Armenian separatists surrender in Karabakh

Armenian separatists surrender in Karabakh
Russian peacekeeping troops are present in Karabakh but did not intervene as Azerbaijan made its move. / VoA, screenshot
By bne IntelIiNews September 20, 2023

A ceasefire—that observers will interpret as a surrender by the unrecognised ethnic-Armenian separatist administration of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan—was on the morning of September 20 announced to end the fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave reignited by an Azerbaijani offensive that began yesterday.

The ceasefire to take effect at 13:00 local time was declared following Russian mediation.

Armenia seemingly stood back as Azerbaijan mounted the offensive. Russia's Interfax news agency reported Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as saying that Yerevan was not involved in preparing the text of the ceasefire agreement. Pashinyan was further cited as saying that his office had taken note of the decision by authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh to agree to a ceasefire. Armenia has not had troops in the territory since August 2021, Pashinyan added. 

Ethnic-Armenian authorities said in initial estimates that the fighting left at least 32 people dead and more than 200 injured, but some local media accounts indicated these figures could be revised upwards substantially.

Ruben Vardanyan, an ex-head of the local ethnic-Armenian administration, talked of higher casualties in what he told Reuters was the beginning of a “big war”.

“Azerbaijan has started a full operation,” he said. “They are basically saying to us that we need to leave, not stay here, or accept that this is a part of Azerbaijan. This is basically a typical ethnical cleansing operation and a war with a lot of civilians now being killed.”

Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow specialised in South Caucasus affairs at Carnegie Europe, a think tank, said in comments published by the Guardian: “A ceasefire is positive, obviously, if it lasts, as the threat of mass bloodshed will be averted. What we are seeing here is the intervention of Russia on behalf of Azerbaijan to keep its peacekeeping force in Karabakh at least for the time being and thereby a foothold in the South Caucasus.”

“The main losers are the Karabakh Armenians who have lost their 35-year-old struggle for self-determination or secession from Azerbaijan,” de Waal also noted, adding: “They now lose any means of self-defence and face a very uncertain future in Azerbaijan. The Karabakhis may have avoided complete destruction but they are more likely facing a slow-motion removal from their homeland, as Azerbaijan is not offering them any autonomy or special political rights.”

The other losers, according to de Waal, “are the European Union and the United States which have tried hard to be mediators in this conflict but whose message of rights and international guarantees is being drowned out by the tougher messages of Azerbaijan and Russia.”

Both Azerbaijan and the unrecognised ethnic-Armenian administration confirmed the ceasefire terms, namely that:

1. The Armenian armed groups located in Karabakh will lay down their weapons, leave their combat positions and military posts and disarm completely. Units of Armenian armed forces shall leave the territories of Azerbaijan, while the local Karabakhi-Armenian forces shall be dissolved.

2. In parallel, all weapons and heavy equipment will be handed over by the forces.

3. It shall be ensured that the above-mentioned processes will be carried out in a coordinated manner with the Russian peacekeeping contingent.

More than 90 combat positions and strategically important positions of Armenian armed forces units were taken under control of the Azerbaijani army following what may be seen as a one-day-war. According to the presidency of Azerbaijan, a meeting will be held in Yevlakh on September 21, with representatives of the ethnic-Armenian residents of Karabakh due to discuss reintegration issues based on the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

However, the ethic-Armenian government in Stepanakert did not mention any provisions to reintegrate territory. In a statement, it referred to an agreement to “pull out the remaining detachments and troops of the Armenian armed forces from the zone of deployment of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, to disband and fully disarm armed units of the Nagorno-Karabakh defence Army, and pull out heavy hardware and weapons from the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for the sake of their soonest possible disposal”.

A spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters that Brussels hoped the announcement of a ceasefire “will be followed up on the ground”.

“The member states and also international partners are dealing with it very intensively,” the spokesperson said, as quoted by newswires. 

“We expect immediate cessation of hostilities, and we also expect that Azerbaijan stops the current military activities,” the spokesperson added. The EU “is watching the situation very closely — and the member states will decide next steps in this context as we see the developments unfolding on the ground.”