Azer­bai­jani leader hails han­dover of re­gion by Ar­me­nia

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By Kostya Manenkov Kostya Manenkov is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

AGH­DAM, Azer­bai­jan — Azer­bai­jani forces en­tered the war­rav­aged ghost town of Agh­dam on Fri­day, re­gain­ing a on­ce­beloved city over a quar­ter of a cen­tury af­ter be­ing driven out by Ar­me­nian forces.

Agh­dam and the sur­round­ing re­gion of the same name are the first of sev­eral ter­ri­to­ries ad­ja­cent to sep­a­ratist Nagorno-Karabakh to be turned over un­der a cease­fire that ended six weeks of in­tense fight­ing be­tween Azer­bai­jan and Ar­me­nia.

“To­day, with a feel­ing of end­less pride, I am in­form­ing my peo­ple about the lib­er­a­tion of Agh­dam,” Azer­bai­jani Pres­i­dent Il­ham Aliyev said in an ad­dress to the na­tion. “Agh­dam is ours!”

Crowds of peo­ple car­ry­ing na­tional flags gath­ered in the Azer­bai­jani cap­i­tal, Baku, to cel­e­brate the han­dover.

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 not only Nagorno-Karabakh it­self but sub­stan­tial sur­round­ing ter­ri­tory in Ar­me­nian

hands.

Heavy fight­ing that flared up Sept. 27 marked the big­gest es­ca­la­tion of the decades­old con­flict be­tween the two exSoviet na­tions in over a quar­ter­century, killing hun­dreds of peo­ple and pos­si­bly thou­sands more.

The agree­ment, cel­e­brated as a vic­tory in Azer­bai­jan, has left many Ar­me­ni­ans bit­ter. Mass protests erupted in the Ar­me­nian cap­i­tal, Yere­van, im­me­di­ately af­ter the peace deal was an­nounced last week, and many eth­nic Ar­me­ni­ans have been leav­ing the ter­ri­to­ries that are to be handed over to Azer­bai­jan, set­ting their houses on fire in a bit­ter farewell ges­ture.

Tofik Babayev / AFP via Getty Images

Peo­ple in the Azer­bai­jan cap­i­tal of Baku cel­e­brate Ar­me­nia’s trans­fer of the war­rav­aged ghost town of Agh­dam.

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