Nagorno-Karabakh: ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia

Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed on Saturday on a ceasefire from noon in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, said Russian diplomacy after marathon talks in Moscow between the heads of the Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomacy . “A cease-fire is announced from 12:00 noon on October 10, 2020 for humanitarian purposes,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, reading a statement after the talks. It was not immediately clear whether it was midday in Moscow or in Stepanakert. Sergey Lavrov said that the ceasefire would allow “the exchange of prisoners of war, other people and the bodies of those killed with mediation and in accordance with the criteria of the Red Cross committee”.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have also committed themselves “to substantial negotiations to quickly reach a peaceful settlement” of the conflict with the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group, Sergey Lavrov said. Co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France, the OSCE Minsk Group has been the main international mediator in this conflict since the mid-1990s. The “specific parameters” for the implementation of the ceasefire will be agreed later, Sergey Lavrov added.

More than 10 hours of negotiations

These negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Moscow lasted more than 10 hours and ended very late at night from Friday to Saturday. This was the first serious hope for ending the deadly clashes between Armenian separatists from the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic, supported by Yerevan, and Azerbaijani forces since September 27. So far, both sides had remained deaf to the international community’s calls for a ceasefire.

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In a message on her Facebook account, the spokeswoman for Russian diplomacy, Maria Zakharova, referred to “marathon negotiations” and called the Russian Foreign Minister a “maestro”. Before the start of the talks, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev said he was giving Yerevan a “last chance” to peacefully settle the conflict in this mountainous region, claimed by the two countries. “We will return to our land anyway,” he said during a televised speech. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian said he was ready “for the resumption of the peace process”.

Russian Prime Minister in Yerevan

Ahead of the talks in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Michoustine had met his Armenian counterpart in Yerevan on Friday. During negotiations in Moscow, an Armenian army spokesman told the press that fighting continued along the front line. On Friday, new bursts of rockets and new explosions were heard in Stepanakert, the separatist capital, by a journalist from Agence France-Presse on the spot.

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In his televised speech before the talks in Moscow, President Aliev 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.

400 dead in 13 days

Azerbaijan says it is determined to reconquer Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist region mainly populated by Armenians, by force of arms, and maintains that only a withdrawal of enemy troops would end the fighting. A first war between 1988 and 1994 left 30,000 dead there and hundreds of thousands of refugees. The front has since remained frozen, despite recurring clashes.

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Since the resumption of clashes 13 days ago, the official death toll has risen to more than 400, 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.

Russian, Turkish, Iranian and Western interests

On Thursday, an emblematic Armenian cathedral was hit twice in a few 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 had leaked from this meeting.

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Abroad, the fear is to see this conflict internationalize in a region where Russians, Turks, Iranians and Westerners all have interests. Especially since Ankara encourages Baku to go on the 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.

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