Azerbaijani army units have entered Nagorno-Karabakh’s Lachin region, 28 years after its occupation by Armenian forces, under a recent truce deal, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry declared.
"In accordance with the trilateral statement signed by presidents of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, and the prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, units of the Azerbaijani army entered the Lachin district on December 1,” the ministry announced in an early Tuesday statement cited by TASS news agency, referring to the Russian-brokered truce.
It further released a video showing a tank flying the Azerbaijani flag and leading a column of trucks into the district along a road on Monday night.
The movement of Azerbaijani forces into Lachin marks the last handover of three regions by the Armenian military as part of the early November truce agreement that ended heavy fighting between the two former Soviet Union republics.
Earlier, Armenian troops withdrew from the Agdam and Kalbajar regions of Nagoro-Karabakh. According to the deal, Azerbaijan was to assume control of the Kalbajar district by November 15, the Agdam district by November 20, and the Lachin district by December 1.
Later, however, the handover of Kalbajar was delayed for 10 days over the inadequate capacity of the only road connecting the region to Armenia. Kalbajar was eventually turned over to Baku on November 25.
Under the trilateral accord, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia agreed that the five-kilometer Lachin corridor, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, is to remain under the control of the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed to the area.
Residents of Lachin evacuated frantically ahead of the handover, taking with them livestock, firewood, furniture, and even plastic water pipes.
Some residents reportedly burned their homes before leaving, as journalists reported witnessing two houses in flames on the outskirts of Lachin, sending clouds of thick smoke into the air.
Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it has been held by ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Armenia since 1992, when they broke from Azerbaijan in a war that killed some 30,000 people.
This year’s fighting, the worst in decades, started in late September and came to an end earlier this month after Moscow brokered the ceasefire, which leaves Baku largely in control of the territory.
Under the truce deal, Russia and Turkey, which is an ally of Azerbaijan, agreed to establish a joint center in Karabakh and deploy peacekeeping forces to monitor the ceasefire in the mountainous region.
Russia will be sending 1,960 peacekeepers as well as armored personnel carriers and other military equipment to monitor the truce deal. The Russian deployment has already started.
Ankara also declared last month that preparations for its troops to be dispatched to Azerbaijan had been completed.