A fragile ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh remains in place after Armenian separatists capitulated to Azerbaijan's swift offensive.
The two parties engaged in their initial direct peace discussions on Thursday, following Azerbaijan's claim of control over the contested region.
As part of a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement, the separatists agreed to disarm on Wednesday, which halted Azerbaijan's 24-hour offensive to reclaim territory at the heart of a long-standing conflict.
The two-hour meeting between the parties, held in the presence of Russian peacekeepers, was described by Azerbaijan's presidency as "constructive and peaceful." Both sides expressed readiness for further negotiations.
During the meeting, gunfire was reported in the separatist stronghold of Stepanakert, despite the truce. However, Azerbaijan denied violating the ceasefire, while the breakaway authorities accused them of doing so. Russia's defence ministry reported "five ceasefire violations" in the areas of Shusha and Mardakert.
Hours later, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed during a UN Security Council emergency meeting. According to separatists, the crisis has resulted in around 200 casualties.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said, "There are no more sides of the conflict, but perpetrators and victims. There is no more conflict, but the real danger of atrocity." His Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov, accused Armenia of spreading disinformation.
The collapse of separatist resistance marks a significant victory for Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who declared the restoration of sovereignty over the region. Armenia's Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, assured that the ceasefire was generally holding and did not perceive a "direct threat" to civilians.
The recent events have sparked jubilation among Azerbaijanis, while in Armenia, pressure on Pashinyan has intensified due to concessions made to Azerbaijan. Thousands of protesters gathered outside his offices in Yerevan, expressing concern for the fate of Karabakh's Armenian population.
Despite the challenges ahead, Pashinyan stressed the importance of seeking peace with Armenia's arch-rival. "This path is not easy," he acknowledged. "It goes through internal and external shocks, and we must pursue it."
In recent history, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over Nagorno-Karabakh, leading to tens of thousands of casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. The current situation has raised concerns about a potential refugee crisis as Karabakh's Armenian population fears displacement.
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