Azerbaijan stages parade to mark Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal
MOSCOW (AP) — A military parade was held Thursday in the Azerbaijani capital in celebration of the peace deal with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh that saw Azerbaijan reclaim much of the separatist region along with surrounding areas.
The agreement took force exactly a month ago and put an end to six weeks of fierce fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh. It was seen as a major victory in Azerbaijan, but prompted mass protests in Armenia, with opposition supporters demanding the ouster of the country’s Prime Minister over his handling of the conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left Nagorno-Karabakh itself and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
More than 3,000 troops took part in the parade on Thursday, and dozens of military vehicles drove through Baku. A flyover of helicopters and fighter planes completed the event.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the parade. Turkey strongly backed Azerbaijan during the conflict, which it used to expand its clout in the region.
A Turkish commando brigade took part in the parade in which Turkish drones were also put on display. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev thanked Turkey for its support in his speech.
“From the first hours of the war, we felt the support of Turkey,” Aliyev said. “This is an example of our unity, our brotherhood.” The Azerbaijani president said the country was able to “restore historical justice” and blamed Armenia for starting the fighting.
Erdogan in his speech also took aim at Armenia, and expressed hope the country would “take lessons” from the defeat and take steps that would pave the way for a new era in the region.
“We hope that Armenian leaders will assess this carefully and take courageous steps to build a future based on peace and stability,” Erdogan said.
He reiterated Turkey’s continued support to Azerbaijan: “As long as Turkey and Azerbaijan work hand in glove, they will continue to overcome all difficulties and run from one success to the next.”
In 44 days of fighting that began in late September and left more than 5,600 people killed on both sides, the Azerbaijani army advanced deep into Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Armenia to accept the peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim much of the separatist region along with surrounding areas. The Russia-brokered deal took effect on November 10 and ended the violence.
Thousands in Armenia have since regularly protested, demanding that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan steps down. The country’s opposition leaders hold Pashinyan responsible for failing to negotiate an earlier end to the hostilities at terms that could have been more beneficial for Armenia. They have emphasized, however, that the opposition wasn’t pushing for an annulment of the peace deal.
As Aliyev and Erdogan watched the parade in Baku, several thousand people in Armenia’s capital demonstrated in front of the government building, calling for Pashinyan to step down. Protesters tried to enter the building, hoping to meet with the Prime Minister, but were deterred by police. Dozens have been detained.