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Azerbaijan holds football match in Nagorno-Karabakh

22 December 2023
President Ilham Aliyev started the match at a half-empty stadium in Stepanakert. Photo: Azertac.

Azerbaijan has held a football match in the deserted city of Stepanakert, known as Khankendi in Azerbaijani, in an event attended by President Ilham Aliyev.

Thursday’s Azerbaijan Cup match between Qarabağ FK and MOIK Baku ended in a 1:0 victory for Qarabağ. Qarabağ FK originates from Aghdam, which fell under the control of Nagorno-Karabakh during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War until control was handed over following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. MOIK stands for the Central Sports Club of the Army. 

Before kickoff, President Aliyev addressed the crowd, speaking about reconstruction works carried out in the city. He also said that the reconstruction of a stadium in the city of Aghdam would begin in a few months. The city was completely levelled during and in the aftermath of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War with its ethnic-Azerbaijani population fleeing.

He noted that in 2019, Pashinyan proclaimed that ‘Karabakh is Armenia’.

‘We proved to them that Karabakh is Azerbaijan’, he said, before listing a series of settlements Azerbaijan took control of during the Second Nagorno-Karabkh War and earlier this year.

‘Holding this football match in Khankendi holds a great meaning’, he said, before laying claim to the city. ‘Khankendi is an ancient land of Azerbaijan. Karabakh Khan laid the foundation of this village, and after that, Azerbaijani architects and builders created a big city at the expense of Azerbaijan’s funds’, Aliyev added.

Thursday’s match was held in the centre of a deserted city, with fans bussed in for the event from Baku.

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The city’s residents fled along with practically the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh following Azerbaijan’s attack and takeover of the region in September.

[Read on OC Media: The last bus out of Nagorno-Karabakh]

Marut Vanyan, a journalist from Nagorno-Karabakh now based in Armenia, wrote on X that he was watching Thursday’s match.

‘My 15-year-old nephew and his friends participated in football training at this stadium. So, they were expelled from here three months ago so that today, the Azerbaijani “Karabakh” and “MOIK” [teams] can play.’

Read in Georgian on On.ge.