Bevor das erste Jubiläum für unsere kleine Reihe ansteht, geht es in dieser Folge um den Fußball in Armenien. Dort sind die Fans unzufrieden. Warum es zu einem Polizeieinsatz kam, was die FAF, die First Armenian Front damit zu tun und wer diese Gruppe überhaupt ist, weiß nur einer: Unser Mann in Moskau!
Fan dissatisfaction leads to protests in Armenia
Football fans in Armenia have been involved in protests following the failure of the Armenian national side to make an impact in their 2016 European Championship qualifying group.
Fan dissatisfaction has been brewing in the wake of the team’s home defeat by Albania in the final home game of national side’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the 2016 European Championships, which saw them fail to win a single game.Anger among fans was potentially sharpened by the fact that the new qualification format has enabled many more smaller nations to qualify for tournament than in previous years, including Albania themselves, who are set to play in their first ever major tournament in 2016.
The first such protest took place on Monday, 16 November, during the final play-off round of the Euro 2016 qualifiers, in which the national team did not take part, having finished bottom of their qualifying table with just two points. The relatively small protest, which saw around one hundred fans congregate in the streets of the Armenian capital Yerevan around the headquarters of the Armenian National Football Federation (FFA), was organised by the fan movement First Armenian Front (FAF).
Fans situated opposite the headquarters of the FFA chanted “Answer!” and “We demand football!” Police in attendance later moved fans from the carriageway of the road onto the pavement. Police also briefly detained some protestors inside police vans at the site of the protests for the use of flares; however, all were subsequently released.
FAF has demanded that national team coach, SarkisOvsepyan, is removed from his role and replaced with a more “competent” coach, who should be “a charismatic and well-known title winner.” The group were also angered that some of the country’s most high-profile players, who were fit and available for selection, were nevertheless not called up to play for the national side in crucial matches “for various reasons.” Finally, fans demanded that the ticket prices for national team games are lowered to make them available “to a broader section of society.”
FAF stated that it was simply seeking a dialogue with the FFA on the issues in question, but also warned that the protests would intensify should no actions be taken. A statement from FAF said that the group expected FFA president Ruben Ayrapetyan to “give a press conference on the performances of the team, at which he will also address our demands.” They did admit though that “so far, we have received no response.”
Following the protest held on 16 November, and in the continuing lack of any kind of response from Ayrapetyan, FAF had planned to hold a further demonstration on 20 November. However, at this point a misunderstanding appears to have arisen on the part of the country’s main opposition political party, which had also held its own separate demonstration on 16 November in order to protest planned constitutional reform in the Caucasus nation.
FAF member Sergei Janjoyan explained that “the opposition thought that our protest had been organised with the goal of drawing attention away from their own demonstration.” This impression was then sharpened as the next supporter protest was scheduled for 20 November, on the same day the next opposition demonstration was also set to take place. According to Janjoyan, FAF then decided to move its protest action to 24 November “in order to avoid any further accusations.” He went on to clarify that “our complaints with the FFA have no relation to the internal political situation within Armenia.”
Regarding the country’s football aspirations, Janjoyan described Armenian football as being in “a dead end, a coma” and said that “concrete steps need to be taken,” adding however, that this was not yet happening. He went on to claim that FAF had received credible information that VaruzhanSukiasyan was set to be installed as the country’s new national coach – a move that the supporters’ organisation considered insufficient with regard to fulfilling their demands for better football. FAF’s preferred candidates for the role are Sergio Markarian, the Armenian-Uruguayan currently coaching the Greek national team, or Michel Der Zakarian, the Armenian-French head coach of French Ligue 1 side Nantes.
In connection with the protest action’s other major demand regarding ticket prices, FAF council leader, Edgar Khachatryan, said that it was necessary to develop a robust pricing policy for tickets that corresponded with the social situation in the country, where the average monthly wage stands at just USD 342. Khachatryan also criticisedwhat he views as the selection of the national squad based on nepotism, while once again calling for the resignation of FFA president Ayrapetyan, saying that “while we have nothing personal against him, Armenian football is at a point where fundamental changes need to be made – something he is not doing.”
With regard to the under pressure FFA president, another, unnamed FAF member noted that, since he took the role in 2012, the number of professional clubs active in Armenia has reduced from 20 to just eight. The supporter also accused Ayrapetyan of “turning Armenian football into his own personal property,” and went on to say that “football belongs to the people. This is not a business – it’s a national team.”
The follow-up protest, held on 24 November, saw clashes with the police as FAF members broke through a cordon to attach signs with the English words “Your time has come” to the fence outside the FFA’s headquarters, having already called for president Ayrapetyan’s resignation. Supporters also let off fireworks and used flares and smoke bombs during the protest, leading to the arrest of four members of the demonstration. As in the first demonstration, the supporters were soon released. Yerevan’s Deputy Police Chief, ValeriyOsipyan called the protestors’ actions “illegal.”At the same time, the supporters’ group denouncedthe failure of the FFA to engage with in any way as “disrespectful,” only intensifying calls for the FFA chief’s removal.
Commenting on the protests, an unnamed source close to the FFA has described the demands made by FAF as “absurd” and “not worthy of a response.” The source rejected all of FAF’s statements regarding ticket prices and claimed that allowing reduced ticket prices would lead to “3,000 teenagers” gaining entry to the national stadium, thereby causing “security issues.” The source also dismissed football-related concerns and said that there was no point employing a new manager now anyway and “paying him a wage for five months” until the next match the national team are scheduled to play.
On the day following the protests, the embattled FFA president used a press conference to advance his own theory regarding the state of the national team. Ayrapetyan claimed that the home defeat to Albania, which gave rise to the protests, was the result of a large-scale “betrayal” by Armenian players, saying that “we intend to produce and publicise proof of this.” He went on to say that the defeat was caused by players not having enough desire to play for the team, rather than any coaching problems. The comments come after claims appeared in the Serbian and Albanian media, in the wake of the game in question, suggesting that three defenders and the goalkeeper of the Armenian national team had been paid to throw the game – a claim that was flatly rejected by national team goalkeeper Gevorg Kasparov. At the time of writing, UEFA has announced that it has no plans to investigate any alleged foul play surrounding the match.
Commenting on the claims made by the FFA president, the Armenian Sports Minister, Gabriel Kazaryan, said that Ayrapetyan had not presented “any sort of facts” to back up his allegations. He went on to say that, should a decision be taken to investigate the result of the fixture, an announcement to the effect would be made in due course. At the same time, nine Armenian national team players, including high profile stars such as HenrikhMkhitaryan, released a joint statement presenting a united front and criticising Ruben Ayrapetyan, while entirely rejecting his claims that team members took bribes to throw the match. The statement reads: “The comments and rumours surrounding the match with Albania are entirely untrue, and we have complete faith in each player who represents the team. We believe absolutely that the investigations of alleged traitors among our ranks will not produce results and we feel certain that all involved with the national team share this view.”
FAF are still awaiting any kind of response to their demands from the FFA, saying that they would be happy to hear something, even if that response were to be negative. Meanwhile, the organisation has pledged to continue with the protests until they see some real changes occur with regard to the organisation of the country’s football structures.