The first peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists from Nagorno-Karabakh will open on Thursday (September 21st) in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh after a blitzkrieg offensive by Baku claimed the day before in this secessionist territory.
According to the latest assessment of Armenian separatists, the clashes have left at least 200 dead and 400 wounded. The Russian Defense Ministry said two of its soldiers were killed on Wednesday when their car came under fire.
Cornered by the firepower of Azerbaijani units, the separatists agreed to participate Thursday in the city of Yevlakh, 295 km west of Baku, in the first talks on the "reintegration" to Azerbaijan of Nagorno-Karabakh, after the signing of a ceasefire.
In parallel, an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council will be held on Thursday afternoon, the Albanian presidency of the council confirmed on Tuesday evening.
The delegation of separatists arrived Thursday morning
The delegation of Armenian separatists arrived in Yevlakh on Thursday morning, according to Azerbaijan's official Azertag news agency.
The talks were announced a day earlier after a military blitz in Baku forced the separatists to capitulate after decades of conflict.
Images from the Azertag agency show a column of black 4X4s arriving at the scene of the negotiations, followed by a vehicle with a Russian flag flying and Russian army license plates. Russia, which has, since the end of 2020 and a previous war, a mission of peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.
On the eve of the talks, Hikmet Hajiev, an adviser to the Azerbaijani president, said Azerbaijan had "as its goal the peaceful reintegration of Armenians in Karabakh" and a "normalization" of relations with Armenia.
He promised "safe passage" to Armenian separatist forces, assuring that "all actions" carried out "on the ground" were coordinated with the Russian peacekeeping contingent.
Twenty-four hours after the launch of its military offensive, Azerbaijan has "re-established its sovereignty" over Nagorno-Karabakh after a lightning victory over Armenian separatists who "started" to lay down their arms, the Azerbaijani president said Wednesday.
The Azerbaijani victory is fuelling fears of a mass departure of Nagorno-Karabakh's 120,000 residents, while footage broadcast by local media showed a crowd gathering at the airport in the Russian-controlled separatist capital Stepanakert.
More than 10,000 people, including women, children and the elderly, have already been evacuated from the enclave, a separatist official said late Wednesday.
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Pashinyan under pressure, Aliyev strengthened
After the ceasefire was declared at 13 GMT on Wednesday, Armenia accused the Azerbaijani army of opening fire with small arms on its positions on the border between the two countries.
"Units of the Azerbaijani armed forces fired small arms at Armenian combat outposts near Sotk," in a border region, the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The separatists' capitulation has ratcheted up pressure on Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has been criticized for not sending aid to Nagorno-Karabakh.
In the wake of clashes outside the government headquarters, thousands of protesters gathered again on Wednesday night and clashes broke out with police. Pashinyan "has to go, he can't run the country," said one of them, Sarguis Hayats, a twenty-year-old musician.
Using the oil windfall to strengthen his army, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is about to succeed in his bet to regain control of this region mainly populated by Armenians, which has been the scene of two wars between the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus that are Azerbaijan and Armenia: one from 1988 to 1994 (30,000 dead) and the other in autumn 2020 (6,500 dead).
This victory "will certainly increase the popularity of Ilham Aliyev", in power for twenty years, but he will now have to "keep his promise to ensure the rights of Armenians in Karabakh", stressed Shahin Hajiev, an independent Azerbaijani expert.
Putin hopes for 'peaceful settlement'
Totally absorbed in the war in Ukraine for more than a year and a half, Russia played a mediating role in the signing of this ceasefire, said the separatists and Baku. But Moscow, which considers the Karabakh crisis to be an "internal affair" of Azerbaijan, has so far said nothing about the agreement.
On Wednesday evening, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that negotiations on the future of the enclave would take place with the "mediation" of Russian forces deployed on the ground.
Fearing that the resumption of hostilities would destabilize the entire Caucasus, the West and Russia had called for an immediate halt to the fighting on Tuesday.
The Azerbaijani authorities launched their "anti-terrorist" operation on Tuesday, following the death of six people in the explosion of mines laid, they claimed, by Armenian "saboteurs".
Considered a central region to its history by Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh had proclaimed its independence from Azerbaijan with the support of Yerevan at the time of the break-up of the USSR in 1991.
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