A day after a Russia-brokered Armenian-Azeri cease-fire came into effect in Nagorno-Karabakh, reports have emerged of shelling by both sides. A local leader says the situation is "calmer" but warns that may change.
The leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh region described hostilities with Azerbaijan as "calmer" on Sunday, the second day of a cease-fire. But several incidents of shelling were reported overnight and the truce is under immense strain.
"It seems that since this morning it is calmer, but that can change very quickly," Arayik Harutyunyan told journalists in the regional capital Stepanakert.
Azerbaijan and Armenia both accused each other of serious violations and crimes against civilians on Sunday morning. The Russia-brokered cease-fire came into effect at noon on Saturday.
Both sides also accused one another of breaking the ceasefire almost immediately on Saturday, and Azerbaijan gave the impression in public comments from top officials that it saw it as only a brief and temporary breathing space anyway.
On Sunday, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of heavily shelling a residential area in Ganja, its second-largest city, in the early hours of the morning, and of hitting an apartment building. Azeri officials said five people had been killed and dozens injured, claims that Armenia denies.
"These are absolute lies," Armenian officials said. Reporters on the ground in Ganja confirmed that dead bodies were carried out of the rubble by rescue workers.
An Armenian spokesman also accused Azerbaijan of instigating "provocations" with fresh shelling through the night.
Laurence Broers, Caucasus Director of the London-based international peace organization Conciliation Resources, told DW that the ongoing fighting was radicalizing people across the divide and "making it increasingly difficult for the leaders to step back and meet the terms of a humanitarian truce."
He warned that the cease-fire is in a "very dangerous place" and that there could be "a lot more violence in the coming days."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who hosted the meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers that led to the cease-fire, spoke to both sides late on Saturday night.
In telephone conversations, he urged both governments to stick to the terms of the truce, according to the Russian foreign ministry.
Hundreds of people have died since fighting broke out again in September, the most deadly conflict between the former Soviet states since the early 1990s.
Broers from Conciliation Resources warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe" building in the disputed region:
"The vast majority of the civilian infrastructure that has been destroyed is in Nagorno-Karabakh and about half of the population — some 70,000 people have fled the territory," he told DW.
He said the conflict is "aggravating and compounding the COVID pandemic which has hit both countries quite hard, and there's winter coming as well, so really a very difficult humanitarian situation [can be expected] in the coming weeks."
The Nagorno-Karabakh border region is controlled by Christian Armenian troops but recognized by the United Nations as part of predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan and Armenia previously fought a war over the territory in the late 1980s and early 1990s as they transitioned into independent countries amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union, with a fragile peace treaty in place since 1994.
mm, ed/aw (AFP, Reuters)