Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on a Russian-mediated ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh starting Saturday, but immediately accused each other of derailing the deal intended to end the worst outbreak of hostility in the breakaway region in more than a quarter of a century.
The two sides exchanged blame for breaking the truce that came into effect at noon (0800 GMT) with new attacks, and Azerbaijan’s top diplomat said the truce never went into effect.
The announcement of the ceasefire came overnight after 10 hours of talks in Moscow sponsored by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The agreement provided that the ceasefire would pave the way for talks on resolving the conflict.
If the truce holds, it would mark a major diplomatic blow for Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but has also cultivated warm ties with Azerbaijan. But the deal was immediately challenged by mutual complaints of violations.
A few minutes after the truce came into effect, the Armenian army accused Azerbaijan of bombing the area near the city of Kapan in south-east Armenia, killing a civilian. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry dismissed the Armenian accusations as a “provocation”
The Azerbaijani army, in turn, accused Armenia of hitting the Terter and Agdam regions of Azerbaijan with missiles and then attempting to launch offensives in the Agdere-Terter and Fizuli-Jabrail areas. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, said that “the conditions for implementing the humanitarian ceasefire are currently lacking” amid continuing Armenian bombing.
The Armenian Defense Ministry denied any violation of the truce by the Armenian forces.
The latest outbreak of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began on September 27 and killed hundreds of people in the largest escalation of the decade-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since a separatist war ended in 1994. The region it is located in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
Since the start of the latest fighting, Armenia has said it is open to a ceasefire, while Azerbaijan has insisted that it should be conditional on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing that the failure of international efforts to negotiate a political solution left him no choice but to resort to force.
Foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed the truce in Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin mediated it in a series of calls with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN COMBATS KILL TENS AND TENSION INCREASES IN THE CONFLICTS OF DECADES
Russia co-sponsored the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks together 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 have not made any deals, leaving Azerbaijan increasingly exasperated.
Speaking in a speech to the nation on Friday hours before the ceasefire agreement was reached, the Azerbaijani president insisted on his country’s right to reclaim its territory by force after nearly three decades of international talks that “failed to produce. an inch of progress. “
Fighting with heavy artillery, warplanes and drones has engulfed Nagorno-Karabakh, with both sides accusing each other of targeting residential areas and civilian infrastructure.
According to the Nagorno-Karabakh army, 404 of its military have been killed since September 27. Azerbaijan did not provide details on its military losses. Dozens of civilians from both sides were also killed.
The current escalation marked the first time that Azerbaijani ally Turkey has taken on a high profile in the conflict by offering strong political support. In recent years, Turkey has supplied Azerbaijan with state-of-the-art weapons, including drones and missile systems that have helped the Azerbaijani army overcome the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist forces in the latest fighting.
Armenian officials say Turkey is involved in the conflict and is sending Syrian mercenaries to fight on the side of Azerbaijan. Turkey denied deploying fighters in the region, but a Syrian war observer and three Syria-based opposition activists confirmed that Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In an interview with CNN Arabic broadcast on Thursday, the president of Azerbaijan admitted that Turkish F-16 fighters remained in Azerbaijan weeks after a joint military exercise, but insisted they remained on the ground. Armenian officials had previously claimed that a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian warplane, a claim that both Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied.
Turkey’s involvement in the conflict raised painful memories in Armenia, where an estimated 1.5 million died in massacres, deportations and forced marches that began in 1915. The event is widely regarded by historians as genocide, but Turkey denies it.
THE TOLCE OF DEATH RISES WITH THE ESCALSION OF THE ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN CONFLICT: “THIS IS A FIGHT AGAINST JIHADISTS”
Turkey’s highly visible role in the confrontation worried Russia, which has a military base in Armenia. Russia and Armenia are linked by a security treaty that obliges Moscow to offer support to its ally in the event of aggression.
But at the same time, Russia sought to maintain strong economic and political ties with oil-rich Azerbaijan and avert Turkey’s attempt to increase its influence in the South Caucasus without ruining its delicate relations with Ankara.
Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have negotiated a series of agreements to coordinate their conflicting interests in Syria and Libya and broaden their economic ties. Last year, NATO member Turkey received delivery of Russian S-400 air defense missiles, a move that angered Washington.
A lasting ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh would allow the Kremlin to stem Turkey’s attempt to expand its power in Russia’s backyard without ruining its strategic relationship with Ankara.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the agreement was “an important first step, but it cannot replace a lasting solution”.
“From the very beginning, Turkey has always stressed that it would only support those solutions acceptable to Azerbaijan,” he said.
While Turkey aspired to join the Minsk Group talks as co-chair, the statement issued by Armenia and Azerbaijan contained their promise to maintain the current format of the peace talks.
Speaking in a televised speech after the talks, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan stressed that “no other country, especially Turkey, can play a role”.