Moscow (AFP) – Armenia and Azerbaijan said they have agreed to a ceasefire in Nagorno Karabakh starting at noon on Saturday.
The foreign ministers of the two countries said in a statement that the aim of the truce is to exchange prisoners and restore the dead, adding that specific details will be agreed upon at a later time.
The announcement came after 10 hours of talks in Moscow sponsored by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who read the statement. It stipulated that the ceasefire should pave the way for talks on settling the conflict.
The latest fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began on September 27 and left hundreds of deaths in the largest escalation of the decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The region is located in Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of the separatist war in 1994.
The talks took place between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who brokered the ceasefire in a series of contacts with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Armenia says it is open to a ceasefire, while Azerbaijan had previously made a possible truce conditional on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno Karabakh, arguing that the failure of international efforts to negotiate a settlement left it with no other choice but to try. To take back territory by force.
In his address to the nation on Friday, the Azerbaijani president said that nearly three decades of international talks “have not resulted in an inch of progress, nor have we retreated from an inch of the occupied territories.”
“Mediators and leaders of some international organizations have stated that there is no military solution to the conflict,” Aliyev said. “I disagreed with the thesis, and I was right. The conflict is now settled by military means, and political means will follow after that.”
If the ceasefire continues, it will be a major diplomatic coup for Russia, which has co-sponsored peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh with the United States and France as co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group, which operates under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The current escalation also marks the first time that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey has occupied a high position in the conflict and provided strong political support. In the past, Turkey supplied Azerbaijan with the latest weapons, including drones and missile systems, which helped the Azerbaijani army to outpace separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian officials say Turkey is involved in the conflict and is sending Syrian mercenaries to fight alongside Azerbaijan. Turkey denied deploying fighters in the region, but a Syrian war monitor and three opposition activists residing in Syria confirmed that Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey’s involvement in the conflict stirred painful memories in Armenia, where an estimated 1.5 million people were killed in massacres, deportations and forced marches that began in 1915 as Ottoman officials were concerned that Christian Armenians would side with Russia, its enemy in World War I.
Historians widely regard the event as a genocide. Turkey denies that the deaths amounted to genocide, saying that the death toll is exaggerated and that the dead were victims of civil war and unrest.
Turkey’s active participation in the conflict has alarmed Russia, which has a military base in Armenia. The two countries are bound by a security treaty that obliges Moscow to provide support to its ally if it is exposed to aggression.
At the same time, Russia has sought to maintain strong economic and political ties with oil-rich Azerbaijan and ward off Turkey’s attempt to increase its influence in the South Caucasus without spoiling its delicate relations with Ankara.
Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan negotiated a series of deals to coordinate their conflicting interests in Syria and Libya and expand their economic ties. Last year, Turkey, a NATO member, received Russian S-400 air defense missiles, a move that angered Washington.
The Nagorno Karabakh ceasefire will allow the Kremlin to halt Turkey’s attempt to expand its influence in Russia’s backyard without damaging its strategic relationship with Ankara.
While Turkey was looking to join the Minsk Group talks as co-chair, the statement issued by Armenia and Azerbaijan included their pledge to maintain the current format of the peace talks.