Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians seek guarantees before handing arms to Baku

As truce talks got under way, ethnic Armenians accused Azerbaijan of breaking the new ceasefire, a charge denied by Baku.

a damaged vehicle following the Azeri military operation in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh
Baku announced on September 20 that it agreed to a proposal for a ceasefire with ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after launching an offensive to take control of the enclave [EPA-EFE]

Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh need security guarantees before giving up their weapons, an adviser to their leader said on Thursday, a day after Azerbaijan declared it had brought the breakaway region back under its control.

“We have an agreement on the cessation of military action but we await a final agreement – talks are going on,” David Babayan, an adviser to Nagorno-Karabakh’s breakaway ethnic Armenian leader Samvel Shahramanyan, told Reuters news agency.

“We need to talk through a lot of many questions and issues. There has not been a final agreement yet,” he said.

When asked about giving up weapons, Babayan said his people could not be left to die, so would security guarantees first.

Karabakh Armenian authorities accused Azerbaijan of violating a ceasefire agreed on Wednesday after a lightning Azerbaijani offensive forced the separatists to agree to disarm.

Baku’s defence ministry said the allegation that its forces had broken the ceasefire was “completely false”.

Two sources in Stepanakert, the main city in the troubled region known as Khankendi by Azeris, told Reuters news agency they had heard heavy gunfire on Thursday morning, but it was not clear who was firing.

The claims came after delegations from the warring sides started talks in the Azeri city of Yevlakh.

The rivals reached a ceasefire agreement on Wednesday, that could put an end to decades of aspirations for the enclave’s independence from Baku.

The deal came 24 hours after Azerbaijan launched a new offensive in the secessionist region, aimed at restoring full control of the territory.

It justified its military action, claiming that six people, including two civilians, had died due to mines placed by Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan, but the 120,000 ethnic Armenians living there dominate the region. Baku and Yerevan have been vying for control over the region for decades and have fought two wars.

Fighting on Tuesday lasted a day, before separatist forces of the self-styled “Republic of Artsakh” accepted a ceasefire whose terms signalled the area would return under Baku’s control.

According to the Nagorno-Karabakh office for human rights, at least 200 ethnic Armenians died, including 10 civilians. Al Jazeera was not able to independently verify the death toll.

“Karabakh is Azerbaijan,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev triumphantly said in a televised speech on Wednesday, adding that his “iron fist” had consigned the idea of a separatist Armenian Karabakh to history.

The separatist Armenian forces said they were forced to accept the deal after Azerbaijani forces broke through their lines and seized a number of heights and strategic road junctions.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense said Armenian forces in Karabakh had agreed to “lay down their weapons, abandon combat positions and military posts and completely disarm”, adding that all arms and heavy equipment were being handed over to the Azerbaijani military.

Baku had demanded that the separatist political authorities in Karabakh disband before any talks are held about the future of the region, which Azerbaijan wants to fully integrate.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence said the ceasefire will be implemented in coordination with Russian peacekeepers, while Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – who is facing calls to resign – said Yerevan was not involved in preparing the text of the truce.

“We hope that military escalation will not continue, because, in the current conditions, it is very important to ensure stability and stop combat actions,” Pashinyan said in a TV address to Armenians.

He also noted that Armenia has not had troops in Karabakh since August 2021.

Thousands of people gathered at Republic Square, in the heart of Yerevan, decrying the government’s perceived failure to support Armenian separatists. Looking ahead, there are fears for the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, thousands of Armenians also massed at the Stepanakert airport. Others took shelter with Russian peacekeepers in the hope of being flown out.

“The question on everybody’s lips is how Azerbaijan is going to handle the issue of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Yulia Shapovalova, a journalist in Moscow, told Al Jazeera.

Azerbaijain’s claim of victory over the region ushers in yet another twist to the tumultuous history of mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, which over the centuries has come under the sway of Persians, Turks, Russians, Ottomans and Soviets.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies