11/16/2020, 13.24
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Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenian retreat postponed for a few days, houses on fire

Armenia got ten more days to evacuate the Kalbajar district, for “humanitarian” reasons, said an Azerbaijani spokesperson. The timetable for the evacuation of Agdam and Latchin remains the same. Residents are setting fire to their homes and removing their graves to avoid desecration. Russian forces have been deployed to protect the Dadivank monastery where three priests remain.

Yerevan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Armenia has obtained ten more days to carry out evacuation operations in Kalbajar, a district that borders Nagorno-Karabkh set to be handed over to Azerbaijan in accordance to the agreement signed to end the conflict.

For humanitarian reasons, Azerbaijan has agreed “to postpone to 25 November the deadline for the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces and illegal Armenian settlements,” said Azerbaijani government spokesperson Hizmet Hajiyev. The withdrawal from the other two districts – Agdam on 20 November and Latchin on 1 December – “is unchanged".

Last week, Armenia and Azerbaijan inked an accord to end the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian region that has fought for independence from Azerbaijan for years.

For analysts and experts, the deal represents an Armenian defeat and a strategic victory for Turkey and President Recep Erdoğan, who can thus become a major player in the South Caucasus.

Last week, Eastern Catholic patriarchs spoke out at the end of their meeting in Bkerké, appealing for “true peace".

Kalbajar, Agdam and Latchin were part of a protective barrier set up by Armenian forces, following the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990s.

The prospect of an Azerbaijani return has prompted a massive exodus of the Kalbajar population.

Before leaving, many people set fire to their homes to prevent them from ending up in Azeri hands. Everything that could be moved was taken away, from doors to windows, as clothes and furnishings, as well as transformers that generate electrical power.

This morning Charektar looked like a ghost village, with dozens of houses set on fire by the owners themselves ahead of their exodus, abandoned to stray dogs, the only ones still venturing out in the town’s streets and squares.

"This is my house,” said one man. “I certainly cannot leave it to the Turks,” which is how Armenians call the Azeris.

Locals thought a solution could be found, but "when they started dismantling the hydroelectric plant, we understood,” he added.

“Today, everyone will burn their house [. . .] we have until midnight to leave” and before doing so “we also moved our parents' tombs” because "the Azeris will have fun desecrating them, it is unbearable.”

For days, Russian soldiers have been stationed along the roads to monitor evacuation operations and patrol some sensitive places, such as the Dadivank monastery, an Armenian place of worship in the Shahumian region, built between the 11th and 13th centuries.

The monastic complex is located 1,100 metres above sea level. It was founded by Saint Dadi, a disciple of Jude Thaddeus. In recent years, it was restored to preserve the stone structure, which contains a cathedral church.

The monastery is now welcoming its last pilgrims. The baptism of 12 young women was hastily arranged given the emergency situation. Three Armenian priests, including the head, Fr Hoyhannes, are still inside. The “place is guarded by Russian soldiers,” the priest said.

The building remains the property "of the Armenian Apostolic Church" and the faithful "will be able to continue to come and pray here".

However, the Armenian government is concerned about the fate of its unique historical, religious and cultural heritage, this despite Azerbaijani assurances that they will protect places of worship in the territories that will come under their control.

"People lost relatives and homes,” noted the clergyman. “They don't want to lose Dadivank too [...] We must pray for the preservation of our monastery.”

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