TEPANAKERT: Armenia and Azerbaijan held their first high-level talks on Friday after nearly two weeks of fierce clashes over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, with hopes rising that a ceasefire could be brokered in Moscow.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who has repeatedly vowed to use his military to retake the breakaway province, said the talks represented a historic opportunity for Armenia.
“We are giving Armenia a chance to settle the conflict peacefully,” he said. “This is their last chance.”
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his country was “ready for the resumption of the peace process” led by international brokers.
France, which along with Russia and the United States is part of a group mediating the two countries’ long conflict, said there was a chance of a breakthrough at the talks but it was far from certain.
“We are moving towards a truce tonight or tomorrow but it’s still fragile,” President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement.
Armenian and Azerbaijani defence officials said heavy clashes continued overnight and reported further civilian deaths, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the meeting in Moscow late on Thursday and appealed for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds.
Shelling started again on Friday in Stepanakert, the provincial capital of Karabakh, where a journalist heard several loud explosions and saw the remains of a rocket in a crater next to a cemetery for dead soldiers.
Renewed fighting over Karabakh — an ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan that broke from Baku’s control in a devastating war in the early 1990s — has claimed some 400 lives and forced thousands of people from their homes.
The heavy clashes erupted late last month, with both sides blaming the other for the biggest outbreak in violence since a 1994 ceasefire left the status of Karabakh in limbo.
The region’s declaration of independence has not been recognised by any country — not even Armenia — and the international community regards it as part of Azerbaijan.
The Kremlin said late on Thursday that following a series of calls with Pashinyan and Aliyev, Putin had invited their foreign ministers to Moscow and called for an end to hostilities “to exchange dead bodies and prisoners”.
Putin’s announcement of the talks came shortly after mediators from France, Russia and the US launched their first efforts to ease the crisis in Geneva.
Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2020