Aliyev raises Azerbaijan’s flag in former breakaway region of Karabakh

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday raised the national flag in the capital of the former breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh after a lightning military operation last month brought the territory back under Azerbaijan’s control.

“President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has raised the national flag of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the city of Khankendi and delivered a speech,” the presidential office said.

The capital, known was Khankendi by Azerbaijan and as Stepanakert by Armenians, fell to Azerbaijan after security forces crushed ethnic Armenian fighters last month, prompting most of Karabakh’s 120,000 ethnic Armenians to flee to Armenia.

Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh by Armenians, is a landlocked mountainous area in the South Caucasus. The territory is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

It was claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 and has remained a point of tension ever since. In Soviet times is remained as part of the Azeri Soviet Republic but with autonomy. Its name then was the “Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”.

As the Soviet Union crumbled, what is known as the First Karabakh War erupted (1988-1994) between Armenians and their Azeri neighbours. About 30,000 people were killed and more than a million people displaced.

Azerbaijan lost a chunk of its territory with Armenians left in control of most of Karabakh, alongside extra territory around Karabakh’s perimeter. Azerbaijan vowed to take back control over the territory.

In 2020, after decades of skirmishes, Azerbaijan began a military operation which became the Second Karabakh War swiftly breaking through Armenian defences. Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, won a resounding victory in the 44-day war, taking back parts of Karabakh.

Then in September of this year, Aliyev launched a military operation against the ethnic Armenian fighters of the region, defeating them.

(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)