The Azerbaijani army has entered the Kalbajar region, one more territory ceded by Armenian forces in a truce that ended deadly fighting over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday.
The cease-fire, brokered by Russia two weeks ago, stipulated that Armenia hand over control to Azerbaijan of some areas its holds outside Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders. The first one, Aghdam, was turned over last week.
Kalbajar was expected to be handed over on Nov. 15, but Azerbaijan agreed to delay the takeover after a request from Armenia. Azerbaijani officials said worsening weather conditions made the withdrawal of Armenian forces and civilians difficult along the single road through mountainous territory that connects the region with Armenia.
Footage on Wednesday showed Azerbaijani troops slowly moving through snowy terrain, looking for mines. “Engineering work has been completed to ensure the movement of our units in this direction, the difficult mountain roads along the route of the troops’ movement are being cleared of mines and prepared for use,” the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left not only Nagorno-Karabakh itself but substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
Heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out on Sept. 27 and marked the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict between the two ex-Soviet nations in over a quarter-century, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of people.
The latest truce halted the violence after several failed attempts to establish a lasting cease-fire. It was celebrated as a victory in Azerbaijan, but sparked mass protests in Armenia, with thousands taking to the streets to demand the ouster of the country’s prime minister.
Ahead of the handover, some ethnic Armenians leaving Kalbajar set their houses on fire in a bitter farewell gesture.