The ethnic Armenian leadership of breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh said on Friday that there was no agreement yet with Azerbaijan on security guarantees or an amnesty after a lightning Azeri offensive forced them into a humiliating ceasefire deal.
The future of Karabakh and its 120,000 ethnic Armenians hangs in the balance: Azerbaijan wants to integrate the long-contested region, but ethnic Armenians say they fear they will be persecuted and have accused the world of abandoning them.
Baku envisages an amnesty for Karabakh Armenian fighters who give up their arms although some have said they will continue their resistance, said Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president. “Even with regard to former ... combatants ... we are envisaging an amnesty or alluding to an amnesty.”
But Karabakh Armenians, who call their territory the Republic of Artsakh, said agreement had not yet been reached. “These questions must still be resolved,” David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, the president of the self-styled republic, said. “There are no concrete results yet.”
However, Mr Babayan said agreement had been reached for a humanitarian convoy to travel from Armenia to Karabakh on Friday via the Lachin corridor, a road crossing Azerbaijani territory. “The situation is very difficult: the people are hungry, there is no electricity, no fuel – we have many refugees.”
Seven Russian peacekeeping vehicles, including large trucks, passed an Armenian checkpoint heading towards Nagorno-Karabakh on Friday, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
After this week’s swift military operation, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev promised to guarantee the rights of ethnic Armenians, but said his “iron fist” had consigned their idea of an independent Armenian Karabakh to history. He said the region would be turned into a “paradise” as part of Azerbaijan.
His country, supported by Turkey, has military superiority over Karabakh fighters. But it is unclear how many of those fighters are prepared to lay down their arms or what shape any more comprehensive agreement now being discussed is taking.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, which were both part of the Soviet Union, have fought two wars over Karabakh since its 1991 collapse. The region is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but, backed by Armenia, has enjoyed de facto independence for the past three decades.
Given the bloody history between the two countries, many Armenians are fearful about what will happen next.
“Our one and only hope is help from the Russian peacekeepers. The world turned a blind eye, it doesn’t want to hear anything. We think if there are no peacekeepers even for one hour, we will have genocide,” said Grigor Zakharyan, an Armenian living near the border with Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s claim of victory over the region ushers in yet another twist to the tumultuous history of mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, which over the centuries has come under the sway of Persians, Turks, Russians, Ottomans and Soviets.
It could also change the delicate balance of power in the South Caucasus, a region criss-crossed by oil and gas pipelines where Russia, the United States, Turkey and Iran are jostling for influence.
Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy adviser Mr Hajiyev said Karabakh Armenian rights would be respected as part of their integration into Azerbaijan. Three cargos of humanitarian help would be delivered to the region on Friday, he said.
Mr Hajiyev said some Karabakh army groups and officers had pledged to continue resistance. “Of course this will cause certain challenges and difficulties but not on a such a big scale.”
Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has faced protests in Yerevan calling for him to resign over Karabakh, said the government had prepared space for a possible flow of displaced people into Armenia but that it did not want to depopulate Karabakh. “We must do everything ... so that our compatriots, residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, have the opportunity to live in their homes without fear, safely and with dignity.”
Russia, which has just under 2,000 peacekeepers in Karabakh, has called for calm but has been accused by some Armenians, including Mr Pashinyan, of not doing enough to support Armenia. In a video posted on social media two men were shown throwing red paint at the Russian embassy in Yerevan.
Thousands of Karabakh Armenians were still massed at the local airport where some Russian peacekeepers are based, according to pictures posted on social media.
“We need to see a commitment from the international community, not its indifference,” said Ruben Vardanyan, a former state minister of the breakaway government.
Babayan said there was no large-scale movement of people yet as the area was effectively under siege.
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