Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes before ceasefire leave 155 dead
YEREVAN, Armenia –
Armenia and Azerbaijan have brokered a ceasefire to end a flare-up in fighting that has killed 155 soldiers on both sides, a senior Armenian official said Thursday.
Armen Grigoryan, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, announced the truce in televised remarks, saying it took effect hours earlier, at 8:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Wednesday. A previous ceasefire negotiated by Russia on Tuesday quickly failed.
Several hours before Grigoryan’s announcement, the Armenian Defense Ministry announced that the shelling had stopped, but it did not mention the ceasefire agreement.
There was no immediate comment from the Azerbaijani government.
The ceasefire declaration follows two days of heavy fighting that marked the biggest outbreak of hostilities between the two longtime adversaries in nearly two years.
Late Wednesday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Armenian capital accusing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of betraying his country by trying to appease Azerbaijan and demanding his resignation.
Armenia and Azerbaijan swapped responsibility for hostilities, with Armenian authorities accusing Baku of unprovoked aggression and Azerbaijani officials claiming their country was responding to Armenian bombardment.
Pashinyan said 105 of his country’s soldiers had been killed since fighting erupted early on Tuesday, while Azerbaijan said it had lost 50. Azerbaijani authorities said they were ready to unilaterally hand over the bodies of up to 100 Armenian soldiers.
The ex-Soviet countries are 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 the end of a separatist war in 1994.
In a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed large swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russian-brokered peace deal. Moscow has deployed around 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers under the deal.
Pashinyan said Wednesday that Azerbaijani forces had occupied 10 square kilometers (nearly 4 square miles) of Armenian territory since the fighting began.
He told lawmakers that his government had asked Russia for military support as part of a treaty of friendship between the countries and had also asked for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
« Our allies are Russia and the CSTO, » Pashinyan said, adding that the collective security pact stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
« We don’t see military intervention as the only possibility, as there are political and diplomatic options as well, » Pashinyan said, addressing his country’s parliament.
He told lawmakers that Armenia is ready to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in a future peace treaty, provided it relinquishes control of areas in Armenia that its forces have seized.
« We want to sign a document, for which many people will criticize us, denounce us and call us traitors, and they might even decide to remove us from our posts, but we would be grateful if Armenia obtains lasting peace and security. following that,” Pashinyan said.
Some opposition members saw the statement as a sign of Pashinyan’s willingness to give in to Azerbaijani demands and recognize Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of angry protesters quickly swarmed the seat of government, accusing Pashinyan of treason and demanding his resignation.
Pashinyan angrily denied reports alleging he had signed an agreement agreeing to Azerbaijani demands as an « information attack ». Grigoryan, the secretary of the Security Council, denounced the protests in Yerevan, describing them as an attempt to destroy the state.
Arayik Harutyunyan, the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, reacted to the uproar by saying the region will not agree to come under Azerbaijani control and will continue to press for independence.
As tensions rose in Yerevan, Moscow engaged in a delicate balancing act in seeking to maintain friendly ties with the two nations. 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 the Armenian authorities to implement more quickly some of the provisions of the 2020 peace agreement, such as the opening of transport corridors through its territory. .
“Azerbaijan has greater military potential, and therefore tries to dictate its terms to Armenia and use force to pressure whatever diplomatic decisions it wants,” wrote Sergei Markedonov, a Russian expert. from the South Caucasus region, in a comment.
Markedonov noted that the current outbreak of hostilities comes just as Russia was forced to withdraw from the northeastern regions of Ukraine after a Ukrainian counteroffensive, adding that Armenia’s request for assistance put Russia in a precarious position.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of other CSTO members discussed the situation during a call on Tuesday evening, calling for an early cessation of hostilities. They agreed to send a mission of senior officials from the security alliance to the region.
On Friday, Putin is due to hold a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where they both plan to attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security group dominated by Russia and China. . The Armenian government said Pashinyan, who was also due to attend the summit, would not show up due to the situation in the country.
In Washington, a group of lawmakers supporting Armenia lobbied the Biden administration. U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the influential Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and four other members of Congress called on the White House and the State Department to « unequivocally condemn Azerbaijan’s actions and cease all assistance » to Azerbaijan.
Aida Sultanova in London, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Nomaan Merchant in Washington and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.