Azerbaijan regained control of another distict adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday after Armenian forces withdrew from it in line with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war on November 10.
The Armenian withdrawal from the Lachin district sandwiched between Armenia and Karabakh completed the handover of large swathes of land to Baku envisaged by the ceasefire agreement.
Under the terms of the deal, Azerbaijani troops did not deploy to the district’s administrative center, also called Lachin, and two other villages located along the sole road now connecting Karabakh to Armenia. The 5-kilometer-wide corridor is due to be controlled by Russian peaceepers.
The Azerbaijani army recaptured four other districts around Karabakh during the six-week war. Baku agreed to stop its military operations in return for an Armenian pledge to withdraw from three other districts occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in the early 1990s: Lachin, Kelbajar and Aghdam.
The Armenian side pulled out of Aghdam and Kelbajar by November 20 and November 25 respectively. It also evacuated several thousands Karabakh Armenian settlers who lived in villages located there.
The Lachin district was home to a larger number of ethnic Armenian settlers. All of the 51 small villages located beyond the Lachin corridor were practically empty by Monday evening. Many of their departing residents dismantled or burned their houses.
Most residents of the town of Lachin and the two nearby villages located along the Russian-controlled corridor also appear to have left their homes. But others have chosen to stay put fow now, heeding appeals from local authorities.
Mushegh Alaverdian, the head of the district’s outgoing Karabakh Armenian administration, insisted on Tuesday that Azerbaijani troops will not be stationed in the three communities. He said the remaining ethnic Armenian settlers can therefore continue to live there.
“The [ceasefire] agreement makes clear that they can live here indefinitely,” Alaverdian told RFE/RL’s Armenaian Service. “There are no questions about the civilian population. There is a little uncertainty about local government bodies but I think that will be cleared up in the coming days.”
Alaverdian admitted that he cannot give the remaining residents “full security guarantees.” “I think that there will be problems and it will be dangerous,” he said. “At any rate, it didn’t start today and it won’t end today. We just need to make a choice: do we need Berdzor (the town of Lachin) and [the villages of] Aghavno and Sus or not?”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said, meanwhile, that Baku intends to regain control of the town as well and will therefore seek the construction of a new Armenia-Karabakh road section bypassing it.