Armenia, Azerbaijan Reach New Cease-Fire for Nagorno-Karabakh

GORIS, Armenia – Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on a new ceasefire in their conflict over a disputed area, the countries announced on Saturday, days after a ceasefire negotiated a week earlier was broken.

The belligerent neighbors in the South Caucasus announced the agreement on the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh area in terse statements from their foreign ministries late Saturday, calling it a “humanitarian ceasefire” to allow prisoners and the remains of the dead to be exchanged.

The intense fighting leading up to the announcement, however, raised the question of whether this ceasefire would be more permanent than the deal that was reached after ten hours of talks in Moscow last weekend, which failed to end the violent conflict at the front.

The new armistice went into effect at midnight, but neither side gave a timetable for its duration.

France said it brokered the latest ceasefire in the days and hours before it was announced on Saturday, in coordination with Russia and the United States.

“This ceasefire must be respected by both parties,” said a statement by French President Emmanuel Macron. “France will be very attentive to this and will continue to work to ensure that hostilities cease permanently and that credible discussions can begin quickly.”

Any stop to the conflict would be welcome for the people in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the volatile region of the southern Caucasus between the Caspian and Black Seas.

The war has already killed more than 600 Armenian soldiers, numerous civilians and an unknown number of Azerbaijanis. It threatened to turn into a larger regional conflict, with the potential to further attract Turkey, Azerbaijan’s most important ally. Russia, which has a mutual defense agreement with Armenia; and even the region’s southern neighbor, Iran.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnically Armenian enclave that belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, but is closely linked to Armenia.

An earlier Nagorno-Karabakh war in the early 1990s killed about 20,000 people and displaced about a million people, most of them Azerbaijani. Years of tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of the enclave erupted into open war on September 27. Azerbaijan tried to take control of the territory by force.

On Saturday, Azerbaijan said 14 people were killed in a night missile attack in Armenia in the city of Ganja, the country’s second largest city.

The capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, was also attacked overnight on Friday. The noise of air raid sirens and explosions reverberated through the largely empty city until early Saturday morning.

On the front lines, Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought trench warfare and artillery fighting, suffering heavy casualties while fighting for small areas.