Negotiators from Azerbaijan and the breakaway Armenian republic of Nagorno-Karabakh have begun talks that could end nearly three decades of Armenian rule over the disputed territory.
A video published by Azerbaijani media shows the delegation of the so-called Republic of Artsakh accompanied by Russian peacekeepers heading towards the town of Evlakh after a ceasefire was declared following of a 24-hour Azerbaijani offensive.
As part of the deal, ethnic Armenian forces agreed to disband in a major capitulation to Azerbaijan. The delegation from Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway republic, was led by State Minister Artur Harutyunyan, who arrived in camouflage to meet an Azerbaijani delegation led by Azerbaijani MP Ramin Mammadov.
Armenia said it was not party to the ceasefire or negotiations. The country was defeated in a 44-day war with Azerbaijan in 2020 and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned that Azerbaijan was seeking to drag Armenia into another conflict.
The talks will determine the fate of tens of thousands of ethnic Armenian residents of the disputed territories, who have endured war and a months-long blockade as they continue to live in an enclave internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory.
Nagorno-Karabakh and some surrounding territories have been under ethnic Armenian control since the end of a separatist war in 1994, but Azerbaijan reclaimed the territories and parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself in 2020.
Local officials, as well as those in Yerevan, have warned that Azerbaijan is undertaking a campaign of ethnic cleansing as it seeks to drive out the region’s tens of thousands of remaining Armenian residents.
During a forum at the United Nations General Assembly, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said that “120,000 people, including women, children and the elderly, currently face an existential threat for their lives, while Azerbaijan attempts to carry out ethnic cleansing and deprive the people of Nagorno-Karabakh of their right to live in their homeland in security, freedom and dignity.”
Azerbaijan has said it wants to discuss the reintegration of Karabakh territories, and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev said in a nationally televised address on Wednesday that local Karabakh Armenians had “forgotten that they live in Azerbaijan.”
He said Azerbaijan had restored its sovereignty “with an iron fist.”
In Nagorno-Karabakh, more than 5,000 residents have sought shelter at an airport near the local capital Stepanakert, which was used as a base by Russian peacekeepers deployed to the region after the 2020 war. been evacuated from the Mardakert, Martuni and Askeran districts of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
European Council President Charles Michel asked Aliyev to protect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and “ensure a complete ceasefire and safe and dignified treatment by Azerbaijan of Karabakh Armenians.” .
“Their human rights and security must be guaranteed. Access necessary for immediate humanitarian aid,” Michel wrote in a message on social media.