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Ethnic Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan agree to end fighting in disputed enclave

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A shaky cease-fire in the South Caucasus appears to be holding.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan says it has now reestablished control over the breakaway ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. That follows an Azerbaijani offensive earlier this week that the separatists say killed at least 200 people and injured many more.

FADEL: Joining us to talk about all this and the latest on the ground as well as its impact on the region is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So what's the latest?

MAYNES: Well, as you know, the cease-fire appears to be mostly holding, but it's a cease-fire, I should add, that's imposed entirely in Azerbaijan's favor. Baku stopped its military offensive, but on the condition Nagorno-Karabakh army surrender. Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, later declared that control over Nagorno-Karabakh had been completely restored. And so in little over a day, Azerbaijan appears to have crushed this decadeslong independence movement in Nagorno-Karabakh, what Armenians historically call Artsakh. That's, of course, triggered concerns among ethnic Armenians about reprisals. So there's a long, long history of bad blood between the two, but one that Azerbaijan insists it's trying to overcome. I spoke with Elin Suleymanov. He's Azerbaijan's current ambassador to the U.K., previously to the U.S., who argued reintegration talks, which got underway yesterday, were themselves a counterargument to any charges Azerbaijan intends to force out Armenians.

ELIN SULEYMANOV: Who does that if we want people to leave? We want to integrate them. We don't want them to leave. But we are not going to keep anybody by force if they don't want to be a citizen of Azerbaijan. I mean, this is a choice people have.

FADEL: Now, the fighting this week raised concern about a wider regional war with neighboring Armenia, which has fought, too, with Azerbaijan over this enclave, the last one in 2020. How are people reacting in Armenia to this offensive and now this truce?

MAYNES: Well, there's a lot of distrust of Azerbaijan in Armenia. So the government is bracing for a flow of refugees out of Nagorno-Karabakh. Meanwhile, the government is also bracing for more angry protests at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So for a third straight night, we saw sizeable demonstrations demanding the ouster of the prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, over his failure, or refusal, to intervene on Nagorno-Karabakh's behalf. Now, Pashinyan has his reasons. Armenia is in a far weaker position militarily than Azerbaijan, in particular, given Azerbaijan's backing from Turkey, its traditional ally. And Armenians are also frustrated, I should add, with Russia, their ally, for failing to prevent Azerbaijan from launching this offensive in the first place.

FADEL: OK. So what's Russia saying?

MAYNES: Well, Russia is completely wrapped up with the war in Ukraine, which seems to have impacted its ability to play its traditional role of regional cop. You know, not only was Moscow's peacekeeping force, which is on the ground there since 2020, not enforcing the peace as this new fighting broke out; but for months, we've seen Russia look the other way as Azerbaijan imposed a partial blockade of goods into Nagorno-Karabakh. You know, many saw this as reflecting Moscow's growing reliance on Azerbaijan in Turkey for trade, given Western sanctions. But, you know, also not helping things, Armenia's government has taken actions seen as unfriendly by Moscow recently, including calling its reliance on Russia for its security a mistake. In fact, Armenia just hosted U.S. forces for training exercises. That didn't go over well here in Moscow.

FADEL: So we've talked about sort of the region, what's happening, but what does this mean for ethnic Armenians who are living in this enclave?

MAYNES: Well, what happens to ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is the big question here. And depending on the answer, you could still see Armenia somehow drawn into yet another conflict with Azerbaijan, and that could trigger wider consequences, drawing bigger powers - like Russia, Turkey and even Iran or the West - to enter the fray as well.

FADEL: That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOMENIQUE DUMONT'S "ARRIVAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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