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Azerbaijan Moves to Disarm Karabakh Separatists (Part Two)

2023-09-29 12:45

On September 20, Azerbaijan called for a ceasefire in the operation against armed detachments of the separatist regime in Karabakh (Trend.az, September 20). In a televised address to the nation, President Ilham Aliyev stated that Baku’s conditions were accepted by the separatist entity (President.az, September 20). He announced that the “representatives of the Armenian community living in Karabakh, who refused to meet our representatives several months ago, are ready to meet in the city of Yevlakh.” Azerbaijan has disclosed that 192 servicemen were killed and more than 500 wounded during the 24-hour “anti-terrorist operation” (Trend.az, September 25). The Armenian side has reported at least 200 people killed and more than 400 wounded (News.am, September 21).

In preventing further escalation, the Armenian government chose not to militarily intervene in the clashes on September 19 and 20. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan characterized possible involvement as a threat to his country. He stated, “Armenia is not involved in military operations. I want to mention once again that Armenia does not have an army in Nagorno-Karabakh” (News.am, September 19). Armenian officials believe that Russia was trying to drag Armenia into the fight over Karabakh with the purpose of destabilizing the situation in Yerevan and toppling the government (News.am, September 21).

Talks between the two sides began the day after the ceasefire was reached. On September 21, representatives of the Armenian community in Karabakh met with the Azerbaijani side in Yevlakh. Davit Melkumyan and Sergey Matirosyan represented the separatist entity, while Ramin Mammadov, a member of parliament, headed the Azerbaijani delegation (News.am, September 21). The meeting took place without the mediation of any third party, though Russian peacekeepers had accompanied the Armenian delegation to Yevlakh.

The meeting ended with an agreement on disarming and dissolving the separatist forces. Specifically, the accord calls for “the [full] withdrawal of the remaining units and servicemen of the Armed Forces of Armenia” and “the disbandment and complete disarmament” of the separatist regime. This will include the removal of heavy weapons and other military equipment from the territory of Karabakh (News.am, September 21). The two sides also agreed to hold further meetings in mapping out the reintegration of the region into Azerbaijan and ensuring the rights and security of the Armenians within the Constitution of Azerbaijan. According to Baku, the Azerbaijani representatives responded positively to requests to provide fuel, food and other assistance to the Armenians in Karabakh (Turan, September 21).

After the Yevlakh meeting, Russian peacekeepers reported that the separatist regime had started handing over their weapons to Azerbaijan (News.am, September 22). The peacekeeping contingent reported that “the armed forces of Karabakh are leaving their positions within the framework of the agreements reached at the meeting held in Yevlakh.” Another meeting between Samvel Shahramanyan, the leader of the separatist entity, and Ali Nagiyev, head of Azerbaijan’s State Security Service, was reportedly held on September 23. The local Armenian journalist who first reported on this meeting asserted that “it is regrettable” that the separatist leaders had earlier refused to negotiate with Baku (News.am, September 23).

The restoration of Azerbaijan’s control over the area has been followed by the exodus of many local Armenians to Armenia via the Lachin checkpoint. Humanitarian aid has been delivered to the region via Russian peacekeepers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (Armenpress.amNews.am, September 23). Baku also sent two trucks containing 40 tons of food and sanitary products as well as two trucks full of bread to the Armenian residents (Turan, September 22). On September 24, Azerbaijan restored the electricity supply to Karabakh, disconnecting the region from Armenia’s energy grid and connecting it with that of Azerbaijan (Azertag, September 24).

Steps are being taken to reassure those Armenians remaining in Karabakh. The Azerbaijani media interviewed some Armenians at the Lachin checkpoint. The respondents spoke positively of their past co-existence with Azerbaijanis during the Soviet period, and some refuted claims about their coerced expulsion (Qafqazinfo.az, September 25). Pashinyan declared that “at this moment, there is no direct danger” to Armenians living in Karabakh and insisted that the Armenians in Karabakh “live in safety and dignity” there (Armenpress.am, September 21). Declaring that his government has already prepared places to accommodate 40,000 families, he emphasized that Yerevan’s “Plan A is not to de-Armenianize” Karabakh (News.am, September 22).

Meanwhile, Baku has launched the reintegration process of Karabakh into Azerbaijan’s legal framework. One major step in this direction was the creation of a working group with the participation of various government agencies to resolve social, humanitarian, economic and infrastructure issues in Karabakh (Report.az, September 23). Baku also promised amnesty to the Armenian fighters in Karabakh who agree to lay down their arms. “With regard to former militaries and combatants … we are envisaging an amnesty or alluding to an amnesty as well,” said Azerbaijani presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev (TASS, September 22).

Baku is also upbeat about the prospects for a peace treaty with Armenia. In his address on September 20, Aliyev commended Armenia’s reaction to the clashes in Karabakh and found it constructive for the future of the peace process (President.az, September 20). According to Azerbaijani government representative Elchin Amirbekov, a five-point draft peace plan has been prepared in accordance with international law and mutual respect for Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s respective territorial integrity and sovereignty (News.am, September 21). Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Alen Simonyan has not ruled out the possibility of signing a peace treaty at the European Union–mediated summit to be held in Granada, Spain, on October 5 (News.am, September 25).

It is yet early to conclude that Baku and Yerevan will finally sign a peace treaty and that outside powers will play a constructive role in the talks. The Russian side has voiced its optimism regarding a future agreement. According to Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “All prerequisites exist for signing a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan” (News.am, September 21). Whether Russia and other external actors will continue to support the process moving forward remains an open question.

https://jamestown.org/program/azerbaijan-moves-to-disarm-karabakh-separatists-part-two/

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