Armenia Returns Border Villages to Azerbaijan

Fri May 24 2024
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YEREVAN: Armenia has returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it had seized decades ago, authorities in Yerevan and Baku confirmed Friday, in a key step toward normalizing relations between the historic rivals. The two ex-Soviet nations in the Caucasus region fought two wars in the 1990s and in 2020 for control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan recaptured it last year in a lightning offensive, ending three decades of Armenian separatist rule and prompting over 100,000 locals to flee into Armenia. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had agreed in March to return the 4 villages occupied by his country in the 1990s, as part of efforts to secure a lasting peace deal between the two nations.

On May 16, they agreed on the demarcation of 12.7 kilometers of their border that returned the villages of Ashaghi Askipara, Kheyrimli, Baghanis Ayrum, and GhizilHajjili to Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s security service confirmed Friday that its border guards had “officially” taken up new positions reflecting the border agreement and ceded the villages to Azerbaijan’s control, AFP reported. Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev announced that his country’s border guards had taken control of the villages.

Reaction in Armenia

Armenian residents of nearby localities say the move could cut them off from the rest of the country and accuse Pashinyan of unilaterally giving away territory without any guarantees in return. The prime minister’s move has sparked weeks of anti-government demonstrations in Armenia, with thousands of protesters led by Bagrat Galstanyan demanding Pashinyan’s resignation.

Pashinyan last week described the agreement as a major milestone for further strengthening Armenia’s independence and sovereignty. The territory is of strategic significance for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.

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