In the wake of Azerbaijan’s military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, ethnic-Armenian forces have agreed to the terms of a ceasefire brokered by Russia, bringing hope for an end to the violence that has gripped the South Caucasus region. This development comes just twenty-four hours after the Azerbaijani army initiated what it termed “anti-terror” operations in Nagorno-Karabakh.
One of the pivotal elements of the ceasefire agreement is the acceptance by Karabakh forces of a proposal for complete disarmament. This acceptance marks a significant step in the effort to bring an end to the hostilities that have plagued the region.
Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has a population of around 120,000 ethnic Armenians. The region has been at the centre of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Azerbaijan’s renewed military campaign has caused substantial casualties, with Karabakh officials reporting at least 32 individuals killed and approximately 200 wounded since the start of the Azerbaijani offensive.
Azerbaijan’s presidency has announced that officials will engage in discussions with Karabakh’s Armenian representatives regarding “issues of re-integration.” The talks are scheduled to take place in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlakh, situated around 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Karabakh’s regional capital, Khankendi (known as Stepanakert by Armenians).
Leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh released a statement acknowledging that, through the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, they have reached an agreement on a comprehensive cessation of hostilities, commencing at 13:00 local time (09:00 GMT). However, despite the ceasefire taking effect, there were reports of loud explosions in the regional capital, prompting Karabakh officials to advise residents to remain in shelters and not attempt to leave.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has spanned two wars, with the most recent in 2020 resulting in thousands of casualties. Azerbaijan, with support from Turkey, regained control over territories in and around Karabakh during the 2020 conflict.
In the nine months leading up to the ceasefire, Azerbaijan had imposed a blockade on the Lachin Corridor, the sole road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The blockade had led to shortages of essential supplies, including food, medicines, and toiletries for the ethnic Armenian population in the enclave.
Russian peacekeepers were deployed to monitor the ceasefire, but Russia’s attention has been increasingly focused on its conflict in Ukraine, causing concerns about its commitment to Armenia, a member of Russia’s CSTO military alliance.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had previously expressed readiness to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan in exchange for the security of the ethnic Armenian population. This stance had been seen as a potential shift towards the West, which had caused friction with Russia.
While the ceasefire agreement references the withdrawal of Armenian forces, Yerevan has denied having any of its troops in the region. The ceasefire also calls for the complete disarmament and dissolution of local Karabakh forces, further emphasising the complexities of the situation and the path to lasting peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.