Azerbaijan and Separatist Forces Agree to Cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakhk Battle


Azerbaijan and separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakhk on Tuesday agreed on a cease-fire starting noon local time following three days of the heaviest fighting in the disputed region since 1994, the Azeri defense ministry announced.

The operations of Azerbaijani and Karabakh troops “have been stopped,” the ministry said.

Senor Asratyan, a spokesman for the defense ministry of self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh, confirmed the cease-fire deal to the AP.

An Associated Press reporter in the front-line area of Azerbaijan heard shelling Tuesday morning but there was no sound of fighting in the early afternoon.

Fighting in what had been a dormant conflict erupted over the weekend with each side blaming the other for the escalation and using heavy weaponry.

The outbreak of hostilities is the worst since a war that ended in 1994 and left Nagorno-Karabakh — officially a part of Azerbaijan — under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces and the Armenian military. Armenian forces also occupy several areas outside Karabakh proper.

The conflict is fueled by long-simmering tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azeris. Armenia, although supporting the separatists, insists that its army does not engage in the fighting.

Earlier, the Azeri government said 16 Azerbaijani troops and one civilian were killed in the past two days of fighting as Karabakh militia continued to shell its positions Monday night.

In Terter, an Azerbaijan front-line town over 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of the capital Baku, artillery salvos were heard late Monday.

“We’re used to fighting but I can hardly remember such intense shelling as in the past days,” Malahat Novruzova, a 50-year old local resident, told The Associated Press.

The region’s chief, Mustagim Mammodov, said Tuesday that a 16-year-old girl was killed in shelling in the village of Hasangaya, south-west of Terter, a third civilian victim since the fighting broke out.

The numbers of casualties claimed by both sides have varied greatly since the fighting erupted since Saturday, with both Azerbaijan and Karabakh reporting dozens if not hundreds of troops killed on the other side.

Gapanli, a village south of Terter, has been one of the hardest hit. Houses bear the marks of the recent shelling; metal doors are riddled with shrapnel, power lines are cut down, craters are seen in the yards.

Some villagers left after the weekend’s fighting.

“We have sent our wives, children to a nearby village, but we will stay in this village till the end,” Elmar Abdullayev said. “This is our land. We will stand up for our rights till the end.”

An AP had to leave the village, situated less than half a mile from the Karabakh positions, early Monday afternoon when shelling around the village resumed.

In Armenia, the defense ministry reported fighting spilling beyond Karabakh, to the north-east of the country’s border, saying their positions were shelled with large-caliber mortars late on Monday, injuring one soldier.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday reiterated his country support’s, saying that it will stand with its traditional ally Azerbaijan “until all of its lands under occupation have been liberated.”

In a much-anticipated mediation attempt, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be traveling to Azerbaijan’s capital on Thursday while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will be in Armenia’s Yerevan on the same day.

SOURCE: The Associated Press, Aida Sultanova