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Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan meets with Armenian separatists

September 21, 2023

The talks came after Azerbaijan said it gained complete control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The UN Security Council will also convene to discuss the conflict.

Davit Melkumyan, a lawmaker in Nagorno-Karabakh, arrives for talks
The Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh refer to the enclave as the Republic of Artsakh Image: REUTERS

Azerbaijan held consultations with Armenian separatists on Thursday, after the Azerbaijani government launched a military operation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The talks — which the Azerbaijani presidency called "constructive" and "peaceful" — resulted in the two sides agreeing to meet again soon.

The conflict flared this week but came to a halt after a cease-fire agreement was reached on Wednesday, with fighters agreeing to lay down their arms.

What do we know about the talks?

The talks took place for a little over two hours in Yevlakh, over 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. Russia's RIA news agency reported that no final agreements were achieved during the discussions.   

Azerbaijan said that the two sides had discussed the "reintegration of the Armenian population of Karabakh" and the  "restoration of infrastructure and organization of activities based on the constitution and laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan," according to the presidency.

"It is planned to quickly provide fuel for the heating systems of kindergartens and schools, as well as the needs of emergency medical care and fire services, and to provide humanitarian assistance," the Azerbaijani side added.

The ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, who are known as the Republic of Artsakh, said key details of the deal, such as the handing over of weapons, still need to be negotiated. 

"We have agreement on the cessation of military action, but we await a final agreement," David Babayan, an adviser to Republic of Artsakh President Samvel Shahramanyan, told Reuters news agency.    

"The Armenian government didn't raise the issue of Armenians' evacuation from Nagorno-Karabakh, and believes the right of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians to live in their homes, in safety and in dignity must be guaranteed," Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan later was quoted as saying by state media.

Civilians evacuating from Nagorno-Karabakh

The dialogue came after the Azerbaijani government announced a cease-fire agreement with the separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been facilitated by Russia. As a result, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said his country had taken complete control of the Armenian-majority enclave.

Azerbaijan has said the talks will focus on the integration of Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev has said the "Armenian population of Karabakh are our citizens" and would have "their religious and cultural rights respected."   

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday pledged "wholehearted support" for Azerbaijan after a call with Aliyev, according to the Turkish presidency.

Gunfire reported in Stepankert

Ethnic Armenians said gunfire was heard in Nagorno-Karabakh's main city, Stepanakert, amid the talks. They said Azerbaijan had violated the cease-fire.

Azerbaijan denied the allegations and said disinformation was being spread.

Prime Minister Pashinyan acknowledged the reports of gunfire but said that the cease-fire was holding.

"Unfortunately, today an incident occurred in the vicinity of Stepanakert, but in general the truce remains, although sometimes there are violations," he said.

"Units of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army remain in the places where they were at the time the truce was signed. The same applies to the Azerbaijani Armed Forces," Pashinyan added.

Azerbaijan claims control over Nagorno-Karabakh

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Russian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh evacuated 5,000 Karabakh Armenians from dangerous areas of the enclave.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Aliyev on a call Thursday, the Kremlin said. During the discussion, Putin called on the Azerbaijani leader to guarantee the security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, with Aliyev apologizing for the death of Russian servicemen over the past few days of fighting.

Vehicles with Russian flags and Russian number plates arrived for the discussions in Yevlakh on Thursday, giving Moscow a voice in the talks between the Nagorno-Karabakh separatists and Azerbaijan.   

UN Security Council to convene amid humanitarian concerns

Later on Thursday, the UN Security Council will hold a meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh. The US, which is a permanent member of the body, has expressed concerns about the humanitarian situation in the region following Azerbaijan's assault.

European Council President Charles Michel called on Azerbaijan to guarantee the safety of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in a phone call on Wednesday, German news agency DPA reported. The EU official had emphasized the humanitarian needs of people in the enclave.

Armenian Ambassador Andranik Hovhannisyan told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that "ethnic cleansing" was going on in Nagorno-Karabakh, calling it a "crime against humanity."  He said that "civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh are trapped and they do not have a way to evacuate since Azerbaijan continues to block the only lifeline connecting with Armenia."

Armenians angered by cease-fire

Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought two wars over the Nagorno-Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

Nagorno-Karabakh separatists claim there have been "at least 200 killed and more than 400 wounded" since Azerbaijan started its assault on Tuesday. Azerbaijan said it was engaged in an "anti-terrorist" operation

Armenians have denounced the cease-fire and called for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to step down. Pashinyan, meanwhile, has said he did not have anything to do with the truce that was made between the Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan said Thursday that the way to peace is "not easy," but it must still be pursued. He said Armenia needed to be "free of conflict," but did not mention Nagorno-Karabakh during his speech.

Russian media reported that Azerbaijan gave Armenia a draft peace agreement, with the Azerbaijani government waiting for Armenia's response on the matter.  

wd/rs (AFP, Reuters)

Nagorno-Karabakh: A century of tensions