Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday raised the national flag in the capital of the former breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh — known as Khankendi by Azerbaijan and as Stepanakert by Armenians — after a lightning military operation last month brought the territory back under Baku’s control.
President Aliyev said he had achieved a decades-long “dream of Azerbaijani people” by taking control of Nagorno-Karabakh from ethnic Armenia separatists.
“We achieved what we wanted. We fulfilled the dream the Azerbaijani people have lived with for decades,” he said in a speech in Karabakh’s main city.
The capital fell to Azerbaijan after security forces crushed ethnic Armenian fighters, 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 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, it remained part of the Azeri Soviet Republic but with autonomy.
As the Soviet Union crumbled, what is known as the First Karabakh War erupted (1988-94) 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.