U.S.-backed truce between Armenia, Azerbaijan crumbles as Nagorno-Karabakh fighting resumes
The 3rd truce in just over 2 weeks was shattered within minutes
A U.S.-backed ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh was in jeopardy on Monday as Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces renewed fighting in the mountain enclave, defying international efforts to end a conflict that has killed hundreds in the last month.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address that he wanted to resolve the conflict "by political and military means" after both sides accused each other of breaking a truce agreed upon hours earlier in Washington.
Speaking live on Facebook later on Monday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said he did not believe Azerbaijan was interested in a peaceful resolution to the conflict. "The Armenian people are ready for mutual concessions, even painful ones, but not for the capitulation of Karabakh," he said.
The third truce in just over two weeks came into force at 8 a.m. local time on Monday. Within minutes, Azerbaijan's defence ministry said in a statement that Armenian forces had shelled villages in the Terter and Lachin regions.
The Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry denied this and said Azeri forces had launched a missile attack on Armenian military positions on the northeastern side on the line of contact. Armenia's defence ministry said in a statement that the Azeri side violated the ceasefire at around 9:10 a.m. local time.
The latest fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, erupted on Sept. 27 and is the worst in the South Caucasus since the 1990s. Two Russian-brokered ceasefires have failed to hold.
World powers want to prevent a wider war that might draw in Turkey, which has voiced strong support for Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia. The conflict has also strained relations between Ankara and its NATO allies.
The latest ceasefire was agreed on Sunday after separate talks in Washington between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Turkey calls for 'goal-oriented talks'
Representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, also participated in the talks. The group said its co-chairs and the foreign ministers agreed to meet again in Geneva on Oct. 29.
"In order for the efforts of the Minsk group co-chairs to yield results, we see the need for goal-oriented talks in line with UN Security Council resolutions and international laws that aim for lasting peace, taking into consideration Armenia's violations," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a statement.
"We think the ceasefires announced can only be sustainable this way," he said.
Commenting on the talks Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter: "Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a cease fire effective at midnight. Many lives will be saved."
Nagorno-Karabakh has said that 974 of its military personnel have been killed since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan says 65 Azeri civilians have been killed but has not disclosed its military casualties.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that 5,000 people might have been killed in the fighting.
Pashinyan, the Armenian prime minister, wrote on his Facebook page that the Armenian side "continued to adhere to the ceasefire."
About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians regard the enclave as part of their historic homeland; Azeris consider it illegally occupied land that must be returned to their control.