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HomeExplainedSeparatists in Nagorno-Karabakh surrender: What is the Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute over the region

Separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh surrender: What is the Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute over the region

Armenian separatist forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region of the South Caucasus surrendered and agreed to a ceasefire on Wednesday, 24 hours after Azerbaijan began an offensive to restore its full control over the territory.

Under the agreement, effective from 09:00 GMT on Wednesday, separatist forces will disband and talks on the future of the region and the ethnic Armenians who live there will start on Thursday, reported Reuters.

For approximately four decades, territorial disputes and ethnic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan have severely impacted the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The two countries went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, and months after the war, Russia brokered a truce. But now, with Moscow’s attention diverted by the war in Ukraine, tensions have resurfaced.

Recent developments in Nagorno-Karabakh

For the past nine months, Azerbaijan has imposed a blockade on the only route into the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor.

The residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have accused Azerbaijan of causing a humanitarian crisis since December 2022 when the blockade was first imposed, saying that it has resulted in the crippling of critical civilian infrastructure like access to gas, electricity, health services, and internet access. Nagorno-Karabakh has also accused Azerbaijan of blocking the import of essential goods and causing the shortage of everyday supplies like food and water.

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According to a BBC report, on Tuesday, air raid sirens rang out and the sound of artillery and gunfire could be heard in Stepanakert, Karabakh’s main city, that resulted in damage to residential buildings. The BBC quoted Karabakh officials saying five people had been killed and dozens more wounded, including women and children.

These recent “anti-terror” operations, Azerbaijan says, have been launched in response to the death of six of its citizens, including two police officers, in landmine explosions on Tuesday.

Karabakh officials have accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire with missile-artillery strikes. According to the BBC report, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry insisted it was not targeting civilians or civilian buildings, and that “only legitimate military targets are being incapacitated by the use of high-precision weapons”. Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of “systematic shelling” of its army positions and said it had responded by launching “local, anti-terrorist activities… to disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia’s armed forces from our territories”, the report said.

Background of the conflict

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous and heavily forested region that under international law is recognised as part of Azerbaijan. However, ethnic Armenians who constitute the vast majority of the population reject Azeri rule. After Azerbaijan’s troops were pushed out of the region following a war in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, ethnic Armenians have been in administrative control of Nagorno-Karabakh, with support from Armenia.

But the region has been the focus of a long-standing dispute between both countries for years, with each laying its claim on the territory. In September 2020, clashes broke out that rapidly escalated to become the deadliest since the 1990s. Back then, Armenia had said it was Azerbaijan that reopened the conflict by launching a major offensive in September 2020, while Baku had claimed it was forced to respond to provocations by the other side.

In 2020, when Azerbaijan had recaptured areas in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, the escalating conflict was halted following a truce monitored by Russian peacekeepers.

Following the escalation this week, some of the estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians who live in this mountainous enclave have had to relocate.

What the international community has to say

Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashniyan rejected claims that his country’s military was responsible. Hours after Azerbaijan’s launched military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh, protestors gathered outside government offices in Armenia’s capital Yerevan, responding to calls by the country’s opposition parties to protest against the government. Since 2020, Pashniyan has faced widespread protests for losing large amounts of territory to Azerbaijan during the war that broke out three years ago, as well as for the blockade imposed by Azerbaijan.

According to a report by the AFP, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, in a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said Baku’s “anti-terrorist measures will be stopped if (Karabakh forces) lay down their arms.”

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Although Russia has played an important role in brokering a truce between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a The Guardian report said relations between Yerevan and Moscow have been impacted after Armenia held military exercises with the United States this month. Armenia has also taken steps towards ratifying the Rome Convention, which created the international criminal court that indicted Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We urge the conflicting parties to immediately stop the bloodshed, stop hostilities and eliminate civilian casualties,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

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Just as world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Security Council on Tuesday scheduled an urgent meeting as France and the United States led efforts to stop a military operation by Azerbaijan. Albania, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency, announced a session would take place on Thursday. This operation is “illegal, unjustifiable and unacceptable,” France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told reporters.

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