Sunday, November 8, 2020

Nobody thought that this was our last game in our hometown and stadium

Nobody thought that this was our last game in our hometown and stadium

Who am I?

In our hometown and stadium

I'm the football team from Ağdam (Aghdam), which took second place in the Azerbaijan SSR league in 1969 and was named Qarabağ (Karabakh) in honour of the region (including Nagorno-Karabakh) it represents.

The team that has changed its name several times, and finally, after serious efforts, was renamed Qarabağ in 1988. During the Soviet era, Khankendi team, whose team was mainly made up of Armenians, was also called Qarabağ. The Soviet KGB did not want the Azerbaijani team to play under the same name...

My name is Qarabağ Ağdam FK, which has had the status of a "refugee team" since 1993.

In 2017, the popular German Kicker magazine names the article about our participation in the UEFA Champions League as "Heroes without homeland".

Who am I?

I'm Jamaladdin, Yashar, Sattar, Elshad, Mammad, Tabriz, Zaur, Mehman, other Elshad, Mushfig, Aslan and Elfariz.

I'm the player who played the last match on May 12, 1993 at the unforgettable Imarat Stadium in Ağdam.

That game against Turan Tovuz was the first match of the semifinal stage of the 1993 Azerbaijan Cup.

***

1993. The war with Armenians was intensified in Qarabağ region.

It is dangerous to train, to prepare for the matches in Ağdam, the city is under missile attack every day.

It is difficult and honorable to bear the name Qarabağ in these painful days.

We have been living in Mingachevir, another Azerbaijan city for about a year.

The distance from there to Ağdam is a little more than 100 km.

During football days, we come to Imarat Stadium and play.

AFFA does not force us, it is the will of the club's management and players.

The enemy is trying to break our spirit.

But let them see that Ağdam is alive.

Realizing the importance of the match against Turan Tovuz for us at the Azerbaijan Cup, we arrived in Ağdam a day earlier.

Even before our arrival, the city had fired missiles.

We are already accustomed to such events.

We spent the night at the hotel.

Every minute, every moment is dangerous.

We have taken the risk.

***

Today is Wednesday.

As we say there is football weather.

We are in purple shirts and Turan Tovuz in blue.

Our eyes are on the fans.

Although most of the populations of Ağdam have moved to safe areas, according to the referee's report, there are 8,000 fans - civilians and military.

That inspires us a lot.

Our main goal is to reach the final, win the trophy and make them happy.

...After the collapse of the USSR in the end of 1991, the political and military situation in and around Nagorno-Karabakh became even tenser.

After the Khojaly Genocide in February 1992, the situation became even more difficult.

Armenians were already firing missiles at Ağdam.

The first season of the national league of independent Azerbaijan was held in 1992.

At that time, participation of the Qarabağ FK in the league was in question.

Even at the first training camp, there was no squad of 11 players to be formed.

With the help of sponsors, it was possible to assemble the team.

Even Mushfig Huseynov, who played for the Smena-Saturn of St. Petersburg in early 1992, returned from Russia...

By the way, Ağdam champagne factory and the winery of the region support the team financially at the difficult period.

We also get our salaries and bonuses on time.

***

The match begins.

Our key players are in the squad.

Only forward Mahir Aliyev is not playing due to injury...

We wonder if they will not fire a missile.

The referee of the match is Rustam Rahimov, a pupil of the legendary Tofik Bakhramov. Three times during the Soviet era, he was included in the list of "10 best referees of the year".

Rustam Rahimov writes in "This is my destiny", his autobiographical book: "Imarat - I feel bad when I think of the stadium in Ağdam. I was lucky to manage the last match of Qarabağ FK at that stadium. As part of this event, I also walked around the city. At that moment it never occurred to me that this was my last meeting with Ağdam. In those years, the situation here was very complicated. Armenian militants regularly fired on Ağdam. The "Grad" shells fell not far from the stadium or even to the stadium itself..."

...Let's go back to 1992.

On May 16, we had to play against Kapaz Ganja.

Then Agdam was shelled so much that the match was postponed.

We played against Kapaz Ganja on June 24, in Ağdam.

We cried when Allahverdi Bagirov, a former player and coach of Qarabağ FK, died in the battle.

In the same game against Kapaz Ganja before the start whistle while we were commemorating his soul with a moment of silence they threw "Grad".

The shell hit near the stadium.

But none of the players moved...

...Before 1992, we sometimes went to Shusha to have a rest after the games.

The peaks of Shusha mountains are covered with fog... (These words are from Azerbaijani patriotic folk song about Shusha)

Ah, Shusha...

By the way, we had a player Rizvan Valiyev from Shusha.

He had just joined the team and was training.

When he was returning to Shusha in January 1992, a helicopter carrying civilians was shot down by enemies, and he was killed.

***

The match takes place in an interesting and intense sports environment.

The fact that our opponent, like us, is among the leaders of the league shows their strength.

Earlier, Turan Tovuz took the 3rd place and Qarabağ FK the 4th place in the first season of the league in 1992.

Before the match against Turan Tovuz, we met with Khazar Sumgayit in Ağdam.

During the match, a "Grad" shell fell about fifty meters from the stadium and opposing players ran away and hid under an old plane tree.

Then we continued the match after a short break.

Thankfully, all the opponents are coming; no one refuses to play in Ağdam.

The militaries who come to our matches also jokingly tell our opponents not to be afraid, to play and that they agreed with the enemy and they wouldn't fire during football...

Once a shell hit the field before our home match.

Thankfully, the stadium staff quickly restored the pitch.

Yashar Huseynov, Sattar Aliyev, Mammad Mammadov, Elshad Khudadatov, Mushfig Huseynov, Vugar Jafarov, Zakir Mehraliyev are originally from Ağdam from our squad of 1993.

When the matches end, we are quickly going back to home to see if something has happened.

The houses of Sattar Aliyev and Elshad Khudadatov are in disrepair.

Yashar Huseynov built a new house for himself; he could not stay there for a day…

One of the "Grad" shells fired at Ağdam hit the house of our teammate Vugar Jafarov, nicknamed "Jiguli".

His parents died.

But he does not play against Turan Tovuz.

***

It is a break in the match against Turan Tovuz.

By the way, during the break of the match against Inshaatchi Baku, a missile fired landed near the stadium.

Although it was normal for us, but the opponent players were worried.

We encouraged and explained that every home match is like this.

The break lasted more than 15 minutes.

But we continued the match.

As soon as the match ended, the opponent players left Ağdam by bus, without even taking a shower.

...Let's go back to the Soviet era.

Andrei Kanchelskis, who played for Manchester United, Everton, Fiorentina and Rangers, could have his military service in the Soviet-era in the Nagorno-Karabakh.

He told Novaya Gazeta: "An officer and an ensign came to me at the famous suburban base of Dynamo Kyiv in Koncha-Zaspa: "Conscript Kanchelskis, get ready, let's go." They took me to the military unit. After two months of military training, I thought I could say goodbye to football. Moreover, at the height of the war, they announced that we were going to Nagorno-Karabakh and gave us all the necessary uniforms, including helmets, armor and special iron guards for the knees.

I was saved by the legendary Valery Lobanovsky. At that time he was not in Ukraine, in the Soviet Union in general, and his assistants were not given access to the necessary generals. When Lobanovsky returned, I was pulled out of the swamp."

***

We wonder if they'll drop the bomb.

The match continues with our advantage.

The next attack...

After passing from the right wing to the penalty area of opponents the ball returning from the defender was scored a goal with a powerful shot by our playmaker Yashar Huseynov.

Goal!

Thus, we are ahead in the score.

You can't imagine how happy the spectators are…

Years later, Yashar will say: "I would not want this to be the last goal in Imarat stadium."

Eh, Imarat...

German Huseynov writes in his book "Azizbeyov Street, 57": "The history of the Imarat dates back to the end of the XVIII century. Khurshidbanu Natavan used to live here. One of the racetracks of the Qarabağ khans was also located here. Later, the central stadium of Ağdam was built on the site of the racecourse. Everyone called the stadium "Imarat". The family grave of Qarabağ khans is located in a part of the large territory of the Imarat. There were graves of Panahali khan, Mehdigulu khan, Sarjali khan, Mehrali bey, Natavan, her children and other family members. Research has confirmed that the history of this cemetery is much older. Tombstones with Caucasian Albanian inscriptions and signs were found here."

In the late 1980's, the organization of the Khari-bulbul international music festival introduced Ağdam and Imarat also to the world...

Vahid Gazi writes in his book "City of Ghosts": "60 ensembles from all over the world came to the festival in 1989. The most interesting were the Mexicans. The kids thought they were Brazilians and called them Zico's compatriots."

The stadium has a very beautiful view.

The four sides are surrounded by khan plane trees, 30-40 meters high and several centuries old.

The shade of the trees falls directly on the field.

The same good words can be said about the grass cover.

It's like a carpet.

Words cannot describe the atmosphere at the stadium.

When the opposing team arrives in Ağdam, it is as if they fall behind in score.

When we appear on the pitch, we feel 1-0 ahead.

Back in 1988, the stadium officially had a capacity of 1,540 spectators, but 3-4 times more people came to the games.

The book "Good luck, Qarabağ", published in 1991, contains the following information: "Every game of the team is attended by 100-120 fans from the village of Khidirli."

Can you imagine, from one village...

In 1989, a three-storeyed base was built for us near the stadium.

The number of seats at the stands was also increased.

***

Turan Tovuz does not want to lose.

We also intend to score more goals.

But the attacks do not work.

Mammad Mammadov, who entered the pitch at the 75th minute in our team and Rufat Guliyev and Vali Huseynov from opponent, received yellow cards.

Someone could ask why we footballers don't go fight for our homeland.

...We were also ready to fight in the war.

We appealed to National Hero "Fred Asif", who settled at the base in the stadium with his battalion, to join the militaries.

He did not agree.

"If I knew that we would win the war with 18 players, we would take you all. Now we need you more on the pitch than in the trenches. At least the soldiers, who come back out of the posts, watch your game and rest for an hour and a half. You also fight for Ağdam and Qarabağ. You do a great job playing football under "Grad" attacks."

The late Allahverdi Bagirov also said these words.

Yes, we are trying to prove through football that Qarabağ has always been the land of Azerbaijan.

***

Despite our efforts, the score does not change until the final whistle of the referee.

We won.

Qarabağ FK - Turan Tovuz 1-0.

The fans say goodbye to us with applause.

We must leave Ağdam.

We return to Mingachevir again.

Nobody could think that this was our last game in our hometown and stadium.

We thought we would win the trophy and bring it to Ağdam.

There is no luck.

It was so hard to remember.

Whoever said it well said: "After leaving Imarat, Qarabağ FK does not play a home match, it always plays away."

After May 12, we play one of our remaining home matches in Mingachevir and then there both home matches do not take place due to the non-arrival of opponents and we win technical victories.

On July 23, 1993, Ağdam was occupied by the Armenian army.

Despite all the difficulties, we win both the Azerbaijan Cup and the league competition

But the first champion title is not a joy, but a consolation.

How to rejoice without Ağdam, which was occupied only a few days ago?

If it had not been for the refugee period, Qarabağ FK would probably have been champions for ten years in a row.

We had a very strong team.

The majority of the squad was a candidate for the Azerbaijan national team: goalkeepers Jamaladdin and Namig, defenders Elshad, Zaur and Aslan, midfielders Mehman and Tabriz, forwards Mushfig and Mahir...

Our captain Sattar Aliyev says in an interview: "I wish to participate with my team in the European Cups in Ağdam."

But since Azerbaijan was not a member of UEFA in 1993, we cannot participate in the European Cups.

There are many difficult years ahead without a hometown.

But that is another story.

***

Who am I?

Let me introduce myself.

Aslan Karimov, who played 79 matches for the Azerbaijan national team in 1994-2008 and then became an assistant of the national team's head coach Berti Vogts.

Zaur Garayev, Elshad Ahmadov, Tabriz Hasanov, Jamaladdin Aliyev, who wore the national team uniform for several games in 1992-1995, as well as Mushfig Huseynov, who is now the assistant coach of Qarabağ FK.

Elshad Khudadatov, who won the Soviet Union "Cup of Hope" with the Azerbaijan youth national team in 1982.

Mammad Mammadov, who is the only player from that team currently living abroad (Ukraine).

Captain Sattar Aliyev nicknamed "Englishman", Yashar Huseynov, Mehman Alishanov, and Elfariz Isayev...

I'm a football veteran living with the hope again to play in the Imarat, which was destroyed and turned into ruins during the occupation and which will be rebuilt in the near future.

by Rasim Movsumzadeh

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