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Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians seek guarantees before handing weapons to Azerbaijan

the armenian delegation from karabakh arrive for talks with baku, in yevlakh
Davit Melkumyan (C), deputy of the National Assembly of the Nagorno-Karabakh, arrives in the Armenian delegation for talks after the breakaway region was forced into a ceasefire, in the town of Yevlakh, Azerbaijan September 21, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer

Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh need security guarantees before giving up their weapons, an adviser to their leader said on Thursday, a day after Azerbaijan declared it had brought the breakaway region back under its control.

Karabakh Armenian authorities accused Azerbaijan of violating a ceasefire agreed on Wednesday after a lightning Azerbaijani offensive forced the separatists to agree to disarm.

Baku’s defence ministry said the allegation that its forces had broken the ceasefire was “completely false”. Two sources in Karabakh’s main city told Reuters they had heard heavy gunfire on Thursday morning, but it was not clear who was firing.

The shooting and the conflicting narratives highlighted the potential for further bloodshed despite a deal agreed 24 hours earlier that Azerbaijan said had restored its sovereignty over Karabakh after 35 years of conflict.

“We have an agreement on the cessation of military action but we await a final agreement – talks are going on,” David Babayan, an adviser to Nagorno-Karabakh’s breakaway ethnic Armenian leader Samvel Shahramanyan, told Reuters. “We need to talk through a lot of many questions and issues.”

“There has not been a final agreement yet.”

When asked about giving up weapons, Babayan said his people could not be left to die, so would security guarantees first.

“A whole host of questions still need to be resolved,” he said.

Talks took place on Thursday in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh between Azerbaijan and representatives of the Republic of Artsakh, as the Karabakh Armenians call themselves.

The Artsakh authorities said in a post on Telegram that no final agreement had been reached.


Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has enjoyed de facto independence since breaking away in a war in the 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Restoring control has been a cherished dream for Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who launched a lightning military operation on Tuesday that quickly broke through Karabakh Armenian lines.

In a speech to the nation on Wednesday night, he said Azerbaijan had triumphed with an “iron fist”.

“After the surrender of the criminal junta, this source of tension, this den of poison, has already been consigned to history,” Aliyev said, focusing his anger on Karabakh’s leadership.

He said the region’s ethnic Armenians would enjoy full educational, cultural and religious rights. All ethnic groups and faiths would be united as “one fist – for Azerbaijan, for dignity, for the Motherland”.

Defeat is a bitter pill for the separatist Karabakh leadership and for Armenia, which helped its kin in the enclave to maintain their autonomy and fought two wars with Azerbaijan in the space of 30 years.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan acknowledged in a speech to mark his country’s independence day that Armenians were going through “untold physical and psychological suffering”.

But he said that, to guarantee its survival, his country badly needed peace: “an environment that is free from conflicts, inter-state, inter-ethnic conflicts.”


Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said on Wednesday that Armenia’s restraint in not trying to block Baku’s offensive would remove an obstacle to peace between the two Caucasus neighbours. An aide to Aliyev said Baku had given Yerevan a new draft peace agreement, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.

Russia, which has peacekeepers in the region, also did nothing to stand in the way of the Azerbaijani offensive – a source of bitter resentment to many Armenians who looked to Moscow as an ally and protector.

In the Armenian capital Yerevan, thousands gathered on Wednesday to denounce their government’s failure to protect Karabakh.

Many demanded the resignation of Pashinyan, who presided over defeat to Azerbaijan in a six-week war in 2020 that paved the way for this week’s loss of Karabakh but nevertheless won re-election several months later.

In Karabakh, many ethnic Armenians have fled their homes in the past three days, some massing at the airport in the main city and others taking shelter with Russian peacekeepers.

Residents of Stepanakert, which Azerbaijan calls Khankendi, said there was no electricity, shops were bare, and people were lighting fires in courtyards to try to cook whatever food they could find. Authorities said they would hand out free food.

“There are a lot of displaced people from the villages, they were just moved to the city and had nowhere to spend the night,” said Gayane Sargsyan, who runs a wellness business in the city.

In a voice message, she told Reuters that rumours were swirling about what would happen next and people were in “chaos and bewilderment”.

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