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Ilham Aliyev was taking part in a ceremony in Khankendi (Azerbaijani Presidential Press Office via AP) PA
Ilham Aliyev

Azerbaijan’s president raises nation’s flag in former breakaway region Karabakh's capital

Images of Karabakh’s main city after the Azerbaijani offensive showed a ghost town.

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ILHAM Aliyev has raised his nation’s flag over the capital city of the former breakaway region of Karabakh in a ceremony reaffirming Baku’s control over it.

The Azerbaijani leader delivered a speech and raised the flag over the city, which is known as Khankendi by Azerbaijan and Stepanakert by Armenians, the presidential office said.

Baku published images of Aliyev touring Karabakh after his forces swept through the mountainous region in a 24-hour offensive in September that ended three decades of Armenian separatist rule.

“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,” Aliyev’s office said in a statement.

The vast majority of the estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians that had been living in the territory have since fled to Armenia.

Images of Karabakh’s main city after the Azerbaijani offensive showed a ghost town.

The 61-year-old posed in front of mountains and water, holding pomegranates – a fruit associated with the region – in one of the photographs.

Aliyev’s visit came as Pope Francis called for the protection of Karabakh’s ancient Christian Armenian monasteries and churches.

The Catholic leader spoke after his traditional Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome:

“Beyond the humanitarian situation of the displaced people, which is serious, I would like to appeal for the protection of the monasteries and places of worship in the region.”

He called on the new authorities and “all inhabitants” to respect the places of worship “in an expression of faith and a sign of a fraternity that allows us to live together in our differences.”

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing” in Karabakh, which Baku denies.

Aliyev’s trip came after he met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at a meeting of ex-Soviet leaders in Kyrgyzstan, which Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan did not attend.

Aliyev’s trip came exactly 20 years since he became president of Azerbaijan. Throughout his authoritarian rule he has vowed to bring Karabakh back under Azerbaijani control.

The Karabakh region, which was previously known as Nagorno-Karabakh and is known to Armenians as Artsakh, is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory, but became a breakaway state under the control of ethnic Armenian forces in 1994 following a six-year conflict.

A subsequent war in 2020 returned control of much of the area to Azerbaijan, until a lightning offensive last month forced separatists to relinquish the rest of the region.

In a 24-hour campaign that began on September 19, the Azerbaijani army routed the area’s undermanned and outgunned Armenian forces, forcing them to capitulate.

The majority of the area’s ethnic Armenian population later fled the region, fearing reprisals or losing the freedom to practice their religion and customs.

With reporting from Press Association and AFP 

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