Cease-fire holds between Armenia and Azerbaijan

·4 min read

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — A cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan held Thursday following two days of fighting that killed 176 soldiers from both sides.

Armen Grigoryan, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, said the truce brokered thanks to international mediation took effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday. A previous cease-fire that Russia brokered Tuesday had quickly failed.

Armenia's Defense Ministry said Thursday that the situation on the border with Azerbaijan has been quiet since the cease-fire started and no violations were reported. There was no immediate comment from Azerbaijan.

The cease-fire declaration followed two days of heavy fighting that marked the largest outbreak of hostilities in nearly two years.

Armenia and Azerbaijan traded blame for the shelling, with Armenian authorities accusing Baku of unprovoked aggression and Azerbaijani officials saying their country was responding to Armenian attacks.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday that 105 of his country’s soldiers had been killed since fighting erupted early Tuesday, while Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said Thursday it had lost 71.

The ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that Moscow expects Armenia and Azerbaijan to abide by all the agreements of the cease-fire.

The issue of lowering tensions was discussed in phone calls between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenia’s president Pashinyan, Nebenzia said, as well as by the foreign ministers of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the defense ministers of Russia and Armenia.

“We are in close contact with both countries so as to arrive at a sustainable cease-fire and the return of Azerbaijani and Armenian military to their positions of origin,” the Russian ambassador said.

Nebenzia said he expects Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the Uzbekistan city of Samarkand, which was taking place Thursday and Friday.

The Russian ambassador said achieving a sustainable cease-fire and returning both countries’ military to previous positions was also discussed Tuesday at an extraordinary session of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of six post-Soviet states, on Tuesday. It agreed to send a mission to Armenia to study the situation on the border.

At the council meeting, Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of starting the latest fighting.

During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace agreement. Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers under the deal.

Pashinyan said his government has asked Russia for military support amid the latest fighting under a friendship treaty and also requested assistance from the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Yerevan's plea for help has put the Kremlin in a precarious position as it has sought to maintain close relations with Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, and also develop warm ties with energy-rich Azerbaijan.

On Wednesday, Pashinyan told lawmakers that Armenia is ready to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in a future peace treaty, provided that it relinquishes control of areas in Armenia its forces have seized.

“We want to sign a document, for which many people will criticize and denounce us and call us traitors, and they may even decide to remove us from office, but we would be grateful if Armenia gets a lasting peace and security as a result of it,” Pashinyan said.

Some in the opposition saw the statement as a sign of Pashinyan’s readiness to cave in to Azerbaijani demands and recognize Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of angry protesters quickly descended on the government’s headquarters, accusing Pashinyan of treason and demanding he step down. Protests were also held in other Armenian cities.

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Aida Sultanova in London and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Avet Demourian, The Associated Press