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Azerbaijan, Karabakh separatists hold 'constructive' peace talks

Sep 22, 2023

Baku [Azerbaijan], September 22: Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists from the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh held their first direct peace talks Thursday, after Baku claimed to have regained control over the breakaway region in a lightning military operation. The separatists agreed to lay down their arms on Wednesday as part of a Russian-brokered ceasefire plan that halted Azerbaijan's 24-hour offensive to retake land at the center of decades of conflict.
Azerbaijan's presidency said the two-hour meeting had been "held in a constructive and peaceful atmosphere" in the presence of Russian peacekeepers, and both sides expressed readiness to hold more talks. Baku's negotiators presented plans for the "reintegration" of Karabakh's Armenian population into Azerbaijan and pledged to provide urgently needed fuel, humanitarian supplies, and medical care to residents. While the meeting was happening, gunfire rang out in the separatist stronghold of Stepanakert on Thursday despite the truce deal.
"There was a small exchange of fire outside the city," Arutyun Gasparyan, a businessman and father of two, told AFP. "We are sitting at home and waiting for the results of the talks." The breakaway authorities accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire, but Baku denied the allegation. The region's human rights ombudsman said on social media that "the streets of Stepanakert are filled with displaced people, hungry, scared, and in uncertainty".
'Crime against humanity'
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the small mountainous region. Now, there are concerns of a fresh refugee crisis as Karabakh's Armenian population fears being forced out. Armenia's Prime Minister NikolPashinyan said the ceasefire was holding overall and he did not see a "direct threat" to the civilian population. Nonetheless he said Yerevan was prepared to host 40,000 families from the region, which is estimated to hold up to 120,000 ethnic Armenians.
The European Union said it was ready to provide "urgent humanitarian assistance", urging Azerbaijan to allow access to the enclave. And the UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency session to discuss the situation, after separatists said the assault claimed 200 lives. The collapse of the separatist resistance represents a major victory for Azerbaijan's President IlhamAliyev. Aliyev said his country had restored its sovereignty over the region for the first time in decades. Baku insists it now wants to see the "peaceful reintegration" of Karabakh Armenians. A separatist official said more than 10,000 people had been evacuated from Armenian communities in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Putin talks to Aliyev
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday urged Aliyev to ensure the security for the region's Armenians. Russia - the traditional regional powerbroker - sent peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 as part of a deal to end a six-week war in which Azerbaijan regained partial control of the region. Under this week's truce, the separatists said they had agreed to fully dismantle their army and for Armenia to pull out any forces it had in the region. Azerbaijan's defense ministry said all weapons were to be surrendered.
After the Soviet Union fell apart, Armenian separatists seized the region - internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan - in the early 1990s. That sparked a war that left 30,000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands. The latest violence comes with Moscow bogged down in its war against Ukraine, and after the United States and European Union had stepped up attempts to find a lasting peace.
Pashinyan on Thursday condemned "failures" by the Russian peacekeeping mission to avert Azerbaijan's assault. The Kremlin said Aliyev had apologized to Putin over the death of an undisclosed number of Russian peacekeepers during the fighting on Wednesday. Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan has expressed "wholehearted support" for its ally, Azerbaijan.
'Path is not easy'
The apparent capitulation of the separatists has sparked jubilation among Azerbaijanis hoping for an end to decades of strife. But it ratchets up domestic pressure on Pashinyan, who has faced stinging criticism at home for making concessions to Azerbaijan since the 2020 war. Pashinyan said on Thursday that a road to peace with Armenia's arch-rival was difficult but must still be pursued. "This path is not easy, it goes through internal and external shocks, and we must pursue it," he said.
Aliyev has said this week's events would have a "positive impact" on attempts to negotiate a lasting peace between the two feuding Caucasus neighbors. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the question of which country Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to had been "decided" and conditions were in place for an enduring solution. But mutual distrust remains high and finding a lasting settlement to the decades-long dispute will be a major task. Armenia's defense ministry said late Wednesday Azerbaijan had fired on its positions along the border, just the latest in what have been frequent skirmishes. - AFP
Source: Kuwait Times