Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia signed an agreement on Tuesday to end six weeks of fierce fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh in a deal Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described as “unspeakably painful” in an emotional Facebook post.
The post was the first indication of a deal, with Pashinyan saying the agreement would take effect from 1am on Tuesday (21:00 GMT on Monday) to end a conflict that has left at least 1,000 people dead.
The deal was later confirmed by Azerbaijan and the Kremlin.
“The signed trilateral statement will become a (crucial) point in the settlement of the conflict,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised online meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The agreement came hours after ethnic Armenian officials in the disputed region confirmed that the key city of Shusha (known as Shushi in Armenia), the second-biggest city in the enclave, had been taken by Azeri forces. Azerbaijan also said on Monday it had taken dozens more settlements.
Describing the decision as “unspeakably painful for me personally and for our people”, Pashinyan said the agreement followed “an in-depth analysis of the military situation” that has seen Azeri forces closing in on Stepanakert, the region’s main city.
He said the agreement was “the best possible solution to the current situation”.
Peacekeepers brought in
In Azerbaijan, meanwhile, Aliyev said the agreement was “historic” and that Armenia had been forced to negotiate because of Azerbaijan’s military successes.
“This statement has historic significance,” he wrote on Twitter. “This statement constitutes Armenia’s capitulation. This statement puts an end to the years-long occupation. This statement is our Glorious Victory!”
Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, said news of the agreement brought people onto the streets to celebrate despite a curfew. The deal includes Armenia handing back some territories on the edge of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, while Azerbaijan will halt its push towards Stepanakert, he added.
“It’s not clear how this transition is going to take place,” he said. “There will be Russian peacekeepers and what we have been hearing from Azeri leaders is that they want to live side by side with the people from those areas.”
Russia’s defence ministry said it had begun the deployment of 1,960 soldiers to act as peacekeepers for the next five years. Putin said they would be positioned along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh and in the corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Aliyev said that Turkish peacekeepers would also be deployed.
“This is not a victory, but there is not defeat until you consider yourself defeated,” Armenia’s Pashinyan said in announcing the agreement. “We will never consider ourselves defeated and this shall become a new start of an era of our national unity and rebirth.”
The mood in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, was angry. Within 20 minutes of the prime minister’s Facebook post people were on the streets, later forcing their way into the main government building and parliament and calling on Pashinyan to go.
“The city is in chaos at this point,” Neil Hauer, a journalist based in Yerevan told Al Jazeera. “Everyone is incensed. There’s a great sense of betrayal.”
Hundreds forced their way into parliament’s inner chamber, occupying the seats of parliamentarians and shouting “Resign!” and “Out!”
Nagorno-Karabakh is within Azerbaijan, but has been under the control of ethnic Armenians since the end of a devastating conflict in 1994.
An estimated 30,000 people died in that war.
“The reaction to this declaration of an end to the war in Armenia has been greeted with what appears to be absolute disgust and despair,” said Robin Forestier-Walker, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tbilisi, in neighbouring Georgia.
“There is just a sense of disbelief that somehow this was the only option for Armenia, to effectively admit defeat, and to sign this agreement, with Azerbaijan, brokered by Russia, that brings this war to an end, but effectively allows Azerbaijan to claim almost complete victory.”
The latest fighting began on September 27, raising fears of a wider conflict. Russia has a defence pact with Armenia and a military base there, while Turkey supports Azerbaijan.
Hours before the agreement was signed, Azerbaijan apologised to Moscow and offered to pay compensation after it admitted shooting down a Russian helicopter by mistake. Two crew members died in the incident and a third was injured.
Three previous ceasefires in Nagorno-Karabakh have failed in the past six weeks.