The first session of closely watched “reintegration” talks in the western Azerbaijani city of Yevlax between representatives of Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian leadership of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region ended without any sign of progress, while the two sides traded accusations and denials over reports of gunfire and apparent ceasefire violations in the de facto capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, but with news of further meetings to come.
The office of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said on September 21 that the two-hour session was “held in a constructive and peaceful atmosphere”, with Russian peacekeepers present.
The office added that both sides had agreed to further talks.
But with Baku hoping to consolidate gains from a 24-hour military offensive on September 19-20 that dramatically changed the political calculus in the Caucasus, the region’s ethnic Armenian leadership was said to be demanding assurances before his forces surrender all their weapons.
Reports of gunfire 100 kilometers away in Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto capital, Stepanakert, and residents citing a “state of panic” there, highlighted lingering tensions as negotiations began to potentially historical
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose nearly 3-year peacekeeping mission was crucial to negotiating the ceasefire a day earlier, spoke by phone with Aliyev on 21 September. The Kremlin cited Putin as stressing “the importance of ensuring the rights and security of the Armenian population of Karabakh.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose administration has supported Baku diplomatically and with drones and other military equipment, also spoke with Aliyev and expressed his “wholehearted support” for Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, neighboring Armenia’s UN envoy Andranik Hovhannisian warned on September 21 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Azerbaijan was perpetrating “ethnic cleansing” and a “crime against humanity” as he tried to reclaim the territory after nine months of a de facto blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Davit Babayan, a foreign policy adviser to de facto leader of the separatist government Samvel Shahramanian, told Reuters that “there has not yet been a definitive agreement”.
He said “a whole series of issues still need to be resolved” and that security guarantees should precede full disarmament.
“We have an agreement on the cessation of military action, but we are waiting for a final agreement; talks are ongoing,” Babayan said.
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis later on September 21.
The talks in Yevlax follow Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s boast to his oil and gas-rich nation of 10 million after a Russian-brokered ceasefire halted heavy fighting on September 20 that he said had “restored his sovereignty”.
Aliyev praised the blitzkrieg for ousting the territory’s de facto leadership nearly three years after another offensive retook many areas held for decades by ethnic Armenians backed by Yerevan, saying: “In just one day, Azerbaijan fulfilled all the tasks established as part of the local struggle against the territory – terrorist measures.”
Yevlax’s talks on behalf of Azerbaijan were led by lawmaker Ramin Mammadov, whom Aliyev appointed in March to be in charge of relations with ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The delegation for the separatist leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh, an internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory that Armenians call Artsakh, included a member of the territory’s de facto parliament in Stepanakert, Davit Melkumian, and Artsakh Security Council member Sergey Martirosian. But he has not published an official list of participants.
Russian peacekeepers, who the Kremlin says are mediating the talks, accompanied the ethnic Armenian delegation upon its arrival at the site.
Meanwhile, several reports of gunfire came in from Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s largest city.
One resident told RFE/RL’s Armenia Service that they heard gunfire in the city and were considering options for leaving after leaving a shelter to go home for the night. They said many other residents were back in shelters.
Reuters also cited two sources who said they heard gunshots.
Ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azerbaijani forces of firing rifles from areas near Stepanakert and urged residents to stay in shelters. They said they had informed the Russian peacekeeping command in the area and demanded that the Russians take immediate measures to protect them.
Another resident of Nagorno-Karabakh, originally from the city of Martakert but who traveled to Stepanakert, told RFE/RL that they had gone to the airport, where Russian peacekeepers are stationed. The person said many people in the city were “in a state of panic”.
The person said there were many other ethnic Armenians at the airport on September 21 and asked to be allowed to leave Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry “categorically denied” allegations of violating the one-day ceasefire.
Using the old name of the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, he continued Facebook that “the information spread on some Armenian social media accounts that the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan allegedly launched an attack in the direction of Khankendi is completely false and disinformation.”
The European Union Monitoring Mission in Armenia (EUMA) which was established earlier this year to help prevent escalation said it had “reinforced patrols in the Armenian-Azerbaijani border areas and the line of confrontation” and to the nearby Armenian village of Sotk to report on the army. and security developments there. this he reiterated the commitment of the EU mission to “contribute to stabilizing the situation”.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leaders were forced to accept Baku’s terms for the ceasefire as the outnumbered and better-equipped Azerbaijani forces, armed with artillery and drones, quickly scored victories after the surprise offensive began on September 19, with Russian peacekeepers apparently unprepared or unprepared. Act.
A Nagorno-Karabakh rights defender, Gegham Stepanian, said at least 200 people were killed and about twice as many injured in the fighting, including children.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian appeared to have been caught off guard by the onslaught of Azerbaijaniism, and has since stressed that his government was not involved in shaping the terms of the ceasefire. But he welcomed the end of the intense fight.
In his address to the nation, Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev said: “The day is not far when Azerbaijan and Armenia will solve their problems with each other, sign a peace treaty and the countries of the South Caucasus will start working on future cooperation in a trilateral format”.
He said of Armenia that Azerbaijan “recognizes[s] its territorial integrity”.
“The integration plan of Karabakh Armenians is ready,” Hikmet Hajiyev, assistant to the president of Azerbaijan, told reporters at a briefing organized for foreign diplomats accredited in Baku.
Hajiyev added that “the presence of around 10,000 members of illegal Armenian armed organizations was unacceptable” in the territory.
On September 20, thousands of ethnic Armenians gathered at Stepanakert airport seeking protection and possible transport to Armenia amid uncertainty over the fighting and a ceasefire offered by Russian peacekeepers in clearly azerbaijani
Russia has said its peacekeepers have “taken in” about 5,000 Karabakh residents.
The Kremlin said that in his phone conversation with Putin, Aliyev had apologized for an incident late on September 20 in which an unknown number of Russian peacekeepers were killed when the vehicle they were traveling in was fired upon in the region .
The White House has expressed concern about a possible refugee and humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh and has blamed Baku for the situation.
“Obviously, we’re still watching very, very closely the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Azerbaijan’s leaders pledged to allow “safe passage” into Armenia for separatist forces in the region as part of a deal to halt the fighting, ending the long struggle by ethnic Armenians seeking independence or ‘accession to Armenia by territory.
“The Azerbaijani side will also provide safe passage to the appropriate meeting points,” Aliyev’s adviser Hajiyev told reporters. “All actions on the ground are coordinated with Russian peacekeepers.”
The European Union called on Aliyev to protect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and to “guarantee a full ceasefire and safe and dignified treatment by Azerbaijan of Karabakh Armenians.”
The new offensive was a blow to Armenians who have made control of Nagorno-Karabakh a nationalist priority since the breakup of the Soviet Union, and Yerevan saw a second consecutive night of anti-government protests after the ceasefire.
In a somber address to the nation to mark the 32nd anniversary of Armenia’s withdrawal from the fallen Soviet Union on Sept. 21 after a one-day ceasefire, Pashinian said that statement “as it turned out. .. was the easiest. part of the road to independence.”
“Today we are living through difficult times, undergoing untold physical and psychological suffering,” Pashinian said, adding that independence and difficult trials are “actually a means to a higher goal…[of] the happiness of our future generations.”
In addition to a cessation of hostilities and some sort of integration effort, the ceasefire proposal includes a commitment to withdraw “remaining units of the armed forces of Armenia,” the withdrawal and destruction of any heavy military equipment in the country. territory, and the dissolution of the so-called Artsakh Defense Army established by ethnic Armenians in the early 1990s at an early stage of the conflict.
Russian peacekeepers have been in place since a ceasefire that ended six weeks of fighting in 2020 in which Azerbaijan regained much of the territory and seven surrounding districts controlled since the 1990s by ethnic Armenians with the support of Yerevan.