Even though Qarabag FC's qualification for the UEFA Champions League is impressive on its own, the five-time champions of Azerbaijan have a deeper story than their improbable European exploits, reads an article of The Daily of the University of Washington.
Author Andy Yamashita has revealed the sad story of Azerbaijan's Qarabag FC, one of the few refugee clubs in the world, which hasn’t played on its home ground in Aghdam since June 1993.
The article reads that Qarabag FC, or the Horsemen, as they are called by their fans, was founded in 1951 and was an original member of Azerbaijan's Premyer Liqa in 1992. The club was formed in the small town of Aghdam, located in the southeastern corner of Azerbaijan.
When Armenia and Azerbaijan gained their independence from the collapsing USSR in 1991, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began agitating for independence from Azerbaijan or unification with Armenia. Thus, the conflict erupted between Armenian-backed separatists and Azerbaijanis, the author said, noting that tensions still run high in the area.
During the war, Qarabag FC frequently played through bombings and their stadium was attacked on multiple occasions, although no one was ever hurt, adds the author.
"Aghdam was evacuated and occupied by separatist forces on June 23, 1993, a mere ten days before Qarabag won its first ever league championship. It was little compensation for the loss of their homes and destruction of its city," reads the article.
To this day, Aghdam remains a desolate ghost town, stressed the author.
"After relocating to the capital of Baku, Qarabag FC emerged twenty years later as a powerhouse in its league, winning the last four Premyer Liqa titles. However, it was the qualification of the Horsemen to the Champions League that cemented their place in soccer history," according to the author.
Further reminding about the Champions League group stage games of Qarabag FC, the author notes that Qarabag FC is unlikely will make it out of the group, but it has shown that it is capable of playing with some of the top competition in Europe.
"This team with no home also shines as a beacon of hope to the people of Aghdam, who see them as the last remnant of their beloved city. Additionally, the ability for their team to travel to the capitals of England, Spain, and Italy has generated international interest in understanding the suffering felt by those affected by the war.
A Qarabag fan stated this momentous achievement for the club and the country perfectly before the game against Chelsea: “Even if we lose, we have already won.”
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a result of the ensuing war, in 1992 Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
The 1994 ceasefire agreement was followed by peace negotiations. Armenia has not yet implemented four UN Security Council resolutions on withdrawal of its armed forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts.
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