Armenia on October 2 said it is willing to engage in peace talks through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as international leaders continued to call for an immediate end to fighting with Azerbaijani forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
There are concerns that this week’s flare-up in violence around the disputed territory could grow into a full-blown war between the archfoes and draw in regional powers Russia and NATO-member Turkey.
The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said in its statement that it welcomed a joint call the previous day from France, Russia, and the United States — the so-called Minsk Group mediating peace efforts since a shaky cease-fire was reached in the early 1990s — for an immediate cessation of hostilities between forces fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The trio also called on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations, in good faith and without preconditions, under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.”
The ministry said it remained committed to the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and was “ready to engage with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries to reestablish a cease-fire regime based on the 1994-1995 agreements.”
Armenia on October 2 accused Azerbaijani forces of striking Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert. RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reported that four people were injured but no one was killed.
The report quoted Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisian as saying there was a lot of damage to the city’s infrastructure, including the building of the emergency services.
Hikmat Haciyev, foreign affairs aide to the Azerbaijani president, told reporters that if Armenia “wants to see an end of this escalation of the situation,” it “must end its occupation” of Nagorno-Karabakh.
White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien met on October 2 in Geneva with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev for discussions on a number of topics, including Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We had business-like and constructive dialogue and, while we have differences, I am optimistic that the United States and Russia can make progress in key areas that will ultimately benefit both the American and Russian people,” O’Brien tweeted.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, but it and a handful of adjoining regions are controlled by ethnic Armenian separatists with close ties to Yerevan.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a conflict over the mountainous region since the waning years of the Soviet Union. They fought a war that ended in 1994 with an uneasy cease-fire and an estimated 30,000 killed.
Since the recent fighting erupted on September 27, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have shown little willingness to halt the violence.
The potential for robust Turkish military involvement in the conflict is being watched closely by Russia, which is already on opposing sides with the NATO member in conflicts in Libya and Syria.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on October 2 and “insisted on the need to immediately stop the hostilities and resume political-diplomatic efforts” to settle the dispute in line with the Minsk Group appeal.
Both men “agreed to continue contacts in various formats,” it said.
Putin and Pashinian both expressed “serious concern” over reports of foreign fighters in Nagorno-Karabakh “conflict zone,” the Kremlin said.
Armenia and Russia have previously alleged that Turkey has sent Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan, something Ankara and Baku have denied.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on September 30 claimed “reliable sources” informed it of the deaths of a “Syrian fighter of Turkish-backed factions in Azerbaijan” in the fighting.
By October 2, the group said at least 28 Syrian rebels had been killed in the Azerbaijani-Armenian fighting.
In a signal Turkey has no intention to de-escalate, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on October 1 that his country would continue to provide “all types of support” to Azerbaijan as he criticized the Minsk Group for failing to resolve the long-running dispute.
“Given that the United States, France, and Russia as OSCE Minsk Group cochairs have neglected the problem for nearly 30 years, it is not acceptable for them to call for a cease-fire in the face of negative developments today,” Erdogan told parliament. He demanded Armenian “occupiers” first leave the disputed territory.
In Washington, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging him to “engage” with the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia to encourage an immediate cease-fire and a return to negotiations.
“Given the possibility that this conflict could engulf the region and draw in other external actors, it is imperative that the U.S. use its diplomatic leverage to bring about an immediate cease-fire,” the senators wrote in the letter, which was released on October 2 by Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), the top Democrat on the committee.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Interfax, and Reuters