Armenian police stand guard in downtown Yerevan Armenian police stand guard in downtown Yerevan  (AFP or licensors)

Tense ceasefire after Nagorno-Karabakh clashes kill dozens

Officials say that 24 hours after Azerbaijan's army launched an offensive in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh that killed dozens of people, ethnic-Armenian forces have agreed on Russia's terms for a ceasefire. At least 32 people were reportedly killed and about 200 injured since skirmishes were confirmed Tuesday in the South Caucasus enclave.

By Stefan J. Bos

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

Explosions could still be heard in Nagorno-Karabakh's de-facto capital, Stepanakert, hours before a ceasefire occurred between ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

Wednesday's ceasefire occurred in an area where 120,000 Armenians were cut off from the outside world without adequate food and medicines as Azerbaijan effectively blocked a key road into the territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh has long been claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

On Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched what it called an "anti-terrorist" military operation in the disputed region.

Bomb raids could be heard in Nagorno-Karabakh's de-facto capital, Stepanakert, along with artillery fire.

Drones were used to strike Armenian air defense positions. And at least one witness heard the sound of "grad missiles." Smoke could be seen billowing from the mountains. Dozens of people were reportedly killed, and many more injured.

No military objects

"There are no military objects here, only residential houses," said Stepanakert resident David, standing near damaged homes. "In the building, there are pensioners and handicapped people."

However, Azerbaijan's defense ministry stressed that the operation began hours after four soldiers and two civilians died in landmine explosions in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

When Armenia asked Russia to step in, it quickly became clear that the 2,000 Russian peacekeepers stationed there would stand aside as long as they were not attacked.

The Kremlin even appeared to tacitly approve Baku's actions, saying Azerbaijan was acting "on its territory."

Russia's inaction in Nagorno-Karabakh is not new. Critics say that distracted by its war in Ukraine, Moscow was mainly passive when Azerbaijan established the new security checkpoint along the Lachin corridor last spring.

That has been cutting off the flow of people and goods between Armenia and the region.

Concerns remain

While a ceasefire was announced, there are concerns that the tensions in the blockaded region, which local Armenians call Artsakh, could reopen a bloody 2020 war and an earlier armed conflict in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

That fear has spread to the streets of Armenia's capital, Yerevan.

Protesters confronted riot police outside the parliament building in Yerevan, demanding more protection for the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Yerevan did not take part in drafting a ceasefire agreement between local separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

Yet, he said, he hoped the agreement would hold.

Russia has urged all sides to respect the ceasefire, but the future remains uncertain.

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20 September 2023, 16:48