Caucasus: Armenia withdraws from region close to Nagorno Karabakh

The peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan provides for the departure of Armenian forces from the Kalbajar region, near Nagorno Karabakh.

Armenian forces were due to begin their withdrawal on Sunday from the Kalbajar region near Nagorny Karabakh, part of which is returning to Azerbaijani control under a peace agreement, after six weeks of deadly fighting.

Symbol of this humiliating setback for Armenia, inhabitants of local villages preferred to burn their houses rather than see them fall into the hands of their hated neighbor, with whom Yerevan has been fighting for control of this mountainous enclave of the Caucasus for decades. . An AFP journalist saw residents set fire to their homes on Saturday morning in the village of Charektar, in the Kalbajar region, which had been under Armenian forces since a first war in the early 1990s, killing 30,000 people .

This region is part of the “protective glacis” formed by the Armenian forces around Nagorno Karabakh proper, part of which must also return to Azerbaijan under the terms of the peace agreement signed earlier this week. On the roads, AFP saw many residents carrying all the belongings they were able to take before leaving for Armenia. The local hydroelectric station was also dismantled and evacuated.

Some Armenians preferred to burn their houses down rather than see them fall into the hands of their hated neighbor.

AFP

The peace agreement provides for the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabakh, which arrived on Friday in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabakh, where they controlled the approaches and the nearby front line. Stepanakert, which remains under Armenian control, was partially disfigured by rockets and emptied of its inhabitants.

The local authorities have called on them to return as soon as possible, but almost all the stores are closed and the last open supermarket has been robbed. The Russian troops are very present, thanks to the peace agreement which provides for the deployment of nearly 2,000 soldiers from Moscow with armored vehicles and special vehicles. They control roads and junctions, checking passing cars.

While waiting for the full deployment of Russian forces, and the reopening of the Lachin corridor, an umbilical cord connecting Armenia to the enclave, the only access route to Nagorny Karabakh is the road passing through the north of the enclave, by the Kalbajar district, which is to be handed over to Azerbaijan on Sunday.

2300 soldiers killed

Another price of the war, Armenia admitted on Saturday having lost 2,317 soldiers in the conflict, nearly double the losses announced so far. The health ministry said it was not a final toll, as the process of exchanging bodies with Baku is just beginning. Azerbaijan for its part does not disclose its military losses, simply reporting that 93 civilians were killed by Armenian bombing, while Yerevan has 50 dead in Azerbaijani gunfire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who acts as arbiter in the region, said on Friday that the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh had left more than 4,000 victims and 8,000 injured, as well as tens of thousands of refugees. The announcement of the peace deal on Monday was followed by angry protests in Yerevan, where protesters briefly took over the seat of government and parliament. The opposition demanded the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian, denouncing a “betrayal”.

However, the text signed between Yerevan and Baku does not provide for any mechanism for a lasting settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, which has plagued the region since the fall of the USSR. Turkey, Baku’s great support, has also gained influence and will have to play a role in monitoring the application of the ceasefire, even if the outlines of its action remain to be defined.

(AFP/NXP)

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