Azerbaijan announced on Wednesday the restoration of sovereignty over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has been disputed for decades with Armenia, after a rapid military operation that ended with a ceasefire agreement and the separatists’ agreement to lay down their weapons and hold talks.
On Tuesday, Baku began an “anti-terrorism” operation in Karabakh that announced its end after 24 hours, thus achieving an important victory for Azerbaijan and its president, Ilham Aliyev, in the Armenian-majority region.
The Armenian separatists confirmed that this operation caused the death of at least 200 people.
Aliyev announced in a speech to the nation on Wednesday night that his country had “re-extended its sovereignty” over Karabakh.
He stressed that Baku forces “destroyed most” of the separatists’ forces and military equipment, and that they began withdrawing and handing over their weapons in accordance with the agreement reached.
This came hours after the separatist authorities confirmed that “through the mediation of the leadership of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, an agreement was reached on a complete ceasefire as of 13:00 (09:00 GMT) on September 20-2023”.
The agreement includes the withdrawal of the remaining units and military personnel from the armed forces of Armenia, and the dissolution and complete disarmament of the armed formations of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army.
The issues raised by the Azerbaijani side regarding reintegration and ensuring the rights and security of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians will be discussed at a meeting between representatives of the local Armenian population and the central authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Thursday in the city of Yevlakh, 295 kilometers west of Baku.
Russian peacekeeping forces confirmed that no violation of the ceasefire was recorded.
These forces will be the mediator in the discussions, according to what was stated in a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, according to what the Kremlin reported on Wednesday.
On the eve of the discussions, Azerbaijani President’s Advisor Hikmet Hajiyev explained that his country wants the peaceful reintegration of Armenians in Karabakh and also supports the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, pledging to provide safe passage for separatist fighters.
The Azerbaijani victory raised fears of a mass exodus of the population estimated at 120,000 people, at a time when photos published by local media showed crowds at the airport of the region’s capital, Stepanakert.
The Ombudsman for Human Rights in the region, Gigham Stepanyan, said that more than 10,000 people were evacuated from their areas of original residence to other parts of the region, noting their lack of adequate nutrition, medicines and basic hygiene materials, and denouncing the occurrence of a disaster.
Russian forces confirmed the evacuation of 3,154 people, including 1,428 children, to their locations.
In an incident whose details were not clear, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that a number of peacekeeping soldiers were killed after their car came under “small arms fire”.
These forces have been deployed since late 2020 following the recent war waged by Baku and Yerevan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
On Wednesday, the Russian president expressed his hope for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that there is no doubt that Nagorno-Karabakh is an internal matter for Azerbaijan, stressing that the latter disposes of lands belonging to it, which is acknowledged by Armenian officials.
For his part, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan confirmed on Wednesday that his country did not participate in drafting the ceasefire agreement, recalling that Yerevan hasn’t had an army in the separatist enclave since August 2021.
The recent crisis has revived internal criticism in the face of Pashinyan.
Over the past years, the Armenian opposition has tried to persuade him to leave power, holding him responsible for the military defeat during the fall 2020 war in the region.
For the second day in a row, demonstrators gathered outside the Prime Minister’s headquarters in Yerevan and accused the government of abandoning the Armenians, who constitute the majority of the region’s population.
Confrontations took place between them and the police.
Azerbaijan and Armenia fought two wars over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, one between 1988 and 1994 that claimed 30,000 lives, and the second in 2020 ended with Armenia’s defeat.