Football in Exile
Arthur Huizinga, Dirk-Jan Visser
The geopolitical conflict in the Nagorno Karabakh region is a forgotten one. Even as the war raged between 1991-1994, it received little attention from the West. Today, the unresolved yet frozen conflict remains a reality for several hundred thousands of Azerbaijani as well as 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. 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, 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. 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 Qarabağ Ağdam. The project will be developed into a book and a travelling exhibition.
Dirk-Jan Visser (1978) is an independent documentary photographer. In 2005 he published Brave New Kosovo, about a region on the brink of transformation. He was named Dutch Photojournalist of the Year 2007 and received Special Recognition in the POYi World Understanding category for his photo book Zimbabwe Exodus. Arthur Huizinga (1980) is a freelance journalist and writer. His work on the South Caucasus has appeared in a number of publications, including De Groene Amsterdammer and NRC Handelsblad. His non-fiction novel Nooit een thuiswedstrijd – Een voetbaloorlog in de Kaukasus (Never a home game – A football war in the Caucasus) about FK Qarabağ Ağdam will be published by Uitgeverij Prometheus in May 2012.
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.
Editor(s):Dirk-Jan Visser, Arthur Huizinga, Bas VroegeText(s):Arthur HuizingaPhotography:Dirk-Jan VisserDesign:Kummer & Herrman
Printing:Platform B, RotterdamEdition:1stPublisher(s):Ydoc / Paradox