Armenian ethnic forces a Nagorno-Karabakh they say they have accepted a Russian ceasefire proposal, a day after Azerbaijan an offensive began to take control of the disputed enclave and demanded full surrender.
The agreement for a ceasefire from 13.00 local time [09:00 GMT] on Wednesday it was also confirmed by the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev’s office separately confirmed talks with Armenian separatists about “reintegration” with Azerbaijan in the city of Yevlkah on Thursday.
Former Azerbaijani diplomat Farid Shafiyev told Al Jazeera that unless the Armenian government decided to get involved, which did not appear likely, Armenian forces would likely surrender.
“I think now the process will go smoothly in terms of negotiations [scheduled] for tomorrow,” said Shafiyev, who chairs the Center for International Relations Analysis.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the ceasefire would be implemented in coordination with Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region.
According to the Russian Interfax news agency, it was agreed that the remaining units of the Armenian army would withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh and that the Karabakh fighters would surrender their weapons.
At first it was unclear whether this would actually be implemented. Armenia has said it has had no troops in the region since August 2021.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan confirmed that the fighting had died down and said it was “very important” that the ceasefire be maintained. “The latest information I have received from Nagorno-Karabakh is that the intensity of fighting has greatly decreased,” Pashinyan said, according to a statement.
However, he said that Armenia had not been involved in the drafting of the ceasefire and that it was unclear which Armenian armed forces the agreement refers to, given that “Armenia does not have an army in Nagorno-Karabakh”.
Arsen Kharatyan, a former adviser to the Armenian prime minister, told Al Jazeera that there was “great uncertainty about what the next moves will be”.
“The feeling here in Yerevan is that sooner or later the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh will have to be evacuated,” he said. “You can’t force people to integrate like Azerbaijan is trying to do.”
“There should be a long process of dialogue and reconciliation if we are talking about any form of peace,” added Kharatyan.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but its population of 120,000 is mostly ethnic Armenian. The territory has its own government, which has enjoyed close ties with neighboring Armenia, but has not been officially recognized by it or other member states of the United Nations.
Azerbaijan began its military operation this Tuesday after some of his troops were killed in what he said were attacks from the mountainous region, which he had blockaded for nine months.
He said only military posts were targeted, but extensive damage was visible on the streets of the regional capital, with storefronts smashed and vehicles punctured, apparently by shrapnel. Dozens of people were also reported dead.
On Wednesday, ethnic Armenian forces said Azeri troops had broken through their lines and taken a number of strategic heights and road junctions.
“In the current situation, the measures taken by the international community to end the war and resolve the situation are insufficient,” Armenpress news agency quoted a statement from the authority as saying. “With this in mind, the authorities of the Republic of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] accept the proposal of the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent on a ceasefire”.
The South Caucasus region has been claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia for decades, with two wars fought since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
The second war in 2020 ended with Azerbaijan retaking areas in and around Nagorno-Karabakh after a 44-day offensive.
Fearful of what the future holds, crowds of ethnic Armenians flocked to the airport in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh known as Khankendi by Azerbaijan.
Others took refuge with Russian peacekeepers. Moscow said there were 2,261 people, including 1,049 children, taking refuge in the peacekeeping base camp.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced off calls from some opponents to resign. The country’s security council said it warned of large-scale unrest in the country after protesters took to the streets on Tuesday over the government’s handling of escalating tensions with its neighbor.
Some Armenians are also furious that Russia, which has peacekeepers on the ground and helped broker a previous ceasefire deal in 2020, failed to stop Azerbaijan.
The Kremlin rejected that criticism on Wednesday, and President Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying that Russian peacekeepers would protect Karabakh’s civilian population.