances by UEFA over his safety but made the decision not to take him
‘By signing this petition, you will be taking a stand in solidarity with the fans of Arsenal & Chelsea, Mkhitaryan, and the game of football itself. #BoycottBaku.’
UEFA had insisted they had a ‘comprehensive security plan’ ready for Mkhitaryan with growing fears from Arsenal over his safety.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have had no diplomatic relations since the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended in 1994, and Mkhitaryan missed the Gunners’ Europa League qualifier against Qarabag in Baku in October over safety fears.
An AFFA spokesperson said on Tuesday, after it emerged Arsenal would leave the Armenian behind for fears over his safety: ‘We are disappointed to see the statement from Arsenal that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with his team to Baku to participate at the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea next Wednesday.
‘We very much regret this unwarranted decision taken, as we understand, collectively by Arsenal, the player and his family.
‘While we recognise the right to make a personal decision not to travel, we would like to reiterate that as the host country Azerbaijan has provided all the necessary guarantees required by UEFA to ensure the personal safety of Mr Mkhitaryan.
‘There is no reason whatsoever to put in question the seriousness of these guarantees provided by Azerbaijan. Over the past decade a large number of Armenian athletes have taken part in various international sports events in Azerbaijan without any issues.
The Europa League final could take place next week in front of thousands of empty seats
Ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh pictured with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2014
‘Finally, we believe that this regretful decision will not affect in any manner the quality and the attraction of this great match. We look forward to welcoming both teams in Baku shortly.’
Ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has claimed that Mkhitaryan’s decision not to play despite those safety guarantees means he has made a political decision rather than a personal one.
He told talkSPORT: ‘Our reaction? The right word would be disappointment.
‘Obviously that’s his decision – his, his family’s and the club’s – but we are disappointed in it. We did our utmost to assure his safety would be guaranteed and the safety of anybody travelling to Baku, as well as the fans, team crews and other players.’
WHAT IS THE ISSUE BETWEEN AZERBAIJAN AND ARMENIA?
Since 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh has existed in a tense limbo.
HOW BIG IS THE AREA?
This mountainous region of Azerbaijan, with about 150,000 residents in an area of 12,000 square kilometers has been under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military since the end of a full-scale war that killed about 30,000 and displaced an estimated 1 million.
WHEN DID IT START?
Long-simmering tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azeris began boiling over as the Soviet Union frayed in its final years. Once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the republics became independent nations, war broke out. A 1994 cease-fire left Armenian and Azerbaijani forces facing each other across a demilitarized zone, where clashes were frequently reported.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE?
International mediation efforts to determine the region’s final status have brought little visible progress. The unresolved conflict has been an economic blow to Armenia because Turkey has closed its border with Armenia, leaving the country with open borders only with Georgia and Iran.
‘Do I think he is making a political statement? I am afraid so. Honestly, there is a concern here that what Mkhitaryan has done is not connected to his ethnicity or anything he’s doing as a pro footballer, but there is an issue.’
Taghizade even suggested that the country had relaxed some of its laws in order to welcome Mkhitaryan for the final.
‘He has visited Nagorno-Karabakh, an occupied portion of Azerbaijan, at least once and that was an unsanctioned visit,’ he added.
‘Those people are usually black-listed in Azerbaijan, which means they are not able to get a visa or travel to Azerbaijan. But in this case, Mkhitaryan’s case has been settled and there is no issue whatsoever.
‘There is absolutely no problem for Azerbaijan to receive Mkhitaryan and to provide for his physical safety and security. His physical safety is assured by every word I say.
‘It’s ultimately his decision, but if we are looking for reasons to justify a decision that maybe longer in the making, that’s something different.’
Despite losing a key player for the final against city rivals Chelsea, Arsenal boss Unai Emery gave full backing to his player.
‘I discussed this with Mkhitaryan,’ said the Arsenal manager. ‘It’s a very personal decision. He wants to play with the team, but he spoke with his family and decided not to go.
‘It’s bad news, but we cannot do anything about these issues. It’s a very, very personal decision and we need to respect him. I don’t understand the political problems, but I must respect (his decision).
‘I spoke to him. I came from the Basque country, where we had a big political problem there, finishing five or six years ago. This is a very personal decision; I cannot push him to come with us.
‘For him and for me, it’s very important to (have his) help with his quality and his capacity, but these issues are out of my hands and I understand 100 per cent.’
The Armenian midfielder has been criticised for a ‘political statement’ in the eyes of critics