Publish: 16 Nov 2020, 04:29 pm
Soldiers unloaded sandbags and monks gave khaki vests over their cassocks on Sunday after Russian peacekeepers arrived to guard the 12th century Armenian Dadivank monastery in the territory to be ceded to Azerbaijan within days.
Russia deployed its troops as part of a Moscow-brokered ceasefire agreement to end six weeks of fighting between Armenian ethnic powers and Azerbaijani troops over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and surrounding areas, reports Reuters.
Ethnic Armenians set fire to their houses, cut off electricity cables and cut down trees before leaving the area under Baku's control.
But Father Ovanes, the superior of the monastery, said that he would not leave regardless of whether Russian peacekeepers were stationed there to protect him.
“I was prepared and I said: I’m not getting out of here,” he told Reuters.
Azerbaijan was initially expected to take over the Kalbajar region, controlled by ethnic Armenians since the end of the first Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994, on Sunday.
But Baku extended the deadline until Nov. 25, Presidential administration official Hikmet Gadjiyev said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, to take care of Christian shrines in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that Azerbaijan is entering into an agreement, the Kremlin said on Saturday.
Reporters saw Russian peacekeepers patrolling the newly built checkpoint next to the monastery. The military personnel carrier was parked in front of the church, and the soldiers took selfies with the clergy inside.
“We are happy that our Russian soldiers, our brothers are here to protect the border and to protect this monastery, and the monastery will bless them and protect them,” said Father Moses, a clergyman.
Peacekeepers could be allowed to stay in the monastery as a result of talks that are still underway, Father Ovanes said.
The clergy has taken down church bells and cross-stones and sent them out of the city, fearing they could be desecrated and vandalised.
The monastery overlooks a village that was burned down and deserted by its inhabitants after a peace deal.
Most of the people had left the Kalbajar district by Sunday, but some Armenian soldiers remained behind to finish the demolition of the houses in another village named Knaravan.
Reuters reporters saw them taking down electricity poles, sawing them and loading them into a truck next to a school that had its windows smashed and roof torn off.
“We don’t want to leave to the enemy, to Azerbaijan, what belonged to us. We just try to keep what belonged to us,” said one of the soldiers who declined to give his name.