Azerbaijan said Wednesday it will begin in 2022 returning its refugees to the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding territories that were recaptured last year from Armenian separatists.
Some 750,000 Azerbaijanis were displaced after Baku lost control of the majority Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts in a 1990’s war with Armenian separatists that followed the Soviet Union’s breakup.
The largely dormant territorial conflict re-erupted in September, claiming the lives of some 6,000 people.
The fighting ended after six weeks with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Yerevan cede swathes of territories to Baku.
On Wednesday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he was hoping that “the gradual return of the displaced to the liberated territories will begin next year”.
He said work was currently under way to clear the area of landmines and repair infrastructure destroyed in the fighting.
Addressing an international conference on the South Caucasus held in Baku, Aliyev said a major obstacle for the refugees’ return was Armenia’s refusal to provide Baku with the map of Karabakh minefields.
He said more than 20 Azerbaijanis -- both military and civilians -- were killed in Nagorno-Karabakh by landmine explosions after the ceasefire.
Flush with revenues from oil and gas in the Caspian Sea, Aliyev’s government has said it will spend billions of dollars on rebuilding the areas reclaimed in the war.