Armenian separatists have begun laying down their weapons under a Russian-mediated agreement as the first convoy of humanitarian aid entered Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani officials announced.
Under the terms of the ceasefire, the Armenian separatists began handing over their weapons to Azerbaijan, including more than 800 guns and six armored vehicles, according to Russia’s defense ministry.
“We are in close cooperation with the Russian peacekeepers, conducting the demilitarization” of the separatists, Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense spokesman Anar Eyvazov told reporters in Shusha on Saturday, a district on the edge of the rebel stronghold of Stepanakert.
“We have already seized weapons and ammunition,” Eyvazov said, adding that its soldiers along with Russian peacekeepers are working jointly to disarm separatist fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The fighting flared up on Tuesday after Azerbaijan launched a military operation in the region, accusing the Armenian-backed troops there of “systematic” shelling, “reconnaissance activities,” fortification of defensive positions, and “high-level of combat readiness.”
Baku demanded that separatists lay down their arms and the separatist government disband.
Peace talks between the two fighting sides over Nagorno-Karabakh, which both want full control of, are scheduled on Thursday in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlakh.
To the southwest, the so-called Lachin Corridor that once connected the breakaway region to Armenia is also controlled by government forces, which have mounted a de facto blockade for the past nine months.
With Armenians suffering serious shortages of food and fuel after a months-long de facto Azerbaijani blockade, an aid convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) headed into Karabakh on Saturday, the first since Azerbaijan’s military operation.
Ethnic Armenians will leave Nagorno-Karabakh
The 120,000 ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will leave for Armenia as they do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan and fear ethnic cleansing, the leadership of the breakaway region announced on Sunday.
“Our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan. 99.9% prefer to leave our historic lands,” David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, the president of the self-styled “Republic of Artsakh” said.
He said it was unclear when the Karabakh Armenians would move down the Lachin corridor.
“The fate of our poor people will go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilized world. Those responsible for our fate will one day have to answer before God for their sins,” he added.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly said it will guarantee Armenians’ rights and integrate the region. The Azerbaijani foreign minister in his UN General Assembly address on Saturday said his country wants to integrate ethnic Armenians as “equal citizens” and denied any intention to harm them.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said ethnic Armenians in Karabakh should not leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary.
Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh to Armenians, is a landlocked region in the Caucasus Mountains and lies within Azerbaijan’s borders.
Karabakh has always been internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan though it is mostly populated by ethnic Armenians who have resisted Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the territory since a separatist movement waged a war against Azerbaijan in 1994 and captured it.