Football in Exile

Dirk-Jan Visser + others


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Photo: Dirk-Jan Visser / Merdakan -Azerbaijan: 27-08-2009: Picture of the team of FK Qarabağ Ağdam after winning the Azerbaijani championship, Respublika stadium in Baku. Azerbaijan August 1993.

Can only be used for promotion of the  OFFSIDE exhibition or promotion for the book: OFFSIDE football in Exile.

In OFFSIDE photographer Dirk-Jan Visser and writer Arthur Huizinga tell the stories of two football teams from Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh, a region of forgotten conflict in the South Caucasus. FK Qarabağ Ağdam, an Azeri team in exile, is successful in the national league and across Europe, while the Armenian team from the capital
of Nagorno Karabach, FK Karabakh Stepanakert is sinking away due to the lack of international recognition of the break-away region’s independence.

The status quo of the conflict that broke out in 1993, is a daily reality for up to 600,000 Azerbaijani refugees as well as some 200,000 Armenians. The human tragedy of this situation is revealed through the eyes of players and coaches, fighters and refugees, sons and daughters, wives and widows – all connected to either one of the teams.

Image: Dirk-Jan Visser


Image: Dirk-Jan Visser

The geopolitical conflict in Nagorno Karabakh is a forgotten one. Even while the war raged between 1991-1994, it received little attention from the West

In OFFSIDE, photographer Dirk-Jan Visser and writer Arthur Huizinga tell the story from the perspective of Azeri and Armenian football teams: FK Qarabag Agdam and FK Karabakh Stepanakert.

Today, the unresolved yet frozen conflict remains a reality for up to hundreds of thousands Azerbaijani and Armenian refugees. FK Qarabag Agdam is an Azerbaijani football club currently based in the capital Baku, yet longing to return to its home ground in Agdam. During the war with Armenian separatists over Nagorno Karabakh, the Imaret stadium in downtown Agdam remained packed for home matches. In 1993, Karabakh-Armenian forces occupied and destroyed Agdam and it has been a ghost town ever since. The club has become the symbol of hope and pride for over half a million Azerbaijani refugees scattered around Azerbaijan. Sponsored by a Turkish-Azerbaijani holding, it has played in the Europa League several times. In 2009, the team enjoyed an unprecedented international run until it was eventually knocked out by FC Twente (The Netherlands).

The Armenian football team FK Karabakh Stepanakert from Nagorno Karabakh is banned from professional football. Due to the lack of international recognition for the breakaway Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, football association FIFA does not recognise teams from the region. As a result, FK Karabakh Stepanakert has been isolated entirely. It has lost all but its local relevance and consequently most of its financial means, a catastrophe for the team that was amongst the strongest in the Azerbaijani zone of Soviet Union football.

The South Caucasus is a highly volatile region encompassing three culturally, religiously and linguistically different states. Historically, the region has been subjected to geopolitical power play by the world’s major powers. The ‘armed peace’ in Nagorno Karabakh is the greatest threat to stability in this part of the world and potentially beyond. Sooner rather than later the conflict will be back on the international agenda, as economic interests and disparities in the region have increased tremendously in recent years. While Azerbaijan grows richer with every oil shipment, Armenia sinks further into economic isolation.

The human tragedy of this situation is revealed through the eyes of six people, each one connected to the respective football teams – exemplary for the daily lives of players and coaches, fighters and refugees, sons and daughters, wives and widows. The story of the Armenian FK Karabakh Stepanakert counterbalances the story of the Azeri FK Qarabag Agdam.

  • Maker(s):
  • Dirk-Jan Visser,
  • Arthur Huizinga

Photo: Dirk-Jan Visser / Stepanakert: 17-03-2010:  Picture of the training of the 15/16 age group of Lernayin Artsakh (Karabakh Stepanakert) inside the Stepanakert stadium. These boys train four to five times a week, led by professional coaches derived from the Karabakh Stepanakert veterans. During the 2009/2010 season, the first youth squad did not perform in the Armenian League, preparing for participation again next year. David Martirosyan is one of 8 players from his group who made to the first team-selection.

Image: Dirk-Jan Visser


Image: Dirk-Jan Visser



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