On Friday, Armenia said that it would work with Russia, the United States, and France on renewing a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh as the death toll rose on the sixth day of fighting over the breakaway enclave in the South Caucasus.
Azerbaijan, which is fighting ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, has not responded to a call for a ceasefire on Thursday by the three countries – co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which mediates in the crisis. Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, ruled out talks with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, and Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey said on Thursday the three big powers should have no role in peacemaking.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that “It is obvious that Armenia is not interested in resolving the conflict through negotiations and is trying to annex the occupied territories.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement he had spoken on the phone successively with the prime minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and Azerbaijan’s Aliyev, and had proposed a new method to restart talks within the Minsk group.
Macron said work would start from Friday evening, as he updated his efforts to broker mediation in his role as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk group. The Armenian government said Pashinyan and Macron agreed that any use of foreign fighters and terrorists in the conflict was unacceptable, and Macron called for an immediate ceasefire.
Armenia and Azerbaijan accuse each other of using foreign mercenaries in military operations. Pashinyan also talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a third phone call in the six days since fighting broke out, Putin and Pashinyan expressed serious concern about the involvement of what the Kremlin termed illegal armed groups from the Middle East in the fighting.
Putin reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire. The senior U.S. diplomat for the region, Philip Reeker, will travel to Turkey, a NATO ally, on Saturday for talks on the situation in the Caucasus and other issues, the State Department said on Friday. More fighting was reported overnight and throughout Friday. Nagorno-Karabakh’s defence ministry reported 55 new military casualties, taking the death toll among its forces to 147.
Eleven civilians have been reported killed and at least 67 wounded in the mountainous enclave, which is a part of Azerbaijan but is run by its mostly ethnic Armenian inhabitants. The Azeri prosecutor’s office said 20 civilians had so far been killed and 55 wounded in Armenian shelling Azerbaijan has not reported on causalities among its military forces.
The OSCE called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to enable the repatriation of the remains of fallen servicemen. Clashes broke out on Sunday between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave is not recognised internationally as independent and has been the subject of conflict since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Pashinyan told U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien by telephone; that a ceasefire would be impossible unless “mercenaries and terrorists”; are removed from Nagorno-Karabakh. France has accused Turkey of sending Syrian mercenaries to the tiny enclave and Russia; has expressed concern about the alleged deployment of fighters from Syria and Libya. Turkey and Azerbaijan; have dismissed those accusations.
Each side accused either of mounting new attack on civilian targets on Friday; including but firing across their shared border; which is well to the west of Nagorno-Karabakh. The all-out war over Nagorno-Karabakh would risk drawing in regional powers Russia; which has a military base in majority Christian Armenia; and Turkey, which has said it will stand by mainly Muslim Azerbaijan.
Civilians across the region are increasingly worried. Cahanquba Quliyeva, a 28-year-old architect in Baku, the Azeri capital; said she was worried her husband and brother would be called up to fight. She said that “We only saw this in the movies. And now we are going through that ourselves in real life.”
In Yerevan, food technologists Eduard Vlasyen, 30, said: “At the moment this is a full-scale war. If we give Karabakh to them, they will demand Armenia next time.”