Nagorno-Karabakh Cease-Fire Strained As Azerbaijan, Armenia Trade Accusations

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https://www.rferl.org – By RFE/RL

A man walks in front of a home destroyed by shelling in Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city of Stepanakert on October 8.

A day-old cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan has come under strain as both sides have accused the other of violations as the EU’s top diplomat expressed “extreme concern.”

Azerbaijan on October 11 accused Armenia of shelling a residential district in Ganca, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, in the early morning hours. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General’s Office said nine people had been killed and 34 wounded in the attack.

Reuters reported that one of its correspondents saw at least one dead body being removed from a shelled apartment building in Ganca early on October 11.

Armenia’s Defense Ministry called the claim “an absolute lie” and accused Azerbaijan of shelling parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the region’s largest city, Stepanakert.

Baku also accused Armenia of attempting an unsuccessful rocket or drone attack on the hydroelectric station at Mingecevir.

Later on October 11, Azerbaijan said it had carried out air strikes against ethnic Armenian forces, inflicting heavy losses. Reuters could not independently verify that claim.

Earlier in the day, Arayik Haratiunian, leader of the ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, said the Russia-brokered cease-fire was holding but that the situation remained tense.

He added that the process of exchanging prisoners was expected to begin on October 11, but that it was in doubt.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged the sides to abide by the agreement and called on “all actors, including external parties, to refrain from any actions that may lead to further casualties.”

“In this respect, we note with extreme concern the reports of continued military activities, including against civilian targets, as well as civilian casualties and urge the sides to ensure full respect of the agreement on the ground,” Borrell said in a statement.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on October 11 to press Armenia to abide by the terms of the truce, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

Armenia’s foreign minister was due in Moscow on October 12 for talks with officials the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group led by France, Russia, and the United States.

The two sides agreed to the cease-fire early on October 10 after talks in Moscow brokered by Lavrov.

In addition to a cessation of hostilities, the agreement calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross to take part in the exchange of prisoners and other aspects of the cease-fire.

The agreement also calls for the return of the bodies of those killed in and around Nagorno-Karabakh since the latest fighting broke out on September 27. Hundreds of soldiers and an unknown number of civilians have been killed since then.

According to the cease-fire agreement, relaunched peace talks are to be mediated by the co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group.

The agreement says the existing format of negotiations will remain in place and will not be changed over time.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan. But it has been under the control of Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire brought an end to the separatist war that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has been populated and governed by ethnic Armenians, leaving hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from the region as internally displaced war refugees in Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan for more than a quarter century.

On October 9, as the foreign ministers from Yerevan and Baku began their talks in Moscow, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he was giving Armenia a “last chance” to resolve the conflict peacefully.

“The conflict is now being settled by military means and political means will come next,” he warned, saying that nearly three decades of international talks “haven’t yielded an inch of progress, we haven’t been given back an inch of the occupied lands.”

Zaur Shiriyev, a South Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, said there was a “very visible lack of support” from the Azerbaijani population for going back to peace talks in the hope of returning the internally displaced people to their homes.

In a post to Twitter, Shiryiev said Azerbaijanis “demand” from Aliyev “not to return to ‘fruitless’ talks, but to continue the war, which finally promises real results.”

“Therefore, the international calls for ceasefire are broadly seen as an attempt to disrupt Baku’s success and do not find support in the Azerbaijani public,” Shiriyev said.

The latest fighting is the biggest escalation in the conflict since the shaky 1994 cease-fire. The violence has increased concern that a wider conflict could drag in regional power Turkey, which is Azerbaijan’s closest ally, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani and Armenian Services

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