Wales monitor Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and potential Euro 2020 impact

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Ryan Giggs
Former Wales and Manchester United captain Ryan Giggs has managed his country since January 2018

Wales are monitoring the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and its potential impact on Azerbaijan's ability to host their Euro 2020 matches next summer.

More than 100 people have died since Sunday over the decades-long disputed region, officially part of Azerbaijan, but run by ethnic Armenians since 1994.

Wales are due to play two of their Euro 2020 group matches in Baku, Azerbaijan.

"You have to be flexible in this day and age with the way things are going," said Wales manager Ryan Giggs.

"My concentration really is on the games in October and November and after that we'll look ahead to the Euros [in June 2021].

"I've already been [to Baku], but it's something I'll have to think about after the New Year in terms of whether I'm going to go.

"I've already seen the hotel, where we're going to train and play, but it's something I'm going to revisit."

Uefa, European football's governing body, and the Football Association of Wales (FAW) say they are monitoring the situation.

Thursday's Europa League play-off between Ararat-Armenia and Serbian side Red Star Belgrade was moved from Armenia's capital city, Yerevan, to Nicosia in Cyprus.

The fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh is the heaviest seen in the long-running conflict since 2016 and, on Wednesday, the office of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had called the foreign ministers of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to say Russia was willing to host talks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the fighting with French President Emmanuel Macron in a separate telephone call. Both leaders reiterated calls by world powers for an immediate ceasefire.

A stalemate had largely prevailed in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since a 1994 ceasefire.

As a result of fighting at the start of that decade, the region's pre-eminent football team, Qarabag FK, were displaced and forced to move to Baku, around 400km away.

Since relocating to Azerbaijan's capital city in 1993, Qarabag have become the country's most successful club and were the first Azeri team to reach the group stages of a European competition when they qualified for the Europa League during the 2014-15 season.

Qarabag then qualified for the group stage of the top-tier Champions League in the 2017-18 season, during which they drew home and away against former runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Baku's Olympic Stadium hosted the 2019 Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal, a game which the Gunners' Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan missed because he feared for his safety in Azerbaijan.

Wales were due to start their Euro 2020 campaign against Switzerland in Baku this summer, but the tournament was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They will now begin their postponed campaign against the same opponents in the Azeri capital on 12 June 2021 before playing Turkey in Baku four days later.

Nagorno-Karabakh - key facts

  • A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles)
  • Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
  • In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan
  • Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but majority of population is ethnic Armenian
  • Self-proclaimed authorities are not recognised by any UN member, including Armenia
  • An estimated one million people were displaced by war in 1988-94, and about 30,000 killed
  • Separatist forces captured some extra territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan
  • Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
  • Russia has a military base in Armenia

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