A man sits in a house hit by shelling in the city of Martakert, Nagorno-Karabakh. © Sputnik / Valeriy Melnikov
“Our position on the issue is the same as it has been for many years. I’ll repeat it now. The seven areas held around Nagorno-Karabakh should be returned to Azerbaijan,” Putin clarified.
Since the end of the 1994 Karabakh War, Armenia has occupied seven districts surrounding the region as a “buffer zone” between themselves and the Azerbaijanis. During this autumn’s conflict, Armenian forces lost control of the Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan, and Qubadli districts, and agreed to hand over the other three as part of the Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement.
“The status of Karabakh should remain unchanged, and be resolved in the future,” Putin clarified. “From the international legal point of view, all these territories are an integral part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
The president also supported Turkey’s position, which also shares Moscow’s viewpoint that “the territories that were occupied during the clashes in the 1990s” should be returned to Azerbaijan.
Putin noted that there had been just one breach of the Azeri-Armenian ceasefire since its agreement, but refused to rule out the possibility of increasing the number of Russian peacekeepers in the future.
The disagreement between Baku and Yerevan began in 1988, when the disputed region announced its secession from the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic. In the six years that followed, Baku lost control not only of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also its surrounding areas. On September 27, the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict suddenly erupted once again. The region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is primarily populated by ethnic Armenians.
On November 9, following six weeks of conflict, the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan adopted a trilateral agreement on the cessation of fighting. As well as drawing up a new map, the parties also agreed on the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. At the time the truce was signed, Azerbaijan was at a clear advantage.
“The agreement is very important. I’ve already said that,” Putin explained. “It stops the bloodshed. Peacefully, people have stopped dying – this is an extremely important thing. It is fundamental. Everything else is secondary. Preserving people’s lives and health is the most important task that we have solved.”