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Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on a ceasefire in Nagorno Karabakh after Russia hosted mediation talks in Moscow on Friday. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the agreement following 10 hours of negotiations. Based on the ceasefire, both parties will now begin “substantive” talks, according to Lavrov.

The Worst Fighting in Nagorno Karabakh in Decades

The hostilities are to be halted from midday on Saturday to allow prisoners’ exchange and the recovery of dead bodies. More than 300 people have died, and thousands displaced since the latest violence in the long-running conflict broke out on September 27. Both former Soviet republics have blamed each other for the latest outbreak of violence, the worst in decades.

Lavrov added that the International Red Cross Committee would act as an intermediary in the humanitarian operation. He did not provide details on the talks but stated that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group would mediate.

President Vladimir Putin previously urged the conflicting parties to agree on a ceasefire and offered his country to mediate. Russia has a military base in Armenia, and both nations are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) alliance.

However, Moscow also has good relations with Azerbaijan.

The foreign ministers of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramow accepted Russia’s mediation initiative in the conflict during the Friday meeting.

NATO Sec-Gen: ‘There is No Military Solution’

During the week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it was essential to get the message across to everyone involved to end the fighting immediately. All efforts that lead to a peaceful solution must be supported. “There is no military solution.”

There was an indication from Paris that both parties could move towards an early ceasefire during the week. “We are moving towards a ceasefire soon, even if the situation is still fragile,” it said on Friday from circles at the Elysee Palace. President Macron consulted with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been simmering for decades and killed around 30,000 people between 1988-94 in a war that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse. Azerbaijan lost control of the area during the conflict but agreed to a ceasefire. However, both sides never established a settlement nor a declaration of peace.

Heavy fighting began again between Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27. Numerous people have died. The region’s main city of Stepanakert suffered several days of shelling with residents sheltering in basements and much of the city left without power.

Both countries had recently accused each other of attacks on civilians. Around 145,000 people live in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region, predominantly inhabited by Christian Armenians, legally belongs to the predominantly Islamic Azerbaijan under international law but has renounced that status in declaring itself independent. Russia supports Armenia while Turkey supports Azerbaijan. Ankara and Moscow’s opposing geopolitical interests and the natural gas and oil pipelines that run through the region and through which Azerbaijan supplies the world market threatened to escalate the conflict in the South Caucasus.

The situation deteriorated further when Armenian officials alleged that Turkey was involved in the conflict and sent Syrian mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan’s side. Turkey has publicly backed Azerbaijan in the conflict but has denied sending fighters to the region.

On Friday, Turkey said that France, the US, and Russia’s efforts to end violence between Azeri and Armenian forces over Nagorno-Karabakh were bound to fail unless they ensured the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the enclave.

The latter is testimony that, despite the progress made in Moscow yesterday, the situation remains severely volatile. Much will depend on how swiftly a roadmap for a lasting peace can be formulated and whether or not Turkey can be stopped in its attempts to exacerbate the situation via its proxies. Ankara’s demands of a complete withdrawal of Armenian forces remain inconceivable at this point.

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