The armed forces of Azerbaijan entered on Wednesday the district of Kalbajar, a territory that was returned to the country by Armenia under the tripartite ceasefire statement signed between the two countries and Russia on November 9.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry released video footage showing the entrance of the units of the national army to the district after 27 years of occupation by Armenia's forces.
"Kalbajar is our ancient land. It is the land of ancient Azerbaijan. Kalbajar is one of our largest districts in terms of territory," President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised public address on Wednesday, according to President.Az.
The army moved into Kalbajar through two northern directions in Azerbaijan's Daskhasan district and the Toghanali village of the Goygol district, BBC reports. Internally displaced Azerbaijanis from Kalbajar say they fled the district through the Toghanali route, which measures 80 kilometers in length, during the occupation of the territory by Armenia's forces 27 years ago.
Armenia's troops occupied Kalbajar on April 2 in 1993 during the first Armenia-Azerbaijan war in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in 1991-1994. Over 54,000 residents of Kalbajar have been forcibly displaced from the region in the wake of a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign that followed the occupation. Armenia's forces killed 511 and took 321 as hostages in the district. Currently, the IDPs from Kalbajar are living in 707 settlements located in 56 different regions of Azerbaijan.
Kalbajar's occupation saw Armenian forces destroy 97 schools, 9 kindergartens, 116 libraries, 43 clubs, 42 cultural centers, 9 hospitals and 75 medical stations, as well as the Museum of History, hundreds of administrative buildings, and thousands of private houses and apartments. The first resolution out of four adopted by the UN Security Council in 1993, Resolution 822, demanded the immediate withdrawal of the occupying forces from the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan. Armenia had been ignoring to fulfill the demands of the legally binding document since 1993.
The occupation of Azerbaijan's Karabakh region by Armenia came after both countries gained independence following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan which lasted until a ceasefire was reached in 1994. As a result of the bloody war, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories – the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. Azerbaijan faced a humanitarian crisis during the war, in which 30,000 of its citizens were killed, while one million others were forcibly displaced from their homeland.
Kalbajar's liberation comes as part of Armenia's obligations it took under the tripartite ceasefire statement signed between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 9. The document ceased the 44-day-long hostilities kicked off on September 27 in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and obliged Armenia to return the occupied Azerbaijani districts, including Kalbajar and Lachin, as well as the occupied parts of the Aghdam district, all of which are internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan retook control of Aghdam's occupied areas on November 20. Kalbajar is the second district that was liberated after the ceasefire statement came into force. Return of Kalbajar was first slated for November 15, however, the deadline was prolonged until November 25 upon the request of Armenia's government.
Kalbajar, located 450 kilometers west of the capital Baku, is the highest mountain region and one of the largest regions of Azerbaijan in terms of territory. The name of the district originates from the ancient Turkic word of Kevlicher, meaning "a fortress on the river." Kalbajar has been populated exclusively by ethnic Azerbaijanis, who comprised 98 percent of the district's population.
Kalbajar is considered to be one of the oldest areas of the human population. Ancient settlements dating back to more than 30,000 years ago, 6,000-year-old rock carvings, samples of the ancient stick-shaped Turkic alphabet have been found in the territory of Kalbajar.
The district is home to many historical monuments belonging to the ancient Azerbaijani state of Caucasian Albania, as well. The most famous of these is the Khudavang temple complex in the Vang village. Khudavang or Dedeveng monastery, located in the Vang village of Kalbajar, was built in the VIII-XIII centuries during the reign of Caucasian Albania where Christianity was the major religious belief. The complex is one of the largest and most complete examples of Azerbaijan’s Christian heritage. Numerous construction inscriptions have survived in the Khudavang monastery, including the names such as Arzu, Tursun, Seyti, Hasan, Avag, Shams, Altun, Aghbuh and Garagoz, which prove the Turkic identity of builders.
Kalbajar is known well for its gold, copper, and mercury deposits, healing mineral water sanatoriums, dense forests, rivers and springs. There are over 30,000 springs in Kalbajar, including the Istisu (warm water) thermal spring. The recreation sanatorium once operated in the vicinity of the spring was devastated by Armenia's forces during the district's occupation.
Vast gold deposits and other natural resources in the occupied Azerbaijani districts have been intensively exploited by various companies including Vallex Group, Base Metals, Lydian International, GeoProMining and Vedanta Group after their occupation by Armenia's forces. The Yerevan-based GeoProMining company has been illegally mining the goldfields in the Soyudlu village of Kalbajar since 2007.
Swiss tycoon, co-founder, and CEO of the Franck Muller luxury watch manufacturer company, Vartan Sirmakes has actively been engaged in exploiting the gold deposits in Kalbajar. He has reportedly invested in mining operations in Soyudlu and the Vejnali village of Azerbaijan's Zangilan district, one of the territories liberated during the recent military operations. The gold mined illegally in Azerbaijan's Karabakh region has been extensively used in the production of Frank Muller watches and sold on Swiss stock exchanges. Sirmakes has reportedly exploited gold worth $302 million in the Kalbajar and Zangilan districts of Azerbaijan.