BAKU, Azerbaijan (AFP) — Azerbaijan said Friday its troops had entered a district bordering Nagorno-Karabakh that was previously home to Armenian separatists, as part of a Russian-brokered deal to end weeks of fighting in the region.
Troops moved into the district of Aghdam, one of three to be ceded, the Azerbaijan defense ministry said, a day after Armenian soldiers and tanks withdrew from the territory.
Azerbaijan is also to recover the Kalbajar district wedged between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia on 25 November and the Lachin district by 1 December.
Armenian residents of Aghdam hurriedly picked pomegranates from trees around their homes and packed vans with furniture before fleeing ahead of the deadline to cede the mountainous province.
Ahead of the handover, residents set their homes on fire, leaving nothing behind for their bitter rivals.
Fierce clashes between Azerbaijan’s forces and Armenian separatists broke out in late September in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The fighting lasted six weeks, leaving thousands dead and displacing many more.
The ex-Soviet adversaries agreed to end hostilities last week within the framework of an accord brokered by Moscow that includes deployment of Russian peacekeepers and the cession by Armenia of swathes of territory.
Turkey has said that some of its forces would also observe the ceasefire arrangements from a coordination center in Azerbaijan, but Putin has emphasized that Turkish troops would not be present in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a televised address, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev called Armenians who destroyed property as they fled a “wild enemy.”
“They are embarrassing themselves in front of the whole world,” he said.
On Thursday, people celebrated in Baku, with cars parading through the city with flags of Azerbaijan ally Russia and Turkey.
Separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh and several surrounding districts had captured the territory and claimed independence following a post-Soviet 1990s war that left around 30,000 dead.