Baku gives Armenian armed forces and illegal settlers until November 25 to withdraw from Kalbajar district of Karabakh region.

Armenian soldiers ride in the back of a truck on the road that links Armenia and the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 15, 2020.
Armenian soldiers ride in the back of a truck on the road that links Armenia and the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 15, 2020. (Reuters)

Azerbaijan has agreed to extend the deadline for Armenians to withdraw from the Kalbajar district as part of a Russian brokered ceasefire deal to end weeks of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Azerbaijan agreed to prolong the deadline for the withdrawal from Kalbajar of Armenian armed forces and of illegal Armenian settlers until November 25," President Ilham Aliyev's foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, said on Sunday.

Hajiyev said through Russia, Yerevan asked for more time to leave the district it occupied in 1993.

"By displaying humanity," Azerbaijan accepted the request to leave the region, which was under occupation for 27 years, he said.

Due to extreme weather conditions, the only road in that direction, Zod-Varnenis, is narrow, he said, adding that taking these conditions into consideration, Azerbaijan gave Armenia more time to evacuate its civilians.

Baku promises to protect churches 

The president of Azerbaijan has promised that Christian churches will be protected when the strongly Muslim country takes possession of areas formerly controlled by Armenians.

President Aliyev's office said he made the promise in a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is deploying peacekeeping forces in the areas under an agreement that ended six weeks of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the South Caucasian region.

READ MORE: Victors of the Karabakh war: Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey


Armenians vacating Kalbajar 

Residents of the Kalbajar district in Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenian militants for decades began a mass exodus of the mountainous province in the days leading up to the official withdrawal day.

AFP journalists saw fleeing residents pile furniture and kitchenware into vehicles before leaving for Armenia.

Thick plumes of smoke were rising over the valley near the village of Cherektar after residents set their homes on fire preferring to leave devastation in their wake and homes that would be uninhabitable by Azerbaijanis.

READ MORE: Turkey, Russia discuss Karabakh ceasefire as fleeing Armenians burn houses

A house is seen set on fire by Armenians in the village of Cherektar in Karabakh, on November 14, 2020.
A house is seen set on fire by Armenians in the village of Cherektar in Karabakh, on November 14, 2020. (Reuters)

Russian peacekeeping

Russian peacekeeping contingent was deployed this week to Nagorno-Karabakh where they set up checkpoints and positions in the region's administrative centre, Khankendi [or Stepanakert]

Moscow's peacekeeping mission, which the military said included soldiers that previously were stationed in Syria, comprises some 2,000 troops for a renewable five-year mission.

The ex-Soviet rivals agreed to end hostilities earlier this week after efforts by Russia, France, and the US to get a ceasefire fell through during the nearly two months of clashes.

A key part of the deal includes Armenia's return of Kalbajar, as well as the Aghdam district by November 20 and the Lachin district by December 1, which have been held by Armenians since a devastating war in the 1990s.

READ MORE: Russia deploys first peacekeeper troops in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone

Kalbajar goes back to ethnic Azerbaijanis

Armenia conceded on Saturday that 2,317 soldiers or militants were killed in six-week clashes in which both sides accused the other of targeting civilian infrastructure.

Azerbaijan has not revealed its military casualties. It says the real toll on Armenian side after weeks of fighting is much higher.

Kalbajar was almost exclusively populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis before they were expelled by Armenians in the 1990s war following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a majority of the homes being abandoned previously belonged to Azerbaijanis.

The Armenian government controversially subsidised the region's settlement by ethnic Armenians.

Bitter history 

Azerbaijan has pushed for Ankara's involvement in the settlement and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has his country would jointly supervise the ceasefire with Russia.

Relations between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia have been tense since 1991 when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory recognised as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Fresh clashes erupted on September 27, and the Armenian army continued its attacks on civilian and Azerbaijani forces, even violating humanitarian ceasefire agreements for 44 days.

Baku liberated several cities and nearly 300 of its settlements and villages from Armenian occupation during this time.

Before the second Karabakh war, about 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory had been under illegal Armenian occupation for nearly three decades.

READ MORE: Turkey: Armenia to pay price if it violates Karabakh ceasefire

Source: TRTWorld and agencies