The meeting of the heads of the Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats began on Friday in Moscow, with the hope of an end to the conflict between their countries in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where intense fighting persists.
In speeches preceding the meeting, the leaders of the two countries spoke, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian saying he was “ready” to resume the peace process with Baku.
“We are giving Armenia a chance to resolve the conflict peacefully. This is his last chance, ”Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev threatened in a televised speech. “We will return to our land anyway. This is their historic chance, “he said, speaking of the Armenians, before launching:” No one can resist the Azerbaijani soldier! “
Hitherto deaf to the calls for a truce from the international community, Azerbaijan and Armenia sent their foreign ministers to the Russian capital for negotiations, the first hope of an end to hostilities since their resumption on the 27th. September.
“We are heading towards a truce tonight or tomorrow, but it is still fragile,” said the French presidency after Emmanuel Macron’s telephone exchanges with Nikol Pachinian and Ilham Aliev. Ahead of the talks in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Michoustine met his Armenian counterpart in Yerevan on Friday.
The fighting continues
After a relatively calm night and morning, more bursts of rockets and more explosions were heard in Stepanakert, the separatist capital, by an AFP journalist there.
Baku and Yerevan stressed that the situation remains tense at the front, with the two opponents bragging about inflicting setbacks on the other.
In his televised speech, Azerbaijani President Aliyev announced the capture of the city of Hadrut, in southern Nagorno-Karabakh, and eight surrounding villages. Information qualified as “delirium” by a spokesperson for the presidency of the separatists.
Nikoal Pachinian told him on Friday that he was ready “for the resumption of the peace process in connection with the recent declarations of the presidents and foreign ministers of the Minsk group”, the name given to the three states acting as mediators (Russia, United States). United and France).
Vladimir Putin, who met with him as well as with Ilham Aliev, “calls for an end to the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh for humanitarian reasons, with a view to exchanging the bodies of the dead and the prisoners”, according to the Kremlin.
A taxi driver in the recently shot-hit Azerbaijani town of Barda, Aydin Goyushov wants the fighting to continue “until every square meter is released” by Baku. “We will not back down and we will continue until the last Azerbaijani man is alive. Then our women will take over if necessary, ”he trumpets.
The powder keg of the Caucasus
For 13 days, Armenian separatists from the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic and Azerbaijani forces have clashed in this mountainous region, claimed by the two countries.
The official death toll rose Friday morning to more than 400 dead, including 22 Armenian civilians and 31 Azerbaijani. However, it is very partial and could be much higher, with each side claiming to have eliminated thousands of enemy soldiers. Baku does not reveal its military losses.
Clashes have spread in recent days with shelling in urban areas on both sides. According to the separatist authorities, half of the 140,000 inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh have already been displaced by these clashes.
On Thursday, an iconic Armenian cathedral was hit twice in a matter of hours and Russian journalists were injured there, one of them very seriously. The Azerbaijani army denied firing at this building.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov was already in Geneva on Thursday to meet with the OSCE Minsk Group, but nothing leaked from the meeting.
Azerbaijan says it is determined to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist region mostly populated by Armenians, by force, and maintains that only a withdrawal of enemy troops would end the fighting.
Abroad, the fear is that this conflict will internationalize in a region where Russians, Turks, Iranians and Westerners all have interests. Especially since Ankara encourages Baku to offensive and Moscow is bound by a military treaty with Yerevan.
Turkey is accused of participating with men and equipment in hostilities alongside Azerbaijan, which it denies.