Historic Village Handover Marks Controversial Step Towards Peace

Last Updated on May 25, 2024 7:53 am

In a move seen as both a milestone for peace and a catalyst for domestic unrest, Armenia has returned four border villages to Azerbaijan, a significant step in the ongoing effort to normalize relations between the two long-standing rivals. The villages—Baghanis, Voskepar, Kirants, and Berkaber—had been under Armenian control since the 1990s but were officially handed back under a border delimitation agreement.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has hailed the deal as a crucial milestone towards strengthening Armenia’s sovereignty and paving the way for lasting peace. “This agreement marks a significant step towards ending decades of conflict and instability in the region,” Pashinyan stated, emphasizing the importance of future cooperation with Azerbaijan.

However, the decision has ignited a firestorm of protest within Armenia. Critics accuse Pashinyan of making concessions without securing concrete guarantees from Azerbaijan, fueling fears of further territorial compromises. Charismatic opposition leader Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan has been at the forefront of the protests, accusing Pashinyan of betraying national interests and calling for his resignation. “We cannot sacrifice our lands without clear assurances for our people’s security and prosperity,” Galstanyan declared at a recent rally.

From the Azerbaijani perspective, the handover of the villages, known locally as Baghanis Ayrum, Asagi Eskipara, Heyrimli, and Kizilhacili, has been long-awaited. Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev confirmed the receipt of the territories, marking a key victory for Baku in its post-conflict negotiations.

This territorial exchange follows the dramatic shift in power dynamics after Azerbaijan’s decisive military campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh last September, which ended with Baku regaining control of the region and prompting the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians. The victory emboldened Azerbaijan to push harder for territorial concessions, using its newfound leverage to negotiate the return of the four border villages.

Despite the villages being uninhabited, their strategic location near Armenia’s crucial north-south highway raises significant concerns for local communities. Residents fear the handover could disrupt essential connections and further isolate border regions, exacerbating their economic vulnerabilities.

The recent handover is part of a broader peace process that aims to resolve remaining territorial disputes, including various enclaves claimed by both nations. While the return of the villages is a step towards reducing tensions, the peace process remains fragile, with many issues still unresolved.

The international community is watching closely, with hopes that this latest development could pave the way for a comprehensive peace agreement. Yet, the path forward remains fraught with challenges, as both nations grapple with internal and external pressures.

For Armenia, the delicate balance between achieving peace and maintaining national integrity continues to spark intense debate, reflecting the broader struggle of a nation seeking stability in a turbulent region.

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