Azerbaijan halts Karabakh operation as separatists lay down arms
Azerbaijan on Wednesday announced it had halted its military operation in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, after separatist Armenian forces agreed to lay down their arms and hold reintegration talks.
Baku and the ethnic-Armenian authorities in Karabakh said a deal was brokered by Russian peacekeepers to stop the fighting a day after Azerbaijan launched an anti-terrorist operation.
The separatists said they had committed to a "full dismantlement" of their forces and the withdrawal of Armenian army units from the region, at the center of two wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said in addition that "all weapons and heavy armaments are to be surrendered" under the supervision of Russia's 2,000-strong peacekeeping force on the ground.
Both sides said talks on reintegrating the breakaway territory into the rest of Azerbaijan is set to be held today in the city of Yevlakh.
The stunning collapse of separatist resistance represents a major victory for Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev in his quest to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back under Baku's control.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a televised address that Yerevan "did not participate in drafting" the Karabakh ceasefire deal, and insisted his country's army was not in the enclave.
It was "very important" that the ceasefire hold, he added.
The latest flare-up comes three years after Azerbaijan recaptured swathes of territory in and around the region in a brief war that dealt a bitter defeat to Armenia.
Armenia said that at least 32 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded by the shelling in Karabakh as the latest onslaught from Azerbaijan saw artillery, aircraft and drone strikes rock the region.
Baku said on Sept. 19 it had taken control of more than 60 military positions during "localized anti-terrorist measures.”
The Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office said Armenian forces fired at Shusha, a city in Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijan’s control, from large-caliber weapons, killing one civilian.
Russian peacekeepers and separatist forces evacuated thousands of civilians from the fighting.
The announcement of the ceasefire came after Aliyev warned the military operation would continue until the separatists laid down their weapons, in the face of mounting international pressure to halt fighting.
Russia, the United Nations and Pope Francis added to calls to stop the violence, after the United States and France reached out to the leaders of both Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The fresh outburst of fighting came as Moscow, the traditional power broker in the region, is bogged down and distracted by its war on Ukraine, which has left it isolated by the West.