Armenia and Azerbaijan are temporarily laying down their weapons in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reported in the night from Friday to Saturday. The ceasefire applies from Saturday noon and should give both countries the opportunity to exchange prisoners of war and the dead.
Russia, a member of the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, brokered the truce between the two sides in Moscow. The countries reached an agreement after more than ten hours of negotiations in Moscow.
According to Lavrov, the countries have also committed to take first steps in the peace negotiations on the conflict. Although this is a temporary truce, it is an unexpected development in the conflict that has only escalated further in the last two weeks.
The Minsk group, in which the US and France participate in addition to Russia, also negotiated in the early 1990s when war broke out between the two countries and in 2016, when the conflict last escalated.
At the invitation of Moscow, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan traveled to the Russian capital on Friday to discuss the conflict.
Uncertainty about the duration of the truce
It is not known exactly how long the truce will last. Azerbaijan said earlier that it did not want to make concessions in the conflict and that it wanted to reclaim the area. In Nagorno-Karabakh, mainly Armenian separatists are currently fighting, but they often find it difficult to compete with the more modern weaponry of the Azeris, who are supported by Turkey.
Contradictory information from both camps makes it difficult to verify information about victims, for example. Exact death rates are therefore unknown. It is clear that this is estimated to number in the hundreds of victims.
In the last week, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, was heavily bombed. Much damage was caused and possibly civilian casualties. About 150,000 people live in Nagorno-Karabakh.
At present, fighting continues along the eastern borders of Nagorno-Karabakh and north of the Iranian border. (Infographic: NU.nl/Joris Knikkink)
Current fighting in region most fierce in years
For the past two weeks, Armenia and Azerbaijan have again engaged in heavy fighting in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The area lies entirely within the internationally recognized Azerbaijani borders, but has a predominantly ethnic Armenian population and, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, declared independence as the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as the Republic of Artsakh).
This led to a war that ended in a ceasefire in 1994. It never came to a permanent peace agreement. Since then there have been regular skirmishes. The current fighting, which started in late September, is the fiercest since the war in the early 1990s.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused the opponent of artillery fire on civilian targets. Tens of thousands of civilians on both sides have since fled the violence.