Armenia-Azerbaijan: Each side defy Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire calls

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  • Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionThe Nagorno-Karabakh region has seen the worst flare-up of violence in many years *: not ([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]>

Azerbaijani and Armenian forces have resisted calls for a ceasefire in a controversial region of the South Caucasus, where fighting has escalated in recent days.

On Thursday, Russia and France called for a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh region amid the worst violence in decades.

But the shelling continued and explosions were reported overnight in the region’s capital.

The area officially belongs to Azerbaijan and is ruled by ethnic Armenians.

The two former Soviet republics waged a war for the territory in 1988-94. Although Armenia supports the self-declared republic, it has never officially recognized it.

  • What are Armenia and Azerbaijan arguing about?
  • Why the flare-up of the Caucasus risks a major war

It is unclear what caused the renewed fighting that broke out on Sunday, which is the worst since the 1994 ceasefire.

Dozens of people have been killed with hundreds wounded, and fears are growing that international powers could be drawn into the conflict.

what’s new?

French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on Thursday about the need for an urgent de-escalation in the region.

“”[They] agreed the need for concerted efforts to reach a ceasefire, “President Macron’s office said in a statement shortly after the phone call.

“”[We] urged the warring parties to stop the fire completely and as quickly as possible, to ease tension and to show maximum restraint, “the Kremlin said in a statement.

Russia has also offered to host the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan for talks.

Russia is part of a military alliance with Armenia and has a military base in the country. However, it is also closely related to the government of Azerbaijan.

After Mr Macron and Mr Putin held talks, the Kremlin issued a statement saying they had discussed future steps that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group could take to resolve the conflict.

The Minsk Group was founded in 1992 and is led by France, Russia and the USA.

Both leaders expressed their “willingness” to see a statement on behalf of the group calling for an “immediate” end to the fighting and the initiation of peace talks.

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionFighting since Sunday has resulted in the deaths not only of military personnel but also of civilians

Mr. Macron’s office also expressed “concern” at reports that Syrian mercenaries had been transported to Azerbaijan by Turkish security companies.

One fighter told BBC Arabic earlier this week that he was being recruited in northern Syria and sent over to Turkey to fight the conflict. Abdullah – not his real name – said he was sent to Nagorno-Karabakh shortly after the fighting broke out “in Azerbaijani uniforms”.

Turkey has denied this claim, however, and an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the report as “wholly unfounded”. Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States has also rejected reports of Turkish involvement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that around 900 Syrian mercenaries were transported to Azerbaijan by Turkish security companies. However, they add that Syrian-born Armenian fighters were also transported to Armenia to join the fight.

Escalation risks a major regional war

Analysis by Laurence Broers, South Caucasus expert at Chatham House

Earlier escalations between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces were contained after a few days. The intensity of the current fighting suggests that this time around may not be possible.

The populated areas in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh area were hit by rocket attacks and bombing for the first time since the 1990s. Civil targets in Armenia and Azerbaijan were also hit.

Both sides seem to be embarking on a longer conflict.

Azerbaijan has refused to re-negotiate with Armenia and can expect a greater level of Turkish support compared to previous escalations.

The danger here is that in a longer, drawn-out conflict, the involvement of external powers will increase and a major regional war will be risked.

What’s going on on site?

The heavy bombardment lasted until Thursday, and both sides said they had caused damage.

The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense said it had “crushed artillery strikes against the positions of the Armenian Armed Forces” all night.

Meanwhile, officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said the situation there was “tense” and the fire had been replaced.

“The enemy tried to regroup their troops, but the Armenian armed forces suppressed all such attempts,” the AFP said in a statement.

Two French journalists from Le Monde newspaper were also injured in the shelling in the nearby Armenian town of Martuni.

Media signatureTanks burn as fighting erupts over the disputed region

Azerbaijan released a video of the destruction of two “enemy” tanks and said an Armenian battalion had fled the area around Tonashen village.

Armenian media said three civilians were killed in an Azerbaijani air strike on the city of Martakert on Wednesday. State news agency Armenpress said seven civilians and 80 service workers have been killed since the fighting began.

The Armenian Defense Ministry also released a picture of an Armenian SU-25 jet that was reportedly shot down by a Turkish F-16 on Tuesday. Turkey, a staunch ally of Azerbaijan, has rejected the claim as “cheap propaganda”.

Nagorno-Karabakh – key factors

  • A mountain region of approx. 4,400 km²
  • Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
  • In the Soviet era it became an autonomous region within the Republic of Azerbaijan
  • Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the majority of the population is ethnically Armenian
  • Self-appointed authorities are not recognized by any UN member, including Armenia
  • An estimated one million people were displaced by the war in 1988-94 and about 30,000 were killed
  • Separatist forces captured additional territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan
  • Since a truce in 1994, the stalemate has largely prevailed
  • Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
  • Russia has a military base in Armenia

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