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Azerbaijan takes control of four villages on the border with Armenia as part of a Reuters deal

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Azerbaijani Border Service has taken control of four villages in Gazakh district on the border with Armenia under an agreement with Yerevan, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev said on Friday.

The size of the territory returned to Azerbaijan under a border demarcation agreement on Friday amounted to 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles), Mustafayev said.

Armenia had said in April it would return the uninhabited villages to Azerbaijan, which both sides said was a milestone on the path to a peace deal between Yerevan and Baku, which have been at war for more than 30 years.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s decision to hand over the four villages has sparked protests at home, with demonstrators calling on him to resign over what they branded as treason.

Pashinyan, in an address to the nation late on Friday, described at length how Armenians had long sought a homeland within a specific geographic area and how demarcating national borders was part of that process.

He said the goal of all Armenians was to act “so that a sovereign and democratic Armenia with demarcated borders becomes a national ideology and concept.”

Azerbaijan’s reconquest of the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region last September, a move that led to an exodus of ethnic Armenians living there, dealt Yerevan a painful blow.

But it also paved the way for an elusive deal by taking a longstanding source of contention off the table.

However, Azerbaijan and Armenia still have other unresolved territorial disputes, mostly centered on enclaves that the two sides want the other side to surrender control or grant access to.