Only fragile hopes for end to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on eve of Washington talks

By bne IntelIiNews October 22, 2020

On the eve of talks in Washington, there was little optimism in evidence on October 22 that the near-month-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan could be ended any time soon.

With multiple reports of new exchanges of fire and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo preparing to meet the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, the stubborn and angry rhetoric continued to flow from both Baku and Yerevan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, said he hoped that the US would help Moscow broker a solution to the conflict. “I very much hope that our American partners will act in unison with us and will help the settlement,” Putin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, adding that he speaks to leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan several times a day by phone.

Hundreds, and more likely thousands, of people have been killed since fighting flared on September 27 in and around mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory that is inside Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians. Putin said Moscow believed that nearly 5,000 people had been killed in the fighting, with more than 2,000 dead on each side.

Nagorno-Karabakh said 874 of its military personnel had been killed in addition to 37 civilians. Azerbaijan said 63 of its civilians had been killed and 293 wounded. It does not disclose military casualties.

In a transcript of comments to the Nikkei newspaper published on October 23 and cited by Reuters, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said the prospects of reaching a peace settlement were “very remote”.

“"I think that now Armenian leadership must be more reasonable, and to commit itself to liberation of the occupied territories. So, our main objective at these discussions [in Washington] will be to find out whether the Armenian leadership is ready to liberate our territories or not, and if ready, then when?” he said.

Aliyev said he would not rule out “cultural autonomy” for ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh but did not say what he meant by this. Armenians regard the territory as part of their historic homeland.

Turkey has said it would send soldiers and provide military support for Azerbaijan if such a request were made by its ally. It denies Armenia’s claims that it has already done so.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said in an interview with Interfax on October 22 that Armenia would accept the introduction of peacekeepers, including Russian peacekeepers, into the enclave.

In further comments, Putin said Russia disagreed with Turkey on Nagorno-Karabakh, but both countries needed to find a compromise. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “might seem tough, but is a flexible politician and reliable partner for Russia,” he said.

Pompeo said on October 21 that the US, France and Russia would press on with mediation efforts they have led for three decades, adding that the “right path forward is to cease the conflict, tell them to de-escalate, that every country should stay out”.

Iran Press reported on October 22 that Iranian officials have recorded more than 70 instances of rockets and mortar shells from the conflict falling on Iran’s territory in recent days. Rockets hit several villages, but fortunately little harm was done, one official said.

In one unverified video uploaded to social media, an Iranian home was directly hit by a stray rocket, causing its roof to completely cave in.

In a second unverified video pinpointed to where a road in Iran juts against the Aras river, heavy fighting can be seen late into the evening of October 21 with Armenians battling encroaching Azerbaijani troops. 

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