Armenia Returns Four Border Villages To Azerbaijan

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) YEREVAN - Armenia has returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it seized decades ago in a key step toward normalising ties between the rivals, the countries confirmed on Friday.

The move marks an important breakthrough toward reaching a comprehensive peace agreement after years of fruitless talks mediated by Russia and Western countries.

The Caucasus countries, both former Soviet republics, fought two wars in the 1990s and in 2020 for control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan recaptured the region in a lightning offensive last year, ending three decades of Armenian separatist rule over the enclave and prompting more than 100,000 residents to flee into Armenia.

Armenia's security service confirmed Friday that its border guards had taken up new positions in the east of the country, reflecting a recently brokered border demarcation deal that cedes the villages to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's deputy prime minister, Shahin Mustafayev, announced separately that his country's border guards now had control of the four settlements.

People in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, rejoiced as the news broke. In Yerevan many expressed frustration over they call a surrender of their ancestral lands.

“I am really happy,” said Baku resident Avaz Azkerov, 68.“When we were young, we read and heard how our villages ... were burned by the enemy. Now we read the news about how they are liberated.”

In Yerevan, Gagik Voskanyan, a 59-year-old chemical engineer, said:“I am definitely against these land surrenders ... This is a direct violation of the constitution of Armenia.”

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan agreed in March to return the four abandoned villages, which were seized in the 1990s, as part of efforts to secure a peace deal.

In a televised statement Friday evening, he said fixing the volatile border with Azerbaijan“is a sole guarantee for the very existence of the Armenian republic within its internationally recognised and legitimate frontier”.


The two countries agreed this month on the new demarcation of 12.7 kilometres of their border, returning the villages of Baghanis Ayrum, Ashaghi Askipara, Kheyrimli and Ghizilhajili to Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan has called the agreement“very important” for Armenia's sovereignty and said it“brings our security and stability to a new level”.

The ceded territory is of strategic importance for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.

Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move could cut them off from the rest of the country. They accuse Pashinyan of giving away territory without getting anything in return.

Pashinyan has said Armenia will build new roads in the area over the next few months.

His decision has sparked anti-government protests, with thousands of demonstrators led by the charismatic cleric Bagrat Galstanyan demanding Pashinyan's resignation. A new protest is scheduled for Sunday.

Rift with Russia

A 5.8-kilometre section of the border near the Armenian village of Kirants will be guarded“according to a transitional scheme until July 24”, Armenia's national security service said.

The village mayor has said locals will be allowed to use a section of the road that is to be transferred to Azerbaijani control, until new roads are built.

Local media reported that some Kirants residents had dismantled their houses and fled the village, which is just metres from the redrawn border.

Yerevan's defeat by Baku's forces in 2020 and the loss of Karabakh last year have provoked a rift with its historic ally Russia, which Armenia accuses of failing to defend it in the face of Azerbaijani threats despite a security treaty obligations.

After months of diplomatic tensions, Moscow said on Friday that it had recalled its ambassador for“consultations”.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did not provide a reason for the recall.


Jordan Times

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