The Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has said a ceasefire in the breakaway Armenian republic in Nagorno-Karabakh was largely being observed as truce talks with Azerbaijan over the future of the region and its residents began.
Video published by Azerbaijani media showed the delegation from the self-styled Artsakh republic accompanied by Russian peacekeepers driving to the city of Yevlakh after a ceasefire was declared following a 24-hour Azerbaijani offensive that Baku claims has put it in full control of the disputed ethnic Armenian enclave.
Thursday’s talks ended without any public statements or any sign of a breakthrough. Elchin Amirbekov, Azerbaijan’s representative, said it was “difficult” to expect that all problems between Azerbaijan and Karabakh Armenians could be settled in one meeting. Quoting the ethnic Armenians’ representative, Russia’s RIA news agency said no final agreements had been reached between the two sides and an adviser to the leader in Nagorno-Karabakh said ethnic Armenians would need security guarantees before giving up their weapons.
As part of the initial ceasefire agreement, ethnic Armenian forces agreed to disband, in a capitulation to Azerbaijan. Armenia has said it is not a party to the ceasefire or the negotiations. The country was defeated in a 44-day war with Azerbaijan in 2020 and the prime minister, Mr Pashinyan, has warned that Azerbaijan is seeking to drag Armenia into another conflict.
In a separate address to his nation on Thursday to mark the country’s independence day, Mr Pashinyan said Armenia needed to be “free of conflict” for the sake of its independence, without specifically mentioning Nagorno-Karabakh.
Thousands of protesters had gathered on Wednesday evening to denounce the Armenian government’s perceived failure to protect ethnic Armenians in Karabakh.
The talks will determine the fate of tens of thousands of ethnic Armenian residents of the disputed territories, who have endured war and a months-long blockade as they continue to live in an enclave that is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory.
Mr Pashinyan said on Thursday Armenia was prepared to accommodate refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of Nagorno-Karabakh residents have taken refuge in a camp operated by Russian peacekeepers to avoid the fighting, while many others fled to the airport of the regional capital, Stepanakert, hoping to flee the region.
Nagorno-Karabakh and some surrounding territories have been under ethnic Armenian control since the end of a separatist war in 1994, but Azerbaijan regained the territories and parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself in 2020.
Local officials, as well as those in Yerevan, have said Azerbaijan is undertaking a campaign of ethnic cleansing by seeking to drive out the tens of thousands of remaining ethnic Armenian residents of the region.
During a forum at the UN general assembly, the Armenian foreign minister, Ararat Mirzoyan, said: “One hundred and twenty thousand people, including women, children and elderly people, are currently facing an existential threat to their lives as Azerbaijan tries to ethnically cleanse and deprive the people of Nagorno-Karabakh from their right to live in their homeland in security, freedom and dignity.”
Azerbaijan has said it wants to discuss the reintegration of the Karabakh territories, and Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, said in a nationally televised speech on Wednesday that local Armenians from Karabakh had “forgotten that they live in Azerbaijan”.
He said Azerbaijan had restored its sovereignty “with an iron fist”.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, more than 5,000 residents have taken shelter at an airport near Stepanakert that has been used as a base by Russian peacekeepers deployed to the region after the 2020 war. They had been evacuated from the Mardakert, Martuni and Askeran districts of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia’s defence ministry said.
Meanwhile, Mr Aliyev apologised in a phone call with Vladimir Putin on Thursday for the death of Russian peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh the previous day, the Kremlin said.
On Wednesday, Russia’s defence ministry said several of its peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh were killed when their car was shot at as they drove away from an observation post. Russian media later reported that among the four service personnel killed was Ivan Kovgan, the deputy commander of the peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Kremlin said that in the phone call with Mr Aliyev, Mr Putin highlighted the importance of safeguarding the security and rights of ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region.
The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, earlier told Mr Aliyev to protect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and “ensure full ceasefire and safe, dignified treatment by Azerbaijan of Karabakh Armenians”.
“Their human rights and security need to be ensured. Access needed for immediate humanitarian assistance,” Michel wrote in a post on social media. – Guardian
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