Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict: Russia offers to host Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks


image copyrightEPA

image captionIt is the worst fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh since a 1994 ceasefire

Russia has offered to host talks on ending the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the offer in calls to both governments, his office said – adding that he had urged a halt to “warlike rhetoric”.

More than 100 deaths have been reported since Sunday, in the heaviest fighting in years over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Officially part of Azerbaijan, it is governed by ethnic Armenians

Armenia and Azerbaijan – two former Soviet republics – fought a war in 1988-1994 over the region. There are growing fears that international powers could be dragged into the conflict.

On Wednesday, Mr Lavrov’s office said he had called the foreign ministers of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to say Russia was willing to host talks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the fighting with French President Emmanuel Macron in a separate telephone call. Both leaders reiterated calls by world powers for an immediate ceasefire.

Russia is part of a military alliance with Armenia and has a military base in the country. However, it also has close ties to the government of Azerbaijan.

Armenia backs the self-declared republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, but has never officially recognised it.

It is unclear what triggered the recent fighting. On Wednesday, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev vowed to fight on until Armenian forces left the territory.

“We only have one condition: Armenian armed forces must unconditionally, fully, and immediately leave our lands,” he said.

Azerbaijan published video of what it said was the destruction of two “enemy” tanks and said an Armenian battalion had fled the area around the village of Tonashen.

Armenian media said three civilians had been killed in an Azerbaijani air attack on the town of Martakert on Wednesday. State news agency Armenpress said seven civilians and 80 service personnel had been killed since the fighting began.

Armenia’s defence ministry also released a picture of an Armenian SU-25 jet it said had been shot down by a Turkish F-16 on Tuesday. Turkey, a staunch ally of Azerbaijan, has rejected the allegation as “cheap propaganda”.

media captionTanks ablaze as fighting erupts over disputed region

One fighter has told BBC Arabic he was recruited in northern Syria last week and sent via Turkey to fight in the conflict. Ilnur Cevik, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dismissed the report as “completely unfounded”.

The conflict has raised tensions between Nato allies France and Turkey. France is home to many people of Armenian ancestry while Turkey has traditionally supported its fellow Turkic nation Azerbaijan.

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused France of supporting Armenian occupation in Azerbaijan.

Mr Macron hit back, criticising “warlike messages” from Turkey “which essentially remove any of Azerbaijan’s inhibitions in recapturing Nagorno-Karabakh”.

“And that we won’t accept,” he added.

After Mr Macron and Mr Putin held talks, the Kremlin issued a statement saying they had discussed future steps that the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) could take to help resolve the conflict.

The Minsk Group was set up in 1992 and is chaired by France, Russia and the US.

Nagorno-Karabakh – key facts

  • A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles)
  • Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
  • In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan
  • Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but majority of population is ethnic Armenian
  • Self-proclaimed authorities are not recognised by any UN member, including Armenia
  • An estimated one million people displaced by war in 1988-94, and about 30,000 killed
  • Separatist forces captured some extra territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan
  • Stalemate has largely prevailed since a 1994 ceasefire
  • Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
  • Russia has a military base in Armenia

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