The first football match in the Karabakh (Garabagh) region after a nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation was held on Thursday, with President Ilham Aliyev attending the pre-match opening ceremony.
The 1/8 round game of the Azerbaijan Cup between FK Qarabağ and the Central Army Sports Club (MOIK) took place at the reconstructed stadium in the city of Khankendi.
Before the match, President Aliyev congratulated the people of Azerbaijan on the historic return of football to Karabakh after the end of Armenia’s occupation of the region.
“Organizing this football match in Khankendi holds great significance,” the president noted.
“Khankendi, an ancient region of Azerbaijan, was founded by Karabakh Khan, and subsequently developed into a major city by Azerbaijani architects and builders, funded by the Republic of Azerbaijan. Regrettably, for three decades, separatists established a stronghold in this city, turning it into a symbol of separatism,” he added.
According to him, Armenia aspired to perpetuate the occupation of Azerbaijani lands, but underestimated the strength of the Azerbaijani army. The president emphasized that the Azerbaijan Army had shown, both to their adversaries and the global audience, that the historic and ancient land rightfully belonged to the people of Azerbaijan.
Referring to the game, President Aliyev pointed out that, irrespective of the match’s outcome, the genuine winners on Thursday were the people and the state of Azerbaijan.
“From now on, the flag of Azerbaijan will forever fly above these lands. We, Azerbaijanis, will forever live here! Long live Karabakh! Long live our glorious army! Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” he concluded.
FK Qarabağ won the game 1-0 in Khankendi to make it through to the 1/4 round of the Azerbaijan Cup. The only goal was scored by 19-year-old striker Nariman Akhundzade in the 95th minute.
Football returned to the Karabakh region after Azerbaijan restored its sovereignty over the entire region in September 2023. On September 19-20, the Azerbaijan Armed Forces conducted a one-day anti-terror operation in the Karabakh region to neutralize illegal Armenian armed formations and their military infrastructure. The illegal Armenian separatist regime announced its self-dissolution on September 28.
On October 15, President Ilham Aliyev hoisted the state flag of Azerbaijan in Khankendi, symbolizing the city’s liberation after more than three decades of illegal Armenian occupation. In October, the government of Azerbaijan initiated the renovation of Khankendi City Stadium. Seats colored in the so-called flag of the separatists have been replaced with new ones. The stadium’s artificial grass and dressing rooms have been renewed.
The 15,000-seat Khankendi City Stadium was inaugurated in 1956 and was initially named after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. In 1991, it was officially registered as “Khankendi City Stadium.” However, during the occupation of the Karabakh region by Armenia, the sports venue was unlawfully named “Stepanakert Stadium” by the illegal Armenian separatist regime in Azerbaijani territory.
The stadium may host another match of the Azerbaijan Cup in June. The final game of the tournament could be held in Khankendi should the responsible authorities adopt a relevant decision.