Armenia, Azerbaijan negotiate another ceasefire: Yerevan

Senior official announces ceasefire agreed, hours after defence ministry said shelling had stopped, but no confirmation from Azerbaijan.

Low-rise apartment blocks and other buildings in the settlement of Sotk, which Armenia says was hit by shelling
Fighting flared between Armenia and Azerbaijan earlier this week [Karen Minasyan/AFP]

Armenia and Azerbaijan have negotiated a ceasefire to end a sudden resurgence of fighting that has killed 155 soldiers from both sides, according to a senior Armenian official.

Armen Grigoryan, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, announced the truce in televised remarks, saying it had taken effect hours earlier, at 8pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday. A previous ceasefire that Russia brokered on Tuesday quickly failed.

Several hours before Grigoryan’s announcement, Armenia’s Defence Ministry said that shelling had stopped but did not mention any ceasefire agreement.

There was no word from Azerbaijan about the deal.

The ceasefire declaration followed two days of heavy fighting that marked the deadliest outbreak of violence between the two longtime adversaries in nearly two years.

Late on Wednesday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, accusing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of betraying his country by trying to appease Azerbaijan and demanding his resignation.

Armenia and Azerbaijan traded blame for the hostilities, with Armenian authorities accusing Baku of unprovoked aggression and Azerbaijani officials saying their country was responding to Armenian shelling.

Pashinyan said 105 of his country’s soldiers had been killed since fighting erupted early on Tuesday, while Azerbaijan said it lost 50. Azerbaijani authorities said they were ready to unilaterally hand over the bodies of up to 100 Armenian soldiers.

An Armenian soldier is seen crewing a frontline position in Nagorno-Karabakh
Armenia and Azerbaijan confronted each other in a six-week war in 2020 in which more than 6,700 people died [File: Stringer/Reuters)

The ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed large areas of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal. Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers under that agreement.

Grigory Karasin, a senior member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, told Russia’s RIA state news agency that the truce was largely the result of Russian diplomatic efforts.

President Vladimir Putin had spoken to Pashinyan, he said, and appealed for calm.

Pashinyan told Armenia’s parliament that his government has asked Russia for military support under a friendship treaty between the countries and also requested assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO

“Our allies are Russia and the CSTO,” Pashinyan said, adding that the collective security pact states that an aggression against one member is an aggression against all.

“We don’t see military intervention as the only possibility, because there are also political and diplomatic options,” Pashinyan said, speaking in his nation’s parliament.

He told legislators that Armenia is ready to recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in a future peace treaty, provided that it relinquishes control of areas in Armenia its forces have seized.

Balancing act for Russia

Some in the opposition saw the statement as a sign of Pashinyan’s readiness to cave in to Azerbaijani demands and recognise Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of angry protesters descended on the government’s headquarters, accusing Pashinyan of treason and demanding he step down.

Pashinyan, who said that Azeri forces had occupied 10sq km (4 sq miles) of Armenia’s territory since the fighting began this week, denied reports alleging he had signed a deal accepting Azerbaijani demands as “informational sabotage directed by unfriendly forces”.

Moscow is involved in a delicate balancing act as it tries to maintain friendly ties with both nations, which were once part of the Soviet Union.

It has strong economic and security ties with Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, but also maintains close cooperation with oil-rich Azerbaijan.

Some observers saw the outbreak of fighting as an attempt by Azerbaijan to force Armenian authorities into faster implementation of some of the provisions of the 2020 peace deal, such as the opening of transport corridors via its territory.

“Azerbaijan has bigger military potential, and so it tries to dictate its conditions to Armenia and use force to push for diplomatic decisions it wants,” Sergei Markedonov, a Russian expert on the South Caucasus region, wrote in a commentary.

Markedonov noted that the current fighting coincided with Russia’s withdrawal from tracts of northeastern Ukraine after a Ukrainian counteroffensive, adding that Armenia’s request for assistance left Russia in a precarious position.

Putin and leaders of other CSTO members discussed the situation in a call late on Tuesday and agreed to send a mission of top officials from the security alliance to the area.

On Friday, Putin is set to hold a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Samarkand on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security grouping dominated by Russia and China. The Armenian government said that Pashinyan, who also was due to attend the summit, would no longer attend because of the situation in the country.

In Washington, a group of legislators supporting Armenia lobbied the Biden administration.

Adam Schiff, the influential Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and four other members of Congress called on the White House and State Department to “unequivocally condemn Azerbaijan’s actions and cease all assistance” to Azerbaijan.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies