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UEFA Suspends Football Competitions in Armenia & Azerbaijan

By Timucin Turksoy October 22, 2020

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Qarabağ FC is the only representative of Azerbaijan in UEFA tournaments / Murad Orujov / Sputnik Azerbaijan

UEFA disallowed Armenia and Azerbaijan to host football (soccer) competitions in their territories due to the unceasing military clashes between the two nations in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. European football's governing body has temporarily suspended the home games in both countries in a decision announced on October 20.

"Considering the tense security situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the UEFA Executive Committee decided today that UEFA club and national team competition matches will not take place in Armenia and Azerbaijan until further notice," reads a statement published on the organization's website.

"After having carefully monitored the evolution of the situation which broke out late September - which has already led to the relocation of a UEFA Europa League play-off and two UEFA Nations League matches to neutral venues - UEFA is of the opinion that, at the present time, the conditions to stage UEFA matches in these countries are not met."

UEFA will ask the Football Federation of Armenia and the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan, including their respective clubs, to submit alternative venues for their next UEFA competition home games.

The ongoing hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan broke out on September 27 after Armenia's forces shelled heavily Azerbaijan's military positions and civilian settlements. The non-stop artillery attacks prompted counter-offensive measures by the Azerbaijani army to push back the enemy. Intensive deployment of military material by both sides amidst the escalating tensions led to full-scale clashes.

Armenia has regularly targeted civilian settlements, including hospitals, schools, residential buildings, a police station, a cotton plant, a hydropower station, and energy pipelines in multiple cities of Azerbaijan. Armenia's forces killed 63 civilians and wounded 292, while destroyed and damaged around 2,000 houses, 90 multi-apartment residential buildings, and 386 civil facilities as of October 21.

UEFA said the situation in the region will be monitored and the recent prohibition does not address ongoing planning for taking in suspended UEFA EURO 2020 matches in Baku in June next year. Three group-stage games featuring Switzerland, Turkey and Wales, and a quarterfinal match will be played in Baku's 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in June and July respectively. Azerbaijan is one of 12 host nations for the major European football tournament that was postponed to 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

UEFA's decision will affect the home game of Azerbaijan's Qarabağ football club against Spanish Villarreal in the Europa League on October 29. Moreover, the national teams of both Azerbaijan and Armenia will have to find neutral venues for their UEFA Nations League home games with Montenegro and Georgia respectively in November.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-old conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan but occupied by Armenia. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. One million ethnic Azerbaijanis were forcibly displaced from these areas and 30,000 were killed.

Despite four UN resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied lands and the return of internally-displaced Azerbaijanis to their native lands, Armenia has refused to pull its forces out of the occupied territories.