Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to separate talks regarding a ceasefire with the the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which have mediated the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for nearly three decades. Heavy fighting continues as international actors raise their concern.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov is due to meet with Minsk Group envoys in Geneva on Thursday, while his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan is set to meet the co-chairs in Moscow on Monday.
It comes a week after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called Russian mediated talks with Azerbaijan inappropriate.
“It isn’t very appropriate to speak of a summit between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia at a time of intensive hostilities,” Pashinyan told Russia’s Interfax news agency. “A suitable atmosphere and conditions are needed for negotiations.”
It is not yet clear whether the conditions are suitable for negotiations, as fighting between the sides entered its twelfth day. Azerbaijan said the front-line clashes spilled out to non-disputed areas, as Armenian military forces continue shelling the second biggest city, Ganja, and other neighboring densely populated areas.
Russian journalists reported from the front line that the administrative center of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, Khankendi (Stepanakert), came under fire the last overnight with civilians hiding in the basements.
Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargahli neither confirmed nor denied the report saying, “they are hitting our sides, and we are firing back.”
According to Dargahli, the Armenian armed forces are still firing at the city of Barda.
Nagorno-Karabakh said 30 servicemen had been killed so far, raising its military death toll to 350 since Sept. 27. It says 19 civilians have also been killed and many wounded.
As many as 75,000 people have been forced to flee amidst flare ups, an official from Nagorno-Karabakh was quoted as saying by AFP.
According to Azerbaijani authorities, 30 civilians have been killed and 143 wounded since the fresh violence started. Baku has not publicized any information about military casualties yet, most likely to keep public support at its peak.
The negotiations might pave the way for a ceasefire. The clashes have raised concerns over the stability of the region, which is home to energy pipelines carrying natural oil and gas to Europe.
President Ilham Aliyev said in his televised speech on Sunday that a ceasefire is only possible with the withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the region.
Armenia has ruled out a withdrawal from territory it considers historic homeland.
"Nagorno-Karabakh cannot and will never be part of Azerbaijan," Pashinyan said in his latest interview with Russian TV RBK on Wednesday.
It also accused Turkey of military involvement in the conflict and says it has sent in Syrian mercenaries and other military experts and equipments, the allegations that Ankara denied.
According to New York Times journalist Christiaan Triebert, two F-16 jets believed to belong to the Turkish armed forces and spotted at Azerbaijan’s Ganja International Airport may prove the Turkish involvement in the fightings over the region.
The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, was declared independent by ethnic Armenians living there as the Soviet Union collapsed. An estimated 30,000 were killed when the conflict turned into a full-fledged war,. A ceasefire signed in 1994 under the auspices of Moscow put a fragile end to a large-scale conflict. Peace talks mediated by France, US and Russia were unsuccessful and since then, conflict is volatile, with flare-ups sporadically occurring.
Fears are mounting that the decades-long conflict soothed with talks might now develop into a wider war, as Ankara and Moscow could easily be drawn into the conflict.
Though Turkey has always extended its full support to its strategic ally Azerbaijan, Ankara has all the time been out urging the sides to solve the conflict around the negotiating table. Now Turkey seems enthusiastic to be involved in the conflict with Baku wanting Turkey to get involved in peacemaking with a thought that Ankara might change the status quo around the conflict.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, that is mostly unknown to Western nations, may be a testing ground for some powers, according to Hal Brands, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Small wars have historically served as dress rehearsals for bigger ones, because they offer a testing ground for emerging concepts and capabilities,” Brands said in a column for Bloomberg.
“The fighting in the Caucasus is one of a series of recent wars that yield clues about how the next great-power conflict might play out.”