Azerbaijan’s Demand for Ex-Soviet Exclaves’ Return

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has emphasized his country’s sovereignty over territories that belonged to Soviet Azerbaijan but have been under Armenian control for over 30 years. In his first interview in 2024, Aliyev discussed the February 7 snap presidential election, his government’s performance in 2023, the military seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the prospects for a peace deal with Armenia. He also discussed the fate of ex-Soviet-Azerbaijani exclaves and villages now under Armenian control, which are far from and smaller than the main territory under contention for three decades.

Now that Azerbaijan has restored full sovereignty over Karabakh, more focus is on the villages and their status as the two sides prepare to negotiate over a formal border and a final resolution to the conflict. There are seven villages in the northwestern Gazakh district, with four of them being on the Azerbaijani side of the border and occupied by Armenian forces in the 1990s.

Azerbaijani Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Aliyev has called for the return of four villages, including enclaves, to Azerbaijan without any preconditions. He suggested that a separate expert group should be established for enclaves and that roads leading to these enclaves should have the necessary conditions.

The rumors of the villages returning to Azerbaijani control have been ongoing since the 2020 war. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also mentioned the return of Gazakh villages.

In June, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan suggested that his government was willing to give up Karki. Recently, Azerbaijani media speculated that Pashinyan had pledged to return the villages, citing a statement signed with EU, German, and French leaders. Aliyev also stated that eight villages in Azerbaijan were still under Armenian occupation and stressed the importance of liberating them.

Armenian and Azerbaijani border delimitation commissions continue to meet without mediators’ support, with the next meeting scheduled for this month. The issue of Gazakh villages is also a key focus, as Azerbaijani troops have been occupying Armenian territory since the 2020 war.

The commissions hold an estimated 215 square kilometers of Armenian land. Aliyev stated that his army will not retract from the positions of May 2021 or September 2022, as the border must be defined. However, the disputed location does not include any settlements and Armenia continues to occupy Armenian villages. The issue will be clarified during the commissions’ meeting at the end of this month.

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