Azerbaijan says it wants to reintegrate Karabakh Armenians smoothly

(Reuters) – Azerbaijan said on Wednesday that it wanted a “smooth reintegration process” for the ethnic Armenians of its Nagorno-Karabakh region, after forcing the surrender of the forces defending the breakaway territory in a 24-hour offensive.

Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president, said the disarmament of Karabakh forces would improve the chances of successfully reintegrating the territory, which had been out of Baku’s control for three decades, as well as the prospects of concluding a peace treaty with Azerbaijan’s neighbour Armenia.

He told a briefing for diplomats and media that this would mean “transformative and sweeping change” to the political map of the South Caucasus.

“Also we are looking forward to meeting the immediate humanitarian requirements of the population on the ground,” he said, adding that it was unacceptable, as Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan did on Tuesday, to accuse Baku of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”.

A de facto nine-month Azerbaijani blockade of the enclave’s lifeline road connection to Armenia, whose support it had relied on for three decades, had caused shortages of food and medicines.

Although Armenia denied having stationed any forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, Hajiyev said Azerbaijan had received assurances that both Karabakh forces and also “military detachments of the Republic of Armenia” would abandon all their positions and surrender all their equipment and weapons.

He said Armenia had “real combat forces on the ground”, and not just paramilitary units.

Hajiyev dismissed calls for U.N. Security Council involvement, saying any issues needed to be solved on the ground.

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Guy Faulconbridge)