Offside – Football in Exile

Photographers : Dirk-Jan Visser & Arthur Huizinga

Location : Bibliothèque publique de Chicoutimi

Dirk-Jan Visser (1978) is an independent documentary photographer based in Rotterdam, 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 photo book Zimbabwe Exodus. In 2009 he participated in the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass.

Arthur Huizinga (1980) is a freelance journalist and writer living in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Since 2008 he has been a regular guest at FK Qaraba A dam, researching its remarkable story and general refugee-issues in the South Caucasus, which led to several publications in among others De Groene Amsterdammer, NRC Handelsbladand NRC Next. Right now he’s finishing a non-fiction novel on FK Qaraba A dam, has been published by Uitgeverij Prometheus in the course of 2011.

The geopolitical conflict in the Nagorno Karabakh region is a forgotten one. Even as the war raged on from 1991-1994, it received little attention from the West. Today, the unresolved yet frozen conflict remains a reality for up to hundreds of thousands Azerbaijani and Armenian refugees

FK Qaraba A dam is an Azerbaijani football club currently based in the capital Baku. During the war with Armenian separatists over Nagorno Karabakh, the Imaret stadium in downtown A dam remained packed for home matches. In 1993, Karabakh-Armenian forces occupied and destroyed A dam 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 (Netherlands).

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: 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 Qaraba A dam. The project will be developed into a book and a travelling exhibition which is being presented at the Saguenay Zoom Photo Festival.

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