STEPANAKERT | The meeting of the heads of Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomacy under the aegis of their Russian counterpart began Friday in Moscow in the hope of ending the conflict between their countries in the separatist region of Nagorno Karabakh, where intense fighting persists. .
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In speeches leading up to the meeting, the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia spoke, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian saying he was “ready” to resume the peace process with Baku.
“We are giving Armenia a chance to resolve the conflict peacefully. This is his last chance, ”for his part threatened Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev in a televised speech.
“We will return to our land anyway. This is their historic chance, ”he said, speaking of the Armenians, before saying“ no one can resist the Azerbaijani soldier! ”
Hitherto deaf to the calls for a truce from the international community, Azerbaijan and Armenia have sent their foreign ministers to the Russian capital for negotiations, the first hope of an end to hostilities since their resumption, the September 27.
“We are moving towards a truce this evening or tomorrow, but it is still fragile,” declared the French presidency after Emmanuel Macron’s telephone exchanges with Nikol Pachinian and Ilham Aliev.
Ahead of the talks in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Michoustine met his Armenian counterpart in Yerevan on Friday.
After a relatively calm first night and first morning, new bursts of rockets and new explosions were heard in Stepanakert by an AFP journalist on the spot. One of the rockets landed a few meters from the veterans cemetery. Baku and Yerevan stressed that the situation remained tense on the front, with the two opponents boasting of inflicting setbacks on the other.
“We are ready for the resumption of the peace process in connection with the recent declarations of the presidents and foreign ministers of the Minsk group”, the name given to the group of three states acting as mediators (Russia, the United States and France ) in this more than 30-year-old conflict, Nikol Pachinian said on Friday.
Vladimir Putin, who met with him as well as with Ilham Aliev, “calls for an end to the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh for humanitarian reasons, with a view to exchanging the bodies of the dead and the prisoners”, according to the press release. of the Kremlin which announced these negotiations Thursday evening.
For 13 days, Armenian separatists from the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic and Azerbaijani forces have been fighting again in this mountainous region.
The official death toll rose Friday morning to more than 400 dead, including 22 Armenian civilians and 31 Azerbaijani. However, it is very partial and could be much higher, with each side claiming to have eliminated thousands of enemy soldiers and Baku not revealing its military losses.
Clashes have also spread in recent days with shelling in urban areas, each side accusing the other of targeting civilians. According to the separatist authorities, half of the 140,000 inhabitants of Nagorno Karabakh have already been displaced by these clashes.
On Thursday, an emblematic Armenian cathedral was hit twice in a few hours and Russian journalists were injured there, one of them very seriously. The Azerbaijani army denied having fired on this building.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov was already in Geneva on Thursday to meet with the OSCE Minsk Group, but nothing leaked from this meeting.
Azerbaijan says it is determined to reconquer Nagorny Karabakh, a separatist region mainly populated by Armenians, by force of arms, and maintains that only a withdrawal of enemy troops would end the fighting.
Abroad, the fear is to see this conflict internationalize in a region where Russians, Turks, Iranians and Westerners all have interests. Especially since Ankara encourages Baku to go on the offensive and Moscow is bound by a military treaty with Yerevan.
Turkey is accused of participating with men and equipment in hostilities alongside Azerbaijan, which it denies.