Azeris Call Unilateral Truce After Deadly Weekend of Attacks

  • Armenian defense ministry downplays announcement on halt
  • Kerry, Putin, UN's Ban urge immediate end to hostilities

Azerbaijan declared a unilateral cease-fire after the worst clashes with Armenians in almost two decades killed more than 30 people near the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Military action was halted at the “insistent requests” of international organizations, the Defense Ministry in Baku said Sunday on its website. President Ilham Aliyev in a website posting said his country had responded to “provocation” by Armenia and vowed additional action if the provocations continue.

The Armenian Defense Ministry downplayed the cease-fire announcement and officials for Nagorno-Karabakh said further shelling had occurred on Sunday.

The skirmishes threaten to reignite full-scale fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-majority territory that broke away from Azeri control over two decades ago. Oil-exporting Azerbaijan and landlocked Armenia fought a war over the region after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 that left tens of thousands of people dead and more than a million displaced. The territory remains a potential flashpoint in a region where Russia in 2008 fought a five-day war with Georgia after separatist tensions flared.

“Everyone knows that a new Karabakh war would not just be tragic for Armenia and Azerbaijan, but devastating for the entire South Caucasus region,” Thomas de Waal, a senior associate with Carnegie Europe specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, wrote on the group’s Moscow Center website. “Big violations of the Karabakh cease-fire tend not to be accidents but to have a political cause. There are strong vertical chains of command from the officers on the ground to the presidents in Baku and Yerevan.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for an immediate end to the hostilities, which killed 12 Azeri and 18 Armenian soldiers on Saturday. At least one ethnic Armenian and two Azeri civilians were reported killed, based on accounts from both nations.

Artsrun Hovhannisyan, a spokesman for the Armenian Ministry of Defense, described the Azeri statement as an “informational trap" in comments on Facebook. The Nagorno-Karabakh ministry said Azerbaijan continued to shell the town of Martakert in northeast Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian side lost a tank in the fighting.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry said it is ready to discuss a possible truce “in the context of returning to the initial positions.”

Aliyev, who met with his security council Saturday night, said Armenia is ignoring UN Security Council resolutions and called for Armenian withdrawal.

The Azeri army said it will use all weapons in its arsenal to “restore the country’s territorial integrity” if Armenians violate the truce.

Azerbaijan said one of its helicopters was shot down and a tank was blown up in a land mine explosion on Saturday.

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