Azerbaijani forces have entered the second of three districts to be handed back by Armenia as part of a deal that ended weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on November 25 that units of the Azerbaijani army had entered Karvachar (which Azerbaijanis call Kelbacar) under the deal signed this month by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia.
Karvachar, wedged between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, was initially scheduled for handover on November 15 but the deadline was postponed by Azerbaijan for humanitarian reasons.
“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 ministry statement said.
Photos and videos were to be presented during the day, the ministry said.
Armenia agreed to hand over three districts ringing Nagorno-Karabakh — Agdam, Karvachar, and Lachin — after nearly three decades under Armenian control as part of a truce signed two weeks ago that stopped six weeks of military conflict over the breakaway region.
Agdam was ceded on November 20 and Lachin is to be handed over by December 1.
The implementation of the Russian-brokered agreement was discussed during separate phone calls between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, the Kremlin said on November 24.
The three leaders also discussed humanitarian assistance for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and economic issues as well as the unblocking of transport communications in the region, the Kremlin added in a statement.
High-level Russian government delegations, including two Russian deputy prime ministers as well as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visited Yerevan and Baku at the weekend.
“They looked into Russian peacekeepers in the Nagorno-Karabakh region’s activity and into further steps to provide humanitarian assistance to the population,” the statement said.
The leaders also “touched upon issues of economic interaction and unblocking of transport links in the region,” according to the statement. No further details were provided.
Almost 2,000 Russian troops moved into areas in and around Nagorno-Karabakh earlier this month as part of the that ended fighting in the 30-year-old conflict that is thought to have killed thousands.
The truce committed the parties to reopening their borders for trade, but it sets no time frame for that.
Putin also discussed Nagorno-Karabakh with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the phone on November 24, the Kremlin said.
“Vladimir Putin informed the Turkish leader about the activities of Russian peacekeepers [in Nagorno-Karabakh] who ensure the cease-fire and securing of civil population,” it said in a statement.
“It was stressed that urgent humanitarian problems linked with the return of refugees, restoration of infrastructure, preservation of religious and cultural sites must be resolved without delay,” it said, adding that the call was initiated by the Turkish side.
Two of the most influential regional powers in the Caucasus, Russia and Turkey, are said to be quietly disagreeing over the possible role of Turkish peacekeepers as part of the cease-fire.
Russia has extensive relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan but provides security guarantees to the former, while Turkey is a staunch Azerbaijani ally with longtime animosities with Yerevan.