Armenia and Azerbaijan He agreed to a RussiaA ceasefire was reached in Nagorno Karabakh from Saturday, but they immediately accused each other of obstructing the agreement that was aimed at ending the worst outbreak of hostilities in the separatist region in more than a quarter of a century.
The two sides exchanged blame for the breach of the truce, which came into effect at noon (0800 GMT) with new attacks, and the chief Azerbaijani diplomat said that the truce did not take effect.
The ceasefire announcement came last night after 10 hours of talks in Moscow under the auspices of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The agreement stipulates that the ceasefire should pave the way for talks to settle the conflict.
If the truce holds, it will be a major diplomatic coup for Russia, which has a security agreement with Armenia but has also established warm relations with Azerbaijan. But the agreement was immediately contested by mutual allegations of violations.
Minutes after the armistice took effect, the Armenian army accused Azerbaijan of bombing the area near the town of Kaban in southeast Armenia, killing a civilian. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense rejected the Armenian accusations, describing them as a “provocation”.
The Azerbaijani army, in turn, accused Armenia of striking the Terter and Agdam regions of Azerbaijan with missiles, and then attempted to launch attacks in the Agadir-Terter and Fizuli-Jebrayal regions. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jihon Permov accused “the conditions for implementing the ceasefire for humanitarian reasons are currently missing” amid the continued Armenian bombing.
The Armenian Ministry of Defense denied any violations of the armistice by Armenian forces.
The recent fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began on September 27 and left hundreds of deaths in the largest escalation of the decades-long conflict around Nagorno Karabakh since the separatist war there ended in 1994. The region is located in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
Since the start of the recent fighting, Armenia has said that it is open to a ceasefire, while Azerbaijan has insisted that it should be conditional on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno Karabakh, under the pretext of the failure of international efforts to negotiate a political settlement that left it no choice but to resort to force.
The armistice was signed by the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered it in a series of calls with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Russia 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. They did not reach any deal, which made Azerbaijan increasingly angry.
In his address to the nation on Friday, hours before the ceasefire agreement was reached, the Azerbaijani president insisted on his country’s right to take back its territory by force after nearly three decades of international talks that “did not result in an inch of progress.”
The fighting with heavy artillery, warplanes and drones swept through Nagorno-Karabakh, as the two sides accused each other of targeting residential areas and civilian infrastructure.
According to the Nagorno-Karabakh army, 404 of its soldiers have been killed since September 27. Azerbaijan did not provide details of its military losses. Dozens of civilians were also killed on both sides.
The current escalation marks the first time that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey has occupied a prominent place in the conflict, providing strong political support. Over the past few years, Turkey has supplied Azerbaijan with state-of-the-art weapons, including drones and missile systems that have helped the Azerbaijani army outmaneuver separatist forces in Nagorno Karabakh in recent fighting.
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.
In an interview with CNN Arabia aired on Thursday, the Azerbaijani president admitted that Turkish F-16 fighter jets remained in Azerbaijan after weeks of joint military exercises, but insisted that they were on the ground. Armenian officials had previously claimed that a Turkish F-16 had shot down an Armenian warplane, a claim both Turkey and Azerbaijan denied.
Turkey’s involvement in the conflict stirred painful memories in Armenia, where an estimated 1.5 million people were killed in the massacres, deportations and forced marches that began in 1915. Historians widely view the event as genocide, but Turkey denies this.
Turkey’s prominent role in the confrontation alarmed Russia, which has a military base in Armenia. Russia and Armenia 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, however, 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 destroying its delicate ties 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.
A permanent ceasefire in Nagorno Karabakh will allow the Kremlin to halt Turkey’s attempt to expand its influence in Russia’s backyard without damaging its strategic relationship with Ankara.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the deal was “an important first step, but it cannot replace a permanent solution.”
“From the very beginning, Turkey has always emphasized that it will support only those solutions that were acceptable to Azerbaijan,” she said.
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.
Armenian Foreign Minister Zahrab Mnatsakyanan stressed, in televised statements after the talks, that “no other country, especially Turkey, can play any role.”