MOSCOW (AP) – Azerbaijan on Sunday postponed control of an area decided by Armenian forces in a cease-fire agreement, but left the area for civilians burning houses and called it “ecological terror”.
The ceasefire ended a six-week intensive battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Azerbaijan-Karmakh region and areas outside its formal borders that had been under Armenian forces since 1994. The agreement called for Azerbaijan to control the outlying areas. . The first, Kelbazar, was to be commissioned on Sunday.
But following a request from Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan agreed to delay the acquisition until 25 November. Hikmat Hajiyev, an aide to the President of Azerbaijan, said the worsening weather conditions made the withdrawal of the Armenian army and civilians difficult through the mountainous region that connects Kelabazar to Armenia.
After the agreement was announced in the early hours of Tuesday, many troubled people were preparing to vacate their houses to make them unusable to live in Azerbaijan.
“Armenians are harming the environment and civil goods. Environmental damage, ecological panic must be prevented.
Before the separatist war that ended in 1994, Kelbazar was populated exclusively by Azerbaijanis. But the area then came under Armenian control and the Armenians moved in. Azerbaijan considered its presence illegal.
“The placement and settlement of the Armenian population in the occupied area of the Kelabazar region was illegal … All illegal settlements should be evacuated there,” Hajiyev said.
The imminent renewal of Azerbaijan control raised widespread concerns about the fate of ninth-century Armenian cultural and religious sites, particularly Dadivank, a famous Armenian Apostolic Church monastery.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev assured Russian President Vladimir Putin, who negotiated a cease-fire and is sending about 2,000 peacekeepers, that Christian churches would be protected.
“The Christians of Azerbaijan will have access to these churches,” Alijev’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
Azerbaijan is about 95% Muslim and Armenia is heavily Christian. Azerbaijan has accused Muslims of being unsafe during their decades in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories, including housing livestock in mosques.
Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous republic of Azerbaijan during the Soviet period. In the late Soviet years a movement arose to join with Armenia, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, a war broke out in which an estimated 30,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
After the war ended in 1994 there were sporadic skirmishes and international arbitrators tried unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute. Full-scale fighting started afresh on sept 27. Azerbaijan made significant progress and announced a week ago that it had seized the strategically important city of Shusha. A ceasefire agreement was reached two days later.
Armenia says 1,434 soldiers were killed in this year’s fighting, but there have not been civilian casualties. Azerbaijan has not stated its losses.
The ceasefire agreement and the occupation of territories were a major setback for Armenia and prompted protests against Prime Minister Nicole Pashinian. On Saturday, the leader of a small center-right party, which formerly led the National Security Service, was arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill Pashini.
The agreement also disappointed many Armenians who expected Russian support in the conflict. Russia and Armenia are part of a defense alliance and Russia has a large military base in Armenia.
“Our nation has lost everything, our heritage, everything. We have nothing left. I can not say anything. I am only pleading with the Russian people to help us, so that at least others can have a better life in our own land. ”, Said a weeping mourner Seba Grabilian of the burial of a Nagorno-Karabakh soldier in the regional capital Stepanacart. .
Ada Sultanova in London, Everett Damorean in Yerevan, Armenia, and Kostya Menankov in Stepanakert contributed to this report.