Azerbaijan celebrates Nagorno-Karabakh victory anniversary

MOSCOW (AP) — Tens of thousands marched across Azerbaijan’s capital on Monday to mark the one-year anniversary of the country’s victory in the six-week battle over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev declared Nov. 8 as Victory Day to mark the capture of the strategic city of Shusha by Azerbaijani forces. The city’s capture forced Armenia to accept a Russia-brokered truce two days later.

“We have restored our dignity,” Aliyev said. “We will live forever as a victorious country and a victorious nation. If any force in Armenia looks askance at us or engages in revanchist tendencies, it will see our fist.”

As part of Monday’s celebrations, demonstrators and military cadets carried a huge 440-meter (1,444-foot) national flag across the capital of Baku.

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.

Hostilities that erupted in September 2020 marked the biggest escalation of the conflict in more than a quarter century. In 44 days of fierce fighting that killed thousands, the Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces and moved deep into Nagorno-Karabakh.

The agreement that ended the conflict saw the return to Azerbaijan of a significant part of Nagorno-Karabakh and also required Armenia to hand over all the regions it held outside the separatist region. Russia deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers for at least five years to monitor the peace deal.

The peace deal was celebrated as a triumph in Azerbaijan, but sparked months of massive street protests in Armenia against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who was accused by the opposition of betraying national interests.

About 10,000 opposition supporters rallied Monday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan to denounce Pashinyan’s rule.

Robert Kocharyan, the country’s former president who leads Armenia’s opposition bloc, criticized Pashinyan for triggering last year’s hostilities with what he called ill-conceived policies and then missing a chance for an earlier truce that could have prevented Azerbaijan from winning control over a large part of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The government has done everything to lose the war,” Kocharyan said at the rally.

Ishkhan Sagatelyan, a deputy parliament speaker, called for a nationwide resistance movement to prevent Pashinyan from making new concessions to Azerbaijan, which the opposition fears.

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