Azeris, Armenians Call for Cease-Fire After Dozens Killed

  • Azeri leader says negotiations over enclave should continue
  • Fighting has killed dozens in worst clashes for 20 years

Armenians and Azeris called a halt to fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory after the worst clashes in two decades killed dozens of soldiers and civilians.

Both sides agreed on a cease-fire from noon Tuesday, said the Defense Ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which is not internationally recognized. “We have got an order to suspend all military actions, I can’t say for how long,” spokesman Senor Hasratyan said by phone.

“We’re unilaterally suspending all military operations” and “our only condition is that the opposite side should not abuse it,” Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on state television. The Azeri Defense Ministry confirmed the noon cease-fire in a statement on its website. Azerbaijan is “for the continuation of negotiations,” Aliyev said, according to the Interfax news service.

A unilateral cease-fire declared by Azerbaijan on Sunday didn’t hold. The offer to resume talks over the Armenian-controlled enclave in Azerbaijan follows five days of fighting that produced the largest loss of life since a Russian-brokered truce 22 years ago. Armenia and Azerbaijan also reported shelling across the northern part of their joint border, outside the disputed territory. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan warned on Monday that escalation in the conflict could spiral into a “full-scale war,” threatening to destabilize a region flanked by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Bonds Tumble

Armenian and Azeri bonds dropped for a second day, staying lower even after the cease-fire was declared. The yield on Armenia’s Eurobonds maturing in September 2020 climbed 16 basis points to 6.54 percent at 3:38 p.m. in the capital, Yerevan, headed for the biggest increase since mid-December. The rate on Azerbaijan’s March 2024 note has risen 28 basis points this week to 5.73 percent. Both securities traded at their lowest yield in at least four months just before the violence flared.

The clashes killed 20 Armenian servicemen while 72 were wounded and another 26 missing as of 8 p.m. on Monday, according to the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry. Eleven civilians also died, it said. Sixteen Azeri troops have been killed in two days, the Defense Ministry in Baku said in a statement Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Aliyev and Sargsyan to express his “serious concerns over large-scale military clashes which led to numerous casualties” and urged both parties to ensure a complete cessation of hostilities, the Kremlin said in an e-mailed statement.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group met in Vienna to discuss the conflict. The U.S. and Russian co-chairs saw “the reports that a cease-fire has been re-established and hope that these are confirmed and that the ceasefire is sustained and respected,” according to a statement by the U.S. OSCE mission chief. U.S., Russian and French OSCE mediators will visit Armenia on April 9 for talks with Sargsyan and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Fortify Positions

Everyone is making efforts to ensure a cease-fire in Karabakh, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, according to Interfax. Azeri forces will continue to fortify army positions seized from Armenians during the fighting, the Defense Ministry in Baku said.

“We fought to protect our home and family, our identity,” Sargsyan said Tuesday at the funeral in Yerevan of a soldier who died in the clashes, according to the presidential press service. His Azeri counterpart, Aliyev, told state AzTV that his country wasn’t “claiming anyone else’s land. But we will not allow anyone to occupy our territory either.”

The conflict dates back to the dying days of the Soviet Union, when a dispute over the territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared into a war that killed 30,000 and created a million refugees. Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions districts from Azerbaijan in the 1991-1994 conflict.

OSCE mediators have failed to negotiate a lasting peace since then. Armenia says the enclave’s Christian Armenians, who declared independence from largely-Muslim Azerbaijan in 1991, have the right to self-determination. Azerbaijan demands respect for its territorial integrity.

BP Plc said Monday that the clashes haven’t affected operations at its oil pipeline that carried 720,000 barrels per day from Baku to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan last year. The pipeline at one point runs fewer than 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the conflict zone. Nagorno-Karabakh separatists have threatened in the past to attack the line to deny key petro-dollars to Azerbaijan, whose economy is reeling from a crisis triggered by the slump in crude prices.

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