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Azerbaijan starts returning people to the retaken territories

#Azerbaijan #starts #returning #people #retaken #territories

Azerbaijan on Tuesday began the process of repatriating its people to the country retaken from Armenian separatists in what Baku is calling “The Great Return” after a 2020 war over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh.

The oil-rich country has vowed to repopulate areas retaken in the six-week war with nemesis Armenia in the Caucasus that killed more than 6,500 people two years ago.

President Ilham Aliyev had promised for years to retake land lost in the 1990s, and the first return marked a symbolic moment for Azerbaijan.

An official said nearly 60 people returned to a village they were forced to flee from in 1993 when ethnic Armenian separatists broke from Baku, sparking a conflict that claimed around 30,000 lives.

Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis fled the area during the fighting.

“Fifty-eight people returned to Zangilan district,” which was retaken from Baku in October 2020, the president’s special envoy to the region, Vahid Hajiyev, told reporters.

More than 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis fled Zangilan near the Iranian border in 1993.

“At this stage, a total of 41 families will return to the rebuilt village of Agally in Zangilan over the next five days,” Hajiyev said.

– ‘Homeland’ –

The government has pledged to create jobs for the returnees, he said. It has already built dozens of solar-battery-equipped houses, a brand-new school and a kindergarten in Agally, he added.

“In the next few months, the village will be completely repopulated.”

Emotions ran high as returnees disembarked buses in Agally’s windswept main square, where a new fountain gleamed under the scorching sun.

“We are so happy to be back,” one of the returnees, 64-year-old Mina Mirzoyeva, told AFP. “This is our home, our home.”

Rahilya Ismayilova, 72, said she was forced to cross a river to Iran with her young children in 1993, fleeing Armenian separatists.

“May all refugees return to their homes as we did today,” she said.

“I fled my village with my four children and today I am back with my large family, with my nine grandchildren.”

Baku has promised to spend billions of petrodollars to rebuild Nagorno-Karabakh and the nearby recaptured areas.

Last year’s budget provided $1.3 billion for infrastructure projects such as new roads, bridges and airports in the region.

However, given the extent of the devastation and the threat posed by landmines, a large-scale return of refugees remains a long way off.

– peace talks –

In the fall of 2020, Azerbaijan and Armenia went to war for the second time for control of Karabakh.

The fighting ended with a Russian-brokered armistice agreement.

Under the deal, Armenia ceded parts of territory it had controlled for decades, and Russia sent around 2,000 peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.

Armenian Security Council Chairman Armen Grigoryan said on Tuesday that Yerevan’s armed forces would complete their withdrawal from areas under separatist control by September.

This weekend, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi for their first one-on-one talks since the war.

They were to build on an agreement that Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reached with EU mediation in May to “advance discussions” about a future peace treaty.

The two leaders met in Brussels in April and May, and European Council President Charles Michel said their next meeting is scheduled for July or August.

After invading Ukraine on February 24, increasingly isolated Moscow lost its status as the primary mediator in the conflict.

The European Union has since led the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which has included peace talks, border demarcation and the reopening of transport links.

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