BRENTWOOD—The Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles sent a letter of protest to the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Dana White. It was in opposition of Armenian mixed martial artist Edem Shahbazyan donning the flag of Artsakh during a fight on Saturday, August 1.

The Republic of Artsakh, formerly known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, is a de facto state in the South Caucasus. Though it has an overwhelming Armenian population and governance, it is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan. The conflict over territory escalated to war between 1988 and 1994. There have been ongoing border clashes in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. 

On July 12, there were skirmishes in the shared border region around Armenia’s northern province of Tavush. This prompted protests against alleged unprovoked Azerbaijani aggression at the Azerbaijani Consulate in Brentwood.

Edem Shahbazyan with the flag of Artsakh behind him. Photo courtesy of @zartonkmedia via Instagram.

Many perceived Shahbazyan raising the flag of Artsakh as a political statement. 

“The letter notes that illegal organization is nothing but the result of Armenia’s military aggression and unequivocal position of the United States on support to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity has been brought to the attention of UFC leadership. According to the UFC rules, it has been noted that only the flags of internationally recognized states are allowed to be demonstrated, and taking appropriate disciplinary measures against Armenian fighter for attempts to politicize competition and not to repeat such cases in the future has been demanded,” said Leyla Abdullayeva, the head of the press service of Azerbaijani MFA to Azeri Press Agency.