• © Dirk-Jan Visser

Dirk-Jan Visser - OFFSIDE - Football in Exile

On football, conflict and identity in Nagorno-Karabakh

Photographer Dirk-Jan Visser reveals the human tragedy of a country torn apart by war from the perspective of two football teams. The two teams FK Qarabag Agdam and FK Karabakh Stepanakert symbolize the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the Caucasus. With the aid of Armenia, in 1994 the region broke away from Azerbaijan, but to date is not recognized as an independent state by any country. For three years Dirk-Jan Visser and writer Arthur Huizinga followed six people who are central to the exhibition and accompanying photo book. Their lives are exemplary for the daily lives of players and coaches, fighters and refugees, wives and widows. 

FK Qarabag Agdam

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.

FK Karabakh Stepanakert 

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. 

Armed Peace 

The geopolitical conflict in the Nagorno Karabakh region in the South Caucasus 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 up to 600,000 Azerbaijani refugees as well as some 20,000 Armenians. The ‘armed peace’ in Nagorno Karabakh is the greatest threat to stability in this part of the world and potentially beyond, especially now economic interests and disparities in the region have increased tremendously in recent years.

OFFSIDE project

To accompany the exhibition Paradox / Ydoc Publishing is bringing out a photo book with the same title, OFFSIDE - Football in Exile by photographer Dirk-Jan Visser and writer Arthur Huizinga. Moreover, Uitgeverij Prometheus will publish Nooit een thuiswedstrijd – Een voetbaloorlog in de Kaukasus (Never a home game – A football war in the Caucasus), the non-fiction debut by Arthur Huizinga, about FK Qarabag Agdam. 

Pre-sale offer: €39,50, first 100 books are signed and numbered. Order now!>>

The OFFSIDE project is developed by Paradox and supported by Mondriaan FondsStichting Sem Presser Archief and the European Cultural Fund.