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The Power of Sport
Beirut, Lebanon
By b.yaacoub
10 Jul 2015

In a world where differences and divisions often drive people apart, sport brings people together. Sport overcomes cultural, social, and political barriers, providing an opportunity for dialogue and positive human interaction.

Transterra Media has the world of sports covered, from the fighting Cholitas of Bolivia, to the female boxers of Calcutta, and more.

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Armenia and Azerbaijan Face-off at 20...
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

ONLY FOR PRINTED PUBLICATIONS / ARTICLE WRITTEN ON DEMAND

WIDER EDIT AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

SOUND AND RECORDINGS AVAILABLE TOO

PHOTOS: Jacob Balzani Lööv WORDS: Andrew Connelly

The inaugural European Games opened in the Azerbaijani capital Baku on the 12th June, 2015. A continent-wide sporting extravaganza costing an estimated $10bn featuring 6,000 athletes from over 50 different countries. As is so often said, sport is above politics. But for one national team competing in Baku, that could hardly be further than the truth.

In 1991, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into full-scale war. The mountainous lands where Muslim Azeris and Christian Armenians used to live together in relative harmony, had become a source of dispute thanks in large part to divide and rule strategies by the Russian, and then Soviet, empires. When fighting finally subsided in 1994 following a Russian-brokered ceasefire, over 100,000 had been killed and Karabakh became de-facto state administered by Armenia but not officially recognised by any countries in the world. Azerbaijan lost 20% of its territory, including land outside of the Nagorno-Karabakh hotspot, which is internationally recognised as occupied Azeri territory.

Although Armenians and Azeris meet peacefully around the world, they are practically banned from each other’s countries and the level of mutual hostility is comparable to Israel-Palestine. The European Games in Baku is the biggest sporting event ever hosted in the South Caucasus and for both sides, there is huge pressure for their athletes to better the opposing team. For the Azeris, it means a victory over the ‘occupiers’ to whom they lost the war, for Armenians, the chance to raise their flag and sing their anthem in the enemy capital has incredible symbolic power. So much for the Olympic truce.

Meanwhile, despite a ceasefire in place, villagers living on both sides of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border live in the shadow of sniper positions, and endure regular exchanges of fire. Far away from the capitals of Yerevan and Baku, people here speak respectfully of their brothers on the other side and express their frustration that their governments prolong and provoke endless conflict.

In a little-known region, a forgotten conflict divides peoples that in living memory were neighbours and friends. With no direct dialogue between the warring states and no progress by international institutions, many people ominously warn of a renewed conflict which could devastate the region and catch the world by surprise.

As the athletes face each other in Baku, (ironically both sides excel in fighting sports such as boxing and wrestling), the mantra of sport as an apolitical tool for peace risks being overshadowed by raw geopolitics, and an opportunity for nationalism and chauvinism to be exhibited, in a region which can ill afford more.

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Armenians in Baku Games 07
Berkeber, Armenia
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Daily life in the armenian village of Berkeber. The other side of the lake is Azerbaijan and there are regular shootings beetween the military positions on both sides but often targeting also the villages.

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Armenians in Baku Games 19
Sumgait, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

The final torchbearer of the European Games Ilham Zakiyev portrayed in Sumgait. Ilham Zakiyev was a soldier on the frontline before he was shot in the head by an Armenian sniper and blinded. He is now a world champion blackbelt Paralympic judoku. "My partecipation was a secret until the last hour, I know I was chosen to be a scream to the world to remind that 20% of our land is occupied by Armenians"

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Armenians in Baku Games 20
Sumgait, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Training on the seafront in Sumgait. Sumgait was the teatre in 1988 of the first post-soviet etnic conflicts between armenians and Azerbaijanis.

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Armenians in Baku Games 21
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

The trainer of Armenia during a match of Sambo.

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Armenians in Baku Games 22
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Reaction of the public to the elimination of Armenia during a wrestling match. Armenian athletes get a hostile reception from the Azerbaijani audience at the European Games in Baku.

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Armenians in Baku Games 23
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
25 Jun 2015

Greco-Roman wrestlers Roman Amuyan from Armenia and Elman Mukhtarov from Azerbaijan square off in the Heydar Aliyev Sports Centre.

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Armenians in Baku Games 24
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
14 Jun 2015

Armenian Greco-Roman wrestler Mirhan Harutyunyan takes a silver medal, while his opponent Hasan Aliyev from Azerbaijan took bronze. Russian gold-medal winner Artem Surkov brings the athletes together on the podium.

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Armenians in Baku Games 18
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
12 Jun 2015

The elaborate opening ceremony of the European Games in Baku. A gigantic pomegranate opens up to release a flurry of heart-shaped balloons. The fruit is abundant in both Azerbaijan and Armenia and both countries consider it a national symbol.

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Armenians in Baku Games 17
Baku, Azerbaijan
By lordcob
11 Jun 2015

Azerbaijani team dancing in the Olympic Village in Baku. It has been speculated that the Azerbaijani government spent up to $10bn in preparation to host the European Games. Of more concern for Armenia is Azerbaijan’s dramatic increase in their military budget up to almost $5bn, more than Armenia’s entire domestic budget. Baku has consistently promised to use military force to regain captured territory if peace talks fail.

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Armenians in Baku Games 06
Chinari, Armenia
By lordcob
02 Jun 2015

A villager in the town of Chinari in northwestern Armenia, shows the bullets found in his own garden. In the mountains above, Azeri and Armenian sniper positions stare at each other. Violations of the 1994 ceasefire are frequent not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also along the main border between the two countries. Most of the casualties are soldiers but villagers are often targeted and have lived in an atmosphere of tension for over twenty years.

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Armenians in Baku Games 16
Berd, Armenia
By lordcob
02 Jun 2015

A signpost in Armenia points to the road leading to Azerbaijan, a relic from a time when the countries were at peace.

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Armenians in Baku Games 03
Voskevan, Armenia
By lordcob
01 Jun 2015

Armenian children walk to the football ground in the village of Voskevan on the Azerbaijan border. The ground is in the shadow of sniper positions and the children have to consult with their parents, or the military, to play at times when there is calm on the frontline.

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Armenians in Baku Games 15
Koti, Armenia
By lordcob
01 Jun 2015

A Taekwondo class in the village of Koti, a village in the northeastern Tavush province of Armenia where some buildings bear the bullet holes of recent sniper fire.

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Armenians in Baku Games 12
Abovyan, Armenia
By lordcob
29 May 2015

Vovik Khojanyan trains youngsters in the art of Sambo in the gym that he built himself in the village of Abovyan, Armenia. Vovik was born in Azerbaijan but his family left in the fifties.

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Sample media
Rafael Nadal at 2015 French Open (cel...
Paris, France
By Sonia contributor
29 May 2015

Rafael Nadal vs Jack Sock at French tennis open - Roland Garros 2015

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Armenians in Baku Games 02
Geghakert, Armenia
By lordcob
22 May 2015

Felix Aliyev, 76, trains a pupil in a gym in the village of Geghakert, Armenia. Despite having coached children who would become world champions, Aliyev’s gym lacks even toilet or showering facilities. During the ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis that erupted in the early nineties, many escaped to their respective countries. Some decided to stay and change their identities but despite sharing the same surname as the president of Azerbaijan, Aliyev has lived in peace ever since. During the war, his pupils took shifts to sleep at his house to protect him just in case. Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis remain virtually banned from each others countries.

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Armenians in Baku Games 14
Geghakert, Armenia
By lordcob
22 May 2015

Yuri Sargsyan, 54, supervises a young wannabe weightlifter in a gym in the village of Geghakert. A weightlifting world champion several times over, he is now the coach of the Australian Olympic team. Many athletes choose to migrate to other countries due to the dire economical situation of Armenia. After 1991, the country remained geographically isolated, cut off from Azerbaijan and Turkey, and industry formerly dependent on the Soviet Union all but collapsed. Most of the country survives on remittances from family living abroad.

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Armenians in Baku Games 05
Yerevan, Armenia
By lordcob
13 May 2015

Armenian boxers take a timeout during a training. Some will visit Baku for the inaugural European Games though most Armenians have never seen the country with whom they are at war.

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Armenians in Baku Games 11
Yerevan, Armenia
By lordcob
12 May 2015

Businessmen stop to pump some iron at an open-air gym in Yerevan. In the run-up to the European Games, a big debate raged in the country dover whether Armenian athletes should participate. Ironically, both countries excel in fighting sports such as wrestling and boxing.

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Warrior Competition 2015
Amman, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
21 Apr 2015

April 21, 2015

Amman, Jordan

The seventh annual Warrior Competition held at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) on the outskirts of Jordan’s capital, Amman. Elite counter-terror teams from around the world compete for five days from April 19th to the 23rd, in a show of sportsmanship in events with such names as “Top Gun,” and “3-Gun Gauntlet.” Soldiers run obstacle courses, scale walls, crawl beneath fences, then dash uphill to fire at moving targets in the distance.

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

The reverberation from the desert canyon walls make it difficult to tell where the sound is coming from - but then, there is the harsh crack from the sniper’s rifle, soldiers sprint through city streets to storm a building, and a human-sized form is hauled out and loaded onto a truck. On a day like today, it’s normal to hear lieutenants shouting to their men in Arabic, Russian, English and Pashto. This isn’t a real war, but the scenes being played out could mimic a not-so-distant urban battlefield.

This is a staged scenario in a mock cityscape, part of the seventh annual Warrior Competition held at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) on the outskirts of Jordan’s capital, Amman. 

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Warrior Competition 2015 05
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
21 Apr 2015

The Jordanian team rests in the shade of a sandstone cliff before the "urban assault" event at the Warrior Competition on April 21, 2015. In this event, soldiers must rush over a dirt verge, storm a building in a mock city, rescue a hostage and fire at targets in the distance.

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Warrior Competition 2015 07
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
21 Apr 2015

The Colombia team participates in the desert stress shoot event in the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan, on April 21, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 11
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
21 Apr 2015

The Jordan team participates in the Airbus seizure event, demonstrating how to execute a target onboard a passenger aircraft. The exercise was part of the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan, on April 21, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 14
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
21 Apr 2015

Commander Malik Al-Abbadi, leader of the Jordanian team, is photographed during the desert stress shoot at the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan, on April 21, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 17
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
21 Apr 2015

Brigadier General Aref Al-Zaben, the General Director for the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, is photographed during the seventh annual Warrior Competition on April 21, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 06
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
20 Apr 2015

The Lebanese Armed Forces gather their gear before heading to the next event in the Warrior Competition on April 20, 2015. The competition is held at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan.

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Warrior Competition 2015 08
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
20 Apr 2015

The all-women's Unit 30 SWAT Police team from Jordan competes in the three-gun gauntlet during the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan, on April 20, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 09
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
20 Apr 2015

The all-women's Unit 30 SWAT Police team from Jordan competes in the three-gun gauntlet during the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan, on April 20, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 10
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
20 Apr 2015

The Jordan team participates in the hostage rescue exercise at the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan, on April 20, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 13
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
20 Apr 2015

Soldiers wait for instructions atop a tower during the "Urban Assault" event on April 20, 2015, during the seventh annual Warrior Competition near Amman, Jordan. The center, which spans 25 acres of a blasted-out desert canyon, is a state-of-the-art training facility complete with mock cityscapes, villages, and grounded aircraft. The exercises are all performed with live ammunition.

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Warrior Competition 2015 18
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
20 Apr 2015

A member of the Jordanian team participates in the "3-Gun Gauntlet" event in the Warrior Competition on April 20, 2015 at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan. After running through a narrow concrete "gauntlet" soldiers must shoot targets with three different weapons, while being judged for speed and accuracy.

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Warrior Competition 2015 03
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
19 Apr 2015

A parachuter from Jordan 71st counter-terrorism battalion prepares to land during the opening ceremonies of the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan on April 19, 2015.

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Warrior Competition 2015 04
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
19 Apr 2015

The Jordanian team prepares for the first event of the Warrior Competition, "Top Gun," in which soldiers must shoot at targets at varying distances with three different weapons, while being judged for speed and accuracy. Jordan and the U.S. were finalists, with Jordan ultimately coming in first place.

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Warrior Competition 2015 02
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
19 Apr 2015

Members of the American and Canadian teams cheer together and watch the remaining teams compete in the "Top Gun" event at the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan on April 19, 2015. Jordan and the United States were finalists in the event, with Jordan ultimately coming in first place.

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Warrior Competition 2015 12
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
19 Apr 2015

The Palestinian team is photographed during the opening ceremonies of the seventh annual Warrior Competition on April 19, 2015 at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan.

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Warrior Competition 2015 15
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
19 Apr 2015

Teams from various countries relax together and cheer on their teammates during the first event of the Warrior Competition, "Top Gun." Elite counter-terrorism teams from around the world compete for the title of champion at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan.

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Warrior Competition 2015 16
King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, Jordan
By Lindsey Leger
19 Apr 2015

Members of the American and Canadian teams cheer together and watch the remaining teams compete in the "Top Gun" event at the seventh annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman, Jordan on April 19, 2015. Jordan and the United States were finalists in the event, with Jordan ultimately coming in first place.

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Armenians in Baku Games 13
Tsakhadzor, Armenia
By lordcob
15 Apr 2015

Taekwondo champion Armen Yeremyan, takes a break in the restaurant of the high-altitude training centre in Tsakhadzor, Armenia. He sits with his with his trainer, and his Iranian sparring partner. Armen used to be good friends with a Taekwondo athlete who plays for Azerbaijan until his friend told him that he was forbidden to speak with him. These days, when they meet at international competitions, they merely nod at each other.