Azerbaijani soldiers and military trucks entered the Kalbajar district, bordering Nagorny Karabakh, on Wednesday for the second of three retrocessions to be made by Armenia after the ceasefire ended six weeks of fighting in the disputed region. .
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The Azerbaijani army released footage of the return of its soldiers, including night-time demining operations on the roads of this mountainous region, where the first snow fell.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defense in Baku said that “units of the Azerbaijani army entered Kalbajar district on November 25” early on, under the end of hostilities agreement signed at the start. November by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
Located between the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, Kalbajar should have been surrendered on November 15 but Baku had postponed the event.
By signing the ceasefire, Yerevan agreed to surrender three districts surrounding Nagorno Karabakh that had escaped Baku’s control since a first war in the 1990s.
The district of Kalbajar, like that of Aghdam surrendered on November 20 and that of Lachin which is to be surrendered on December 1, formed a buffer zone surrounding the separatist region. Four other districts with the same role were taken over by Baku during the fighting.
Near the village of Cherektar, on the district border, Armenian soldiers were setting up a checkpoint on Wednesday with piles of tires blocking the road.
Kalashnikov automatic rifle in hand, Armen Chakhnazarian regretted the “shameful” abandonment of the region. “We have a lot of churches here,” said the 20-year-old soldier: “Our ancestors, our elders and our friends are buried here. “
In a televised speech, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev vowed to defend “the national heritage” of the many religious monuments in Kalbajar and criticized the Armenians for “setting fire to forests” and “burning down houses they had not built ”before their departure.
In the days leading up to the handover, AFP had indeed seen Armenian residents cut down trees, retrieve power cables and even load parts of a hydroelectric dam onto a truck before leaving.
It is out of the question for the Armenians that the Azerbaijanis live in their houses, explained a 53-year-old mason, Gaguik Yakchibekian: “So they burn (the houses), the trees are cut down and the people take everything”.
At the end of the first war in 1994, the reverse exodus had taken place, the Azerbaijani population fleeing these regions then repopulated by Armenians.
The end of hostilities agreement, signed when the military situation was catastrophic for Armenia, enshrines the victory of Azerbaijan and grants it significant territorial gains after six weeks of a conflict which claimed several thousand victims.
It nevertheless allows the survival of Nagorno Karabakh, diminished, and sees the deployment of 2000 Russian peacekeepers.
Return of refugees
In Baku, the atmosphere was euphoric. Ilkin Mammadov, a 25-year-old student, said he wanted to “introduce Kalbajar to the whole world” while Ayshe Alieva, 22, thanked the Russian troops without whom “we could not have lived there”.
Before the handover, Vladimir Poutine spoke by telephone with Ilham Aliev and the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian to, according to the Kremlin, evoke the “modalities of the work of the Russian peacekeepers”.
The Russian president also spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whom he discussed “the creation of a joint ceasefire control center”.
Last week, France called on Russia to lift the “ambiguities” surrounding the ceasefire, especially on Turkey’s role, Paris worrying that Ankara is associated with peacekeeping operations. Moscow assured that no Turkish soldiers would be deployed.
Signed under Russian patronage, the ceasefire recalled the decisive role of Moscow in its Caucasian precinct but also the growing influence of Turkey, unwavering support of Baku.
Conversely, Western countries seem to be losing momentum and neither France nor the United States, mediators as members of the “Minsk group”, responsible in the 1990s for finding a lasting solution to the crisis, have not obtained convincing results.