Armenia, Azerbaijan Urged To Seek Lasting Cease-Fire As Diplomatic Efforts Continue

BAKU/YEREVAN — Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region have intensified after the two sides blamed each other for the collapse of a U.S. brokered cease-fire.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to pursue a diplomatic solution and abide by the cease-fire, which collapsed on October 26.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on October 27 with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, telling him about contacts with the leaderships of Azerbaijan and Armenia and the “steps being taken to achieve a cease-fire as soon as possible and de-escalate the crisis,” a Kremlin statement said.

It was the second call between Putin and Erdogan since fighting erupted on September 27, raising fears of a wider conflict in the South Caucasus drawing in NATO member Turkey, which is an ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military pact with Armenia.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also discussed Nagorno-Karabakh in a phone call.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov raised the issue of mercenaries transferred into the conflict zone. Both diplomats emphasized the need to ensure a lasting cease-fire as soon as possible and stress there was no alternative to a peaceful solution, the ministry said.

Pompeo spoke by phone with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev separately. Pompeo “pressed the leaders to abide by their commitments to cease hostilities and pursue a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the State Department said.

Fighting was reported along several parts of the front line on October 27, with heavy clashes reported in the southern sector near the border with Iran.

A man looks at a residential building damaged by shelling in the city of Ganca, Azerbaijan's second-largest, on October 27.

A man looks at a residential building damaged by shelling in the city of Ganca, Azerbaijan’s second-largest, on October 27.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi visited areas near Iran’s border with Azerbaijan and warned the warring parties against harming the security of Iranian territories.

“The security of border regions, dams, and constructions is highly significant for the Islamic Republic of Iran and is a red line,” Araqchi said, according to IFP News.

Araqchi plans to begin a trip on October 28 to several countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia, to discuss the crisis, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.

Battles were taking place along several parts of the front line on October 27, the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry said in a statement. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry described fighting concentrated in three frontline areas.

Armenia has acknowledged that Nagorno-Karabakh forces had withdrawn from a town between the enclave and the Iranian border, an apparent military gain for Azerbaijan.

'Everyone Needs To Fight': The Village Volunteers Of The Karabakh War

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‘Everyone Needs To Fight’: The Village Volunteers Of The Karabakh War

Ethnic Armenians near the front lines of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh are taking up arms against the Azerbaijani military.

Armenian Defense Ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisian said the settlement was given up “to avoid unnecessary losses” but the situation was “not critical.”

Both sides accused each other of striking targets outside Nagorno-Karabakh.

At least some 1,000 people have been reported killed since fighting erupted on September 27.

Ethnic tensions in the region between Christian Armenians and their mainly Muslim neighbors have flared in Nagorno-Karabakh for decades.

Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians, who make up the vast majority of the population, reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan’s troops were pushed out of the breakaway region in a war in the early 1990s.

Aliyev said in an address to the nation on October 26 that Azerbaijan wanted to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, either by political or military means. He also reiterated a demand that that Nagorno-Karabakh be returned to Azerbaijan, as well as seven surrounding districts controlled by Armenian forces.

Armenia says it will not withdraw from territory it views as part of its historic homeland and where the population needs protection.

The United States, France, and Russia — co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) — said its foreign ministers would meet on October 29 in Geneva to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

The Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict, said the meeting would be held “to discuss, reach agreement on, and begin implementation, in accordance with a timeline to be agreed upon, of all steps necessary to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

The two countries agreed to a cease-fire on October 25 when their foreign ministers separately met Pompeo in Washington. But the truce, like two previous cease-fires brokered by Russia, has had little impact on the ground.

With reporting by Reuters and IFP News
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