Armenia was granted 10 more days to evacuate the Kalbajar district, bordering the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was to be handed over to Azerbaijan on Sunday after its victory in a deadly conflict.
This first withdrawal of Armenian forces, thanks to the agreement to end hostilities earlier this week sponsored by Russia, was postponed to November 25 after a request from Yerevan relayed by Vladimir Putin.
Azerbaijan agrees to extend deadline for withdrawal of Armenian armed forces and illegal Armenian settlers from Kalbajar to November 25, said a representative of the Azerbaijani Presidency, Hikmet Hajiyev, calling the decision
The schedule for the withdrawal of two other districts – Agdam on November 20 and Latchin on December 1 – remains unchanged, he added.
These regions belonged to the protective glacis formed by the Armenian forces at the end of the war of the 1990s around Nagorny Karabakh, a separatist region of Azerbaijan with a majority Armenian.
Residents set their homes on fire
The prospect of an Azerbaijani return has caused an exodus of the population from Kalbajar. Many people have burned down their houses so that Azerbaijanis cannot come and live there. Everything that could have been taken was taken away, doors and windows, as well as the enormous transformers of the hydroelectric stations.
On Sunday, the road through the region and leading to Armenia therefore remained open and under Armenian control, but much less traveled than in recent days, when the population fled the expected arrival of Azerbaijani forces.
The village of Charektar, where dozens of homes were set on fire by their owners on departure, looked like a ghost village, abandoned to stray dogs. In front of the houses blackened by the flames, the collapsed roof, the ground was littered with rubbish, valuables or old furniture that could not be taken away.
At the end of the war in the 1990s, conversely, the entire Azerbaijani population had fled the district. Armenia then encouraged its repopulation by Armenians.
The end-of-hostilities agreement also provides for the presence of some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in a shrunken and weakened Nagorno-Karabakh.
Partly disfigured by rockets, its capital, Stepanakert, was emptied of its inhabitants during the six weeks of war. Local authorities called on residents to return and organized a shuttle service from Armenia.
Pending the full deployment of Russian forces and the reopening of the Lachin Corridor, which connects Armenia to the enclave, the only access route to Nagorno Karabakh is the road through Kalbajar district.
Protection of places of worship
Along the same road, Russian soldiers have taken up positions since Saturday in and around the old Dadivank monastery, which Yerevan has said it fears will be degraded or desecrated by Azerbaijani forces.
His accesses were monitored on Sunday. An armored vehicle was parked in his yard and a Russian flag fluttered on the entrance gate. After the large influx of recent days, there were only a handful of visitors who came to pray or lay candles, while all liturgical objects were removed for shelter.
Three Armenian priests were there, in cassocks, including Father Hovhannes, who runs the place.
The guard of the monastery was entrusted to Russian soldiers. He remains with the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenian authorities will keep control of the monastery and its surroundings, the Armenians will be able to continue to come to pray here, said the prelate.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev assured Vladimir Putin that churches coming back under his control will be
protected by the state and open to Christians, according to the Kremlin.
In a conversation between Mr. Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, the two men emphasized
the importance of maintaining stability around the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nikol Pachinian has been facing a challenge since the Armenian defeat in his country, where the opposition calls him
traitor. Armenia has admitted losing 2,317 soldiers in the conflict. Azerbaijan does not communicate its military losses.
The process of evacuating bodies from around the town of Shusha, neighboring Stepanakert, but under Azerbaijani control, was being continued by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) under the protection of Russian soldiers. Relatives come to collect the remains at the mortuary in the local capital, where they are identified.
I came to get the body of my nephew, who was killed in Shushi. His wedding ring was still on his finger, apparently the bodies left on the battlefield were not desecrated, said a man in his fifties.
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