Nagorno-Karabakh villagers burn down their houses before handing over Azerbaijan

Villagers in Nagorno-Karabakh set fire to their houses on Saturday before fleeing to Armenia before a holiday that will see parts of the territory handed over to Azerbaijan as part of a peace deal.

Residents of the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan, which has been controlled by Armenian separatists for decades, began a mass exodus this week after it was announced that Azerbaijan would regain control on Sunday.

Fighting between separatist-backed separatists and the Azerbaijani army broke out in late September, raging for six weeks, leaving more than 1,400 dead and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

In the village of Charektar, on the border with the nearby district of Martakert, which is to remain under Armenian control, at least six houses were on fire on Saturday morning with thick plumes of gray smoke that stood over the valley, an AFP journalist saw.

“This is my house, I can not leave it to the Turks,” as Azerbaijanis are often called by Armenians, said a resident as he threw burning wooden planks and rags soaked in gasoline in a completely empty house.

“Everyone is going to burn down their house today … We had to leave until midnight,” he said.

New weapons permit agreement

On Friday, at least ten houses in and around Charektar were burned.

Former Soviet rivals agreed to end hostilities earlier this week after Russia’s, France’s and the United States’ earlier ceasefire efforts failed.

An important part of the peace agreement includes Armenia’s return of Kalbajar, as well as the Aghdam district by 20 November and the Lachin district by 1 December, which have been held by Armenians since a devastating war in the 1990s.

Russian peacekeepers began distributing to Nagorno-Karabakh on Wednesday as part of the terms of the agreement and took control of a key transport artery connecting Armenia with the disputed province.

Russian military officials said the mission, consisting of nearly 2,000 troops, would deploy 16 observation posts in mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor.