Azerbaijan extends Armenian pullout deadline from Kalbajar

Armenians soldiers visit a last time the 12th-13th century Orthodox Dadivank Monastery on the outskirts of Kalbajar on November 12, 2020, during the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2020

Azerbaijan extends Armenian pullout deadline from Kalbajar

  • Residents of the Kalbajar district in Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenian separatists for decades began a mass exodus

BAKU: Azerbaijan on Sunday agreed to extend the deadline for Armenians to withdraw from the Kalbajar district as part of a Russian-brokered peace accord to end weeks of fighting over disputed 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,” said President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajjiyev.
He said Aliyev had agreed on humanitarian grounds to grant an Armenian request for the delay following mediation by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Kalbajar’s settlement by Armenians was illegal. The people who were resettled there have no property rights,” Hajjiyev told a news conference.
Residents of the Kalbajar district in Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenian separatists for decades began a mass exodus of the mountainous province in the days leading up to the official withdrawal day, which was originally due to be completed on Sunday.
AFP journalists saw fleeing residents pile furniture and kitchenware into vehicles before leaving for Armenia and some among the departing ethnic-Armenians said they had exhumed graves they feared would be desecrated by Azerbaijanis.
Thick plumes of smoke were rising over the valley near the village of Charektar after residents set their homes on fire preferring to leave devastation in their wake and homes that would be uninhabitable by Azerbaijanis.
A Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed this week to Nagorno-Karabakh. They set up checkpoints and positions in the region’s administrative center, Stepanakert, as part of the terms of the accord that sees Armenia cede swathes of territory that Azerbaijan’s forces gained in the fighting.
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 Tuesday to end weeks of hostilities and Armenia undertook to cede Kalbajar and other districts controlled by Armenians since a devastating war in the 1990s.
Hajjiyev said the timetable for the Armenian withdrawal from the Aghdam region on Nov. 20 and the Lachin district by Dec. 1 remained unchanged.
Kalbajar was almost exclusively populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis before they were expelled by Armenians in the war following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The Armenian government controversially subsidized the region’s settlement by ethnic Armenians.

Casualties

 

Armenia conceded on Saturday that 2,317 fighters were killed in clashes in which both sides accused the other of targeting civilian infrastructure.
Azerbaijan has not revealed its military casualties and the real toll after weeks of fighting is expected to be much higher.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said the number of fatalities had surpassed 4,000 and that tens of thousands of people had been forced to flee their homes.
Before departing en masse, Armenians flocked to the Dadivank monastery nestled in a gorge in Kalbajar for a final visit before it was ceded to Azerbaijan, with AFP journalists witnessing a dozen women ask to be baptised at the religious site.
Kalbajar was almost exclusively populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis before they were expelled by Armenians in the 1990s war following the break up 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.
The peace accord with Azerbaijan has sparked a week of protests in Armenia where demonstrations and opposition parties are calling for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign.
The former head of Armenia’s national security service Artur Vanetsyan was arrested on Saturday on charges of plotting to kill Pashinyan and seize power.
Azerbaijan has pushed for Ankara’s involvement in the settlement and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week his country would jointly supervise the cease-fire with Russia.
Turkey, a key ally of Azerbaijan, was widely accused by Western countries, Russia and Armenia of dispatching mercenaries from Syria to reinforce Azerbaijan’s army.
But Russia has ruled out Ankara’s direct involvement in the peacekeeping mission and instead insisted Turkey would instead monitor the mission from an observation center on Azerbaijan’s territory.


14 dead as twin blasts rock historic Afghan city Bamiyan

Updated 50 min 35 sec ago

14 dead as twin blasts rock historic Afghan city Bamiyan

  • Blast brings end to years of calm in the isolated town — famous for ancient Buddhist heritage
  • Violence has surged in recent months in Afghanistan despite peace talks

KABUL: At least 14 people were killed in central Afghanistan on Tuesday when two blasts ripped through the historic city of Bamiyan, home to many members of the mainly Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, officials said.
The carnage brought to an end years of calm in the isolated town — famous for its ancient Buddhist heritage — that has avoided the sort of large-scale attacks commonplace elsewhere in the war-torn country.
The twin bombing marked the latest big attack in Afghanistan, where violence has surged in recent months even as Taliban and Afghan government negotiators are meeting for peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha.
“Fourteen people have been killed and 45 more wounded in two (bomb) explosions,” Bamiyan police chief Zabardast Safi told AFP, adding that a traffic policeman was among those killed.
The explosives were placed in two separate locations, Bamiyan police spokesman Reza Yosufi said, adding that two suspects had been arrested.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed the toll.
“We are investigating the deadly explosions in Bamiyan,” he said.
“This is an unforgivable crime.”
No group immediately claimed the blasts, and the Taliban denied involvement.
The explosions occurred in front of a market and near a hospital in Bamiyan, locals resident Anwar Saadatyar told AFP.
“When I reached the market... there was still blood and body parts everywhere. The blast occurred when people were busy shopping,” he said in a phone interview.
At the second site of the blast near the hospital, most of the casualties were university students, Saadatyar said.
“I visited the hospital later and saw people crying for their relatives who were killed or wounded in the explosions,” he said.
“There were so many wounded people that doctors didn’t know who to treat first. I will never forget that scene.”
Bamiyan is perhaps best known for the giant Buddha statues that once were carved into walls outside the city.
In 2001, the Taliban drew international revulsion when they blew up the centuries-old figures as they went on a rampage against Afghanistan’s rich pre-Islamic cultural heritage.
With its snowy backdrop and frequent blue skies, Bamiyan is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs keen to explore a network of ancient caves housing temples, monasteries and Buddhist paintings.
The province is home mainly to the Hazara community, which over the years has been targeted by Sunni extremists such as the Daesh group and the Taliban in the 1990s.
In cities such as Kabul, Hazaras have seen repeated attacks in their neighborhoods, including a brutal daylight assault in the capital in May on a hospital maternity ward that left several mothers dead.
In the past six months the Taliban have carried out 53 suicide attacks and detonated 1,250 explosive devices that have left 1,210 civilians dead and 2,500 wounded, the interior ministry said last week.