Azerbaijani leader hails handover of region ceded by Armenia

Azerbaijani leader hails handover of region ceded by Armenia

AGHDAM, November 20 (FENA/AP) — Azerbaijani forces entered the war-ravaged ghost town of Aghdam on Friday, regaining a once-beloved 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, AP announced.

“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 decades-old conflict between the two ex-Soviet nations in over a quarter-century, killing hundreds of people and possibly thousands more.

Aliyev called the takeover of the region a “great political success” that wouldn’t have been possible without military gains.