Thu, 28 Jan 2021

BAKU -- Azerbaijan has completed reclaiming three districts held by ethnic Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century after a peace deal ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

In an address to the nation on December 1, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hailed the restoration of control over Lachin, a strategic link between Armenia's internationally recognized border and ethnic Armenian-held areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, as a "historic victory."

Armenia agreed to hand over Lachin and the two other districts, Agdam and Kalbacar, after nearly three decades under Armenian control as part of the Russian-brokered agreement signed on November 9.

The deal, which also allowed Azerbaijan to keep control of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh captured in the fighting, halted the worst clashes in the region since the 1990s.

Agdam was transferred to Azerbaijan on November 20, followed by Kalbacar five days later.

Russia deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the cease-fire accord, help the return of refugees, and ensure safe transit through a 5-kilometer wide area connecting Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia across the so-called Lachin Corridor.

Russian and Turkish military officials signed documents to set up a joint monitoring center to ensure the fulfillment of the cease-fire deal, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on December 1.

Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.

Crucially, the peace agreement leaves the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh unresolved.

Moscow has extensive relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan but provides security guarantees to the former.

Ankara is a strong backer of Azerbaijan.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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