BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan on Tuesday completed reclaiming territory ceded by Armenia under a Russia-brokered peace deal that ended six weeks of fierce fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hailed the restoration of control over the areas as a historic achievement.
“We all lived with one dream and now we fulfilled it,” Aliyev said in an address to the nation. “We won a victory on the battlefield and on the political arena, and that victory opens a new era for our country. It will be an era of development, security and progress.”
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left not only Nagorno-Karabakh itself but large chunks of surrounding lands in Armenian hands.
In 44 days of heavy fighting that began on Sept. 27, the Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces and wedged deep into Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Armenia to accept a Russia-brokered peace deal that took effect Nov. 10. The agreement saw the return of a significant part of Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijan’s control and also requested Armenia to hand over all of the regions it held outside the separatist region.
The Lachin region, which lies between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, was the last of the three areas on the rim of Nagorno-Karabakh to be surrendered by Armenian forces on Tuesday.
Russia deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers for at least five years to monitor the peace deal and help the return of refugees. The Russian troops will also ensure safe transit between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia across the Lachin region.
Turkey, which has strongly backed its ally Azerbaijan, has extended its clout in the region. On Tuesday, Russian and Turkish military officials signed documents to set up a joint monitoring center to ensure the fulfillment of the peace deal.
The peace agreement was celebrated as a victory in Azerbaijan, but sparked mass protests in Armenia, with thousands taking to the streets to demand the ouster of the country’s prime minister.
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