With CONIFA announcing Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) as hosts of the 2019 European Football Cup, we take a look at what football in the region has to offer ahead of next summer’s competition.
We caught up with Artsakh FA Chief Executive and Artsakh Football League deputy chief Mher Avanesyan and put some questions to him… read on to find out more!
What does football mean to the local people of Artsakh?
“Starting a conversation about football in the Artsakh Republic, it’s necessary to return to the middle of the last century. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, after the Second World War, football was revived in the region, along with a number of other sports. The ‘Karabakh’ team was organised that, up until the 1990s, participated in various subgroups and divisions of the USSR football championships.
“The team was so successful in 1977 it became the champion of Azerbaijan, and in 1979, it took an honorable 3rd place in the II League of the USSR football championships.
“After the end of the recent conflict, football was revived again, but the teams can’t play abroad because of the status of Artsakh. Teams do play friendly matches both in Artsakh and beyond. Everything shows that football in Artsakh has deep roots and it is the number one sport here.”
How will the local people react to hosting the European Football Cup?
“Holding the CONIFA European Football Cup in Artsakh should cause a healthy interest among football fans. After all, this will be the first championship of international importance that will be held in Artsakh. It will be good to see other players from other countries playing here.
“Thus, we must do everything to ensure that the competition is held at a high level, using the traditions of hospitality of the Karabakh people. In addition, this championship, like any other international competition held in the territory of Artsakh, is another step towards international recognition. Considering all of the above, we are sure that the population of Artsakh will react positively to the holding of the CONIFA EFC in 2019 in Artsakh.”
We understand there is already a football league in Artsakh. Can you explain a bit more about that?
“Football in Artsakh began to actively develop in the middle of the last century. In the mid-1990s, after gaining independence, the NKR Football Federation was organised, which included the-then existing football teams.
“Since October 2017, the Artsakh Republic Football League was created, and in May 2018, the Artsakh Football League (AFL) public organisation was officially registered, which currently unites the two teams of Stepanakert, as well as teams in the cities of Shoushi, Askeran, Martakert, Martuni and Chartar, as well as a team from the village of Vank.
“The AFL aims to develop football in all areas of the Republic of Artsakh and to hold regular championships with a constant increase in the number of participants. In the future, it is hoped to organise football clubs on the basis of these existing teams, in which teams across various age groups will be involved.”
Is the league of a competitive standard?
“Currently, of the eight teams that are united in the AFL, the best are L. Artsah from Stepanakert, and Berd from Askeran. We’ll be able to identify our best players once this year’s league championship has been held!”
What can people travelling to Artsakh next summer for the CONIFA European Football Cup expect?
“It’s so important to note the hospitality of the Artsakh people. The organisers will have to do everything so that participants and visitors feel the warmth of Artsakh people.
It’s known that Artsakh has a large number of historical and cultural monuments and museums. We want visitors and players alike to get to know the sights of the region. Basically, we want people to come away from Artsakh with a good impression!”
Artsakh are currently attempting to get UEFA recognition, so how will CONIFA strengthen the dream of being a UEFA-recognised country, and what will that mean to Artsakh if the bid to join is successful?
“As already noted, the football team of Nagorno-Karabakh in Soviet times participated in the championships of USSR football, which were held under the auspices of UEFA. After gaining independence and gaining the status of an ‘unrecognised’ state, Karabakh football was deprived of the opportunity to hold games outside of the region, which led to a decrease in the level of football development and the interest of fans.
“In this regard, in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the leading state bodies of Artsakh applied to UEFA with the request to grant at least the status of a temporary member to participate in and host official games, but this request was denied.
“After the organisation of the CONIFA championship in Artsakh, work was carried out to join CONIFA. By becoming a member, Artsakh had the opportunity to participate in international football championships among unrecognised states, which is a chance to increase the level of development of football in Artsakh. Active participation and the holding of the CONIFA European Football cup here, we hope, will accelerate the opportunity to become a member of UEFA.
“Membership of UEFA will enable football in Artsakh to rise to a higher level and help improve the basic infrastructure of football here. New football fields and mini-fields will appear, fan clubs will be developed. Talented footballers will have the opportunity to play for bigger football clubs.”
And finally, what will the atmosphere be like during the European Football Cup 2019?
“We really hope there will be a good sporting spirit and mood from all the fans in the region. We want there to be a spirit of understanding and for everyone to build good relations. After all, even in ancient times, during major sporting competitions, all wars were suspended. Sport has always been and remains a means of communication for people from all over the planet.”