Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Saturday of violating the ceasefire supposed to have come into effect at noon local time, negotiated with Moscow after nearly two weeks of intense fighting for the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh.
After a morning of fighting, calm reigned only briefly as the ceasefire took effect before the two sides blamed each other again.
“Armenia is flagrantly violating the ceasefire, is trying to attack in the direction of Fizuli-Jebrail and Agdam-Terter,” the Azerbaijani defense ministry said.
“The Azerbaijani forces launched an attack at 12:05”, that is after the entry into force of the ceasefire at noon, for its part declared the Armenian Ministry of Defense, denouncing the “lie” of Baku to About the Armenian attacks.
In near-deserted Stepanakert, the warning sirens, which sounded much of the morning, stopped when the ceasefire came into effect, before resuming. The inhabitants, holed up for days to shelter themselves from the bombardments, timidly came out on their doorsteps to look at the sky and to listen.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats had agreed, with Russian mediation, on a ceasefire after negotiations lasting more than 10 hours that ended very late Friday night in Moscow on Saturday.
This humanitarian ceasefire was supposed to allow the exchange of prisoners of war and the bodies of victims, according to Russian diplomacy.
The clashes between the Armenian separatists of Nagorny Karabakh, supported by Yerevan, and the Azerbaijani forces since September 27, have left more than 450 confirmed deaths, including about fifty civilians. But the real toll could be much higher, with each side claiming to have killed thousands of enemy soldiers.
Stepanakert, regularly bombed in recent days, was again on Saturday morning, according to an AFP journalist. By midday the situation was calmer but explosions still echoed in the distance and few believed in the chances of a truce.
“We know the Azeris, we can’t trust them. They can return their jacket in the blink of an eye. This ceasefire will not last. This is a ploy to save time and rebuild their strength, “said Livon, one of the very few taxis still circulating in the separatist capital.
“Yet both sides need a break, a ceasefire would be very welcome,” said the man.
“I have lived in Azerbaijan for almost 20 years, these people hate us. We do not believe in a ceasefire, they just want to buy time, “added Vladimir Barseghian, 64, retired and volunteer mobilized in a uniform workshop.
Many in Azerbaijan even say they are opposed to this truce. In Baku, Sitara Mamedova, a 20-year-old student, is “disappointed”: “No to the ceasefire! The enemy must leave our lands or be exterminated on our lands “.
In Barda, 40 km from the front, Murat Assadov agrees: “We must continue the war and take back our lands”.
Azerbaijan and Armenia also committed themselves “to substantial negotiations to achieve a rapid peaceful settlement” of the conflict, with the mediation of the three co-chairs (France, Russia, United States) of the Minsk group of the ‘OSCE, Moscow said.
The latter will have to “resume without preconditions”, insisted the spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry, Agnès von der Mühll.
On Saturday, Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Russia’s mediation efforts, according to the Kremlin.
The cease-fire is “an important first step, but will not replace a permanent solution”, indicated the Turkish diplomacy, first support of Baku.
According to her, Azerbaijan has given “the last chance to Armenia to withdraw from the territories it occupies” and “has shown Armenia and the world that it can take back its lands occupied for almost 30 years. “.
The fear is to see this conflict internationalize in a region where Russians, Turks, Iranians and Westerners have interests. Especially since Ankara encourages Baku to offensive and Moscow is bound by a military treaty with Yerevan.
Turkey is accused of actively participating in hostilities with Azerbaijan, which it denies. There have been many reports of pro-Turkish fighters from Syria being sent to fight.
A first war between 1988 and 1994 left 30,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees. The front has since remained frozen, despite recurring clashes.