Armenia is due to hand over disputed territory to Azerbaijan in line with a peace accord that was signed between both countries after six weeks of intense fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory.
Residents of the Kalbajar district in Azerbaijan that was controlled by Armenian separatists for decades began a mass exodus of the mountainous province in the days leading up to the official withdrawal day.
AFP journalists saw fleeing residents pile furniture and kitchenware into vehicles before leaving for Armenia and some among the departing ethnic-Armenians said they had exhumed graves they feared would be desecrated by Azerbaijanis.
Thick plumes of smoke were rising over the valley near the village of Charektar after residents set their homes on fire preferring to leave devastation in their wake and homes that would be uninhabitable by Azerbaijanis.
A Russian peacekeeping contingent was deployed this week to Nagorno-Karabakh. They set up checkpoints and positions in the region´s administrative centre, Stepanakert, as part of the terms of the accord that sees Armenia cede swathes of territory that Azerbaijan’s forces gained in the fighting.
Moscow’s peacekeeping mission, which the military said included soldiers that previously were stationed in Syria, comprises some 2,000 troops for a renewable five-year mission.
The ex-Soviet rivals agreed to end hostilities earlier this week after efforts by Russia, France and the US to get a ceasefire fell through during the nearly two months of clashes.
A key part of the peace deal includes Armenia´s return of Kalbajar, as well as the Aghdam district by November 20 and the Lachin district by December 1, which have been held by Armenians since a devastating war in the 1990s.