FK Qarabag Agdam
With a few days of rest in the European soccer Championships let’s focus on some completely different kind of football stories. Tonight photographer Dirk-Jan Visser and author Arthur Huizinga present their books “Football in exile” and “Never a home game – A football war in the Caucasus”" [in Dutch] at an event full of discussion and exchange on the situation in the Northern Caucasus.
Friends Dirk-Jan and Arthur share a interest for the stories of normal people in abnormal circumstances. The case of the football club FK Qarabag Agdam is precisely such a story: “FK Qarabag Agdam is an Azerbaijani football club currently based in the Azeri capital Baku, yet longing to return to its home ground in Agdam in Nagorno-Karabakh. 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. In part thanks to the aid of a Turkish-Azerbaijani sponsor, the club survived in exile and now plays in the top division of Azerbaijani professional football. In 2009 the team turned in its best performance ever in European football, before finally being eliminated in the play-offs of the Europa League by the Dutch FC Twente.”
In a recent interview the artists said: “The average citizen only suffers from nationalism. That’s the story we want to tell. This exposition is an introduction to the stories we tell in the books. There is more in this world than EC of football, the economy and all that’s told us.” See the blog of Guido de Graaf Bierbrauwer, who works for IKV Pax Christi for more updates [sometimes in Dutch] on what happens in the Caucasus.
Here’s a link to a good trailer on the project. And here you might see some photographs. Unfortunelately, the case of this football club in exile is not unique. Numerous are the stories on politics and football mixing up, with the seven day Football War between Honduras and el Salvador as a sad example. Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote a few of his beautiful stories on that unique event. Another club I had to think of is the Cypriotic FC Famagusta. But than there are always two sides to a story. So what about the Armenian side?
The Armenian football team FK Karabakh Stepanakert from Nagorno-Karabakh, meanwhile, 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. The club still exists in name only, borne by a team of schoolboys; a catastrophe for the team that was amongst the strongest in the Azerbaijani zone of Soviet Union football. FK Karabakh Stepanakert counterbalances the story of the Azeri FK Qarabag Agdam.