Geghakert, Armenia


Photographer: Jacob Balzani Lööv

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Felix Aliyev, 76, has spent nearly five decades training young weightlifters at his run-down gym in Geghakert, a village in western Armenia. Trained at Armenia’s Institute of Physical Training, from where he graduated in 1966, his most successful student was Yurik Sarkisyan, a world weight-lifting champion from 1982 to 1984 and former holder of 14 world records who now is deputy head of the Australian Weightlifting Federation. With an Azerbaijani father, Felix was in great danger when fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. Most Azerbaijanis fled the country, but he decided to remain in Geghakert. While the war continued, his Armenian pupils took shifts sleeping in his home to protect him. “I could not move to Azerbaijan, as my wife and my mother are Armenians,” he says. “Had my pupils turned their backs on me I would have left. But they supported me strongly.”