The geopolitical conflict in the Nagorno Karabakh region is a forgotten one. Today, the unresolved yet frozen conflict remains a reality for up to hundreds of thousands Azerbaijani and Armenian refugees. In OFFSIDE, photographer Dirk-Jan Visser and writer Arthur Huizinga tell their story from the perspective of two football teams: FK Qarabağ Ağdam and FK Karabakh Stepanakert.

FK Qarabağ Ağdam is an Azerbaijani football club currently based in the capital Baku, yet longing to return to its home ground in Ağdam. During the war with Armenian separatists over Nagorno Karabakh, the Imaret stadium in downtown Ağdam remained packed for home matches. In 1993, Karabakh-Armenian forces occupied and destroyed Ağdam 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 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, 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, 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.

Authors

Dirk-Jan Visser (b. 1978) is a independent documentary photographer based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He works freelance for different media, focusing on social, economic and political issues around the world. In 2005 he photographed the people of Kosovo on the brink of transformation, which resulted in the book Brave New Kosovo. He won a number of awards for his photobookZimbabwe Exodus, including Dutch Photojournalist of the Year 2007 and a special recognition in the POYi World Understanding Award . The Human Rights Watch lobby used the book to help bring about a change of asylum policy in South Africa towards Zimbabweans. In 2009 he participated in the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. Visser is represented by Hollandse Hoogte.

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Arthur Huizinga (b. 1980) is a freelance journalist and writer living in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Since 2008 he has been a regular guest at FK Qarabağ Ağdam, researching it’s remarkable story and general refugee-issues in the South Caucasus, which led to several publication in among others De Groene Amsterdammer, NRC Handelsblad andNRC Next. When the team played FC Twente in August 2009, he was involved in different radio and television performances. In 2012 he published a non-fiction novel on FK Qarabağ Ağdam.

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Platforms

Dord Yol settlement, Azerbaijan, 09-05-2010.
Dord Yol settlement, Azerbaijan, 09-05-2010.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Baku, Azerbaijan, 23-08-2009.
Baku, Azerbaijan, 23-08-2009.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Merdakan, Azerbaijan, 27-08-2009.
Merdakan, Azerbaijan, 27-08-2009.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Dord Yol settlement, Azerbaijan, 30-08-2009.
Dord Yol settlement, Azerbaijan, 30-08-2009.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Nagorno-Karabakh, 24-04-2011.
Nagorno-Karabakh, 24-04-2011.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Nagorno-Karabakh, 24-04-2011.
Nagorno-Karabakh, 24-04-2011.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 18-03-2010.
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 18-03-2010.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 17-03-2010.
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 17-03-2010.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 08-10-2011.
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 08-10-2011.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 10-10-2011.
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 10-10-2011.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Agdam region, Azerbaijan, 24-07-2011.
Agdam region, Azerbaijan, 24-07-2011.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
© Dirk-Jan Visser
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.
Offside at the Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, June 2012.

Exhibition

The Offside exhitibion consists of photographic prints, archival material, video and text. In 2012, it travelled to the Zoom Photo Festival in Quebec, Canada and the Noorderlicht Photo Gallery in Groningen, The Netherlands.

  • Zoom Photo Festival Saguenay, Quebec (Canada)

    Noorderlicht Photogallery, Groningen (The Netherlands)

  • The OFFSIDE exhibition consists of photographic prints, archival material, video and text.

  • Dirk-Jan Visser (Photography)
    Arthur Huizinga (Text)
    Kummer & Herrman (Graphic design)
    Olaf Veenstra (Production)
    Niek Miedema (Translation)

Book

The human tragedy of the Nagorno Karabakh situation is revealed through the eyes of six people, each one connected to the respective football teams: 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 Qarabağ Ağdam in the book, for sale in the Ydocstore.

  • OFFSIDE – Football in Exile
    Dirk-Jan Visser & Arthur Huizinga, Paradox_YdocPublishing, 2012.
    Texts by: Arthur Huizinga
    Design: Kummer & Herrman
    Pages: 308
    Colour: colour/black& white
    Cover: Softcover
    Size: 210 x 265 mm
    Language: English, Armenian, Azeri
    ISBN: 978-90-818876-0-1
    Text editing: Cecily Layzell
    Translation: Cecily Layzell, Aytac Movsumova and Taguhi Torosyan
    Lithography: Colour and Books, Apeldoorn
    Printing: Platform P, Rotterdam
    Publisher: Paradox & YdocPublishing

Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 17-03-2010.
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, 17-03-2010.
© Dirk-Jan Visser

Editorial

A short history and timeline of Nagorno Karabakh can be found here: https://issuu.com/xparadox/docs/offside_history

Karabakh is a historical region consisting of Upper Karabakh, Lower Karabakh and parts of the Armenian province of Syunik. The name Nagorno (Russian for ‘Upper’) Karabakh has been used since the region’s incorporation into the Soviet Union. Karabakh is believed to originate from Persian and Turkish and means ‘black garden’. Other sources claim the word has a western Armenian background.The timeline published here, is first of all, an attempt to provide historic references to the personal stories in this book. Many of the events presented here have multiple interpretations.

Supported by

General Credits

Selection Most Beautiful Photo Book De Volkskrant 2012, Nominee Canon Prize at Zilveren Camera 2012, Longlist Dutch Doc Award 2012

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