The Imarat Stadium of Azerbaijan's Qarabağ FK football club in the district of Aghdam played host to the last football game 27 years ago, before the city was occupied and the stadium was razed to the ground by Armenia's forces in 1993. Aghdam's liberation from the occupation breathed new life into the war-torn "ghost stadium" as players of Qarabağ FK were back on their home turf after decades of separation.
The management board and players of the defending Azerbaijani champions visited the ruins of Imarat Stadium on November 28, a week after Azerbaijan regained full control over Aghdam, Caspian News writes in the article Qarabağ FK Visits War-Torn Home Turf In Liberated Aghdam. The stadium, which has once staged emotion-packed matches of Qarabağ FK, has briefly returned to good old days with the footballers playing a symbolic match on the grayish pitch still bearing the scars of war.
"We are home!" Qarabağ FK posted a photo from the Imarat Stadium on its official Facebook page.
The club held home games in Imarat until Armenia's forces occupied a significant part of the Aghdam district, including the stadium's area on July 23 in 1993. The player-manager of the club, Allahverdi Baghirov was martyred and the Imarat Stadium was bombed by the Armenian army during the invasion. Until now, Qarabağ FK has been receiving its rivals in the stadiums of capital Baku, including the Tofig Bahramov Stadium and the Baku Olympic Stadium.
The history of the Imarat Stadium dates back to the khanates period in Azerbaijan's Karabakh region in the 17th century. One of the horse racing tracks of Karabakh khans has also been built there and was later transformed into a stadium, which was called Imarat by the local population. Imarat (originally "imarət") means "mansion" in English.
The occupied parts of Aghdam, including the Imarat Stadium, were razed to the ground by the forces of Armenia in the wake of heavy artillery attacks on the area in 1993 and subsequent Armenian vandalism during the 27-year-long occupation. Ethnic Azerbaijanis were forcibly expelled from their home in 1993. The territory currently resembles a real "ghost town" after nearly three-decades of its occupation by Armenia's forces. In video footage gone viral on YouTube, Imarat is seen to lay in ruins with no single building of the sports complex surviving Armenian armed attacks and vandalism.
Azerbaijani forces entered the occupied areas of Aghdam on November 20 following the withdrawal of Armenia's forces under the tripartite ceasefire statement signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 9. The document obliged Armenia to return occupied parts of Aghdam, as well as the Kalbajar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan. Kalbajar has been returned along with Aghdam's seized parts, while the liberation of Lachin was carried out on December 1.
"We are looking forward to playing the first game in Aghdam," Qarabağ FK manager Gurban Gurbanov said.