BAKU – Azerbaijan said Thursday it lost nearly 2,800 soldiers in 44 days of fighting with Armenian forces over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the first time it has disclosed its military casualties.
The hostilities ended Nov. 10 with a Russia-brokered peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim the territories that Armenian forces had controlled for more than a quarter-century.
Azerbaijan had not released information on its military casualties until Thursday when the Defense Ministry said 2,783 troops were killed and more than 100 are still missing. Another 1,245 are being treated in medical facilities.
The government also said 94 of its civilians were killed and more than 400 were wounded in shelling.
Armenia’s Health Ministry said Wednesday that at least 2,718 Armenian servicemen were killed in the fighting. Scores of Armenian civilians were also killed.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left Nagorno-Karabakh itself and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
In fierce fighting that began Sept. 27, the Azerbaijani army routed Armenian forces and pushed deep into the separatist territory.
The Moscow-brokered peace agreement saw the return to Azerbaijan of a significant part of Nagorno-Karabakh and also required Armenia to hand over all of the regions it held outside the separatist territory. Azerbaijan completed reclaiming those territories on Tuesday when it took over the Lachin region located between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
Russia deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers for a period of at least five years to monitor the deal and facilitate the return of refugees. The Russian troops also will ensure safe transit between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia across the Lachin region.
Azerbaijan celebrated the end of fighting as a national triumph, and President Ilham Aliyev declared Thursday that Nov. 8 will be celebrated nationally as Victory Day to mark the takeover of Shusha, a key city in Nagorno-Karabakh, by Azerbaijani forces.
Aliyev had earlier set the holiday for Nov. 10, when the peace deal took effect, but he reconsidered because Turkey, which is Azerbaijan's main ally, celebrates Ataturk Memorial Day on that date.
Turkey has extended its clout in the region by strongly backing Azerbaijan. Earlier this week, Russian and Turkish military officials signed documents to set up a joint monitoring center to ensure the fulfillment of the peace deal.
The peace deal has sparked outrage in Armenia. Several hundred opposition protesters rallied Thursday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, blocking several streets as they demanded the ouster of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Artur Vanetsyan, the former head of the National Security Service who leads the Homeland opposition party, said in televised remarks that “each day that Pashinyan retains the prime minister’s post represents a national security threat.”
Armenia's opposition holds him responsible for failing to negotiate a quicker end to the hostilities at more beneficial terms, but it vows to uphold the peace deal if he steps down.
On Thursday, 17 Armenian opposition parties named veteran politician Vazgen Manukyan as their candidate for prime minister. The 74-year-old Manukyan held the post in 1990-91 when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union and later served as defense minister during the separatist war in the early 1990s.
Associated Press writers Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, and Aida Sultanova in London contributed.