Azerbaijani leader: Cease-fire may improve Armenia relations

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A woman carries her purchases and chicken at the market in Stepanakert, the capital of the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Ethnic Armenians return to a normal life after a Russia-brokered cease-fire was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

MOSCOW – The president of Azerbaijan said Saturday he hopes the ceasefire that ended a six-week war with Armenia this month will lead to improving relations between the countries.

President Ilham Aliyev made the statement as a high-level Russian delegation visited Azerbaijani's capital, Baku. The delegation, which included Russia's foreign and defense ministers, also visited the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Russia negotiated the ceasefire signed last week, under which Azerbaijan is to regain sizeable areas of land that had been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since a previous war in the early 1990s. The agreement is backed by the presence of nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers.

“I hope that today’s ceasefire and our further plans to normalize relations with Armenia, if perceived positively by the Armenian side, can create a new situation in the region, a situation of cooperation, a situation of strengthening stability and security," Aliyev said.

The two countries do not have diplomatic relations, and the Armenia-Azerbaijan border has been closed since the war over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh that ended in 1994 with Armenian forces in control of the region and large swaths of adjacent territory.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Aliyev favors unblocking the “vital trade routes” in the region.

Russia and Azerbaijan also agree on the need to create conditions for ethnic conciliation in the region, Lavrov said.

Animosity between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis is strong. Many Armenians leaving the territories that Azerbaijan is taking over set their houses on fire rather than allow Azerbaijanis to use them.

Azerbaijan has been angered to discover the wholescale ruination of towns that came under Armenian control in the 1990s war.

In Yerevan, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his country's peacekeepers were in control of the road that connects Nagorno-Karabakh's capital with Armenia and that they are ensuring the return of people who fled the capital during the recent fighting.