Hostilities around Nagorno-Karabakh effectively stopped on Tuesday afternoon as a result of a meeting of Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s top army generals held in Moscow, Armenia Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said on Wednesday.
“Yesterday the chiefs of the general staffs of the armed forces of the two countries met in Moscow and reached an agreement on the cessation of fire,” Ohanian said at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan chaired by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries announced the agreement after nearly four days of fierce clashes along the Karabakh “line of contact,” which have left at least 100 soldiers and several civilians from both sides dead. The fighting marked the worst escalation of the Karabakh conflict since a Russian-mediated truce stopped in 1994 a full-blown Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Karabakh’s Armenian-backed Defense Army said on Wednesday morning that the ceasefire largely held overnight. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry confirmed this, saying that the situation on the Karabakh frontlines is now “tense but calm.”
Russia voiced serious concern just hours after the outbreak of the hostilities on Saturday morning, with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holding urgent phone talks with their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts. President Vladimir Putin likewise telephoned Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday.
The Karabakh issue is expected to top the agenda of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Yerevan that will start on Thursday. Medvedev is due to proceed to Baku later in the week.
The United States as well as European powers have also scrambled to de-escalate the situation in the conflict zone. As part of those efforts, U.S., French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group met with Aliyev in Baku on Wednesday at the start of an emergency tour of the region.
According to Azerbaijani news agencies, the mediators welcomed the Karabakh ceasefire and called for more intensive Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
Later in the day, the warring sides accused each other of violating the ceasefire with small arms and even mortars. Neither side alleged large-scale offensive operations by the other, though.
A spokesman for the Karabakh army, Colonel Victor Arustamian, said small groups of Azerbaijani soldiers attacked two Armenians positions in northeastern Karabakh in an unsuccessful attempt to seize them.
An RFE/RL correspondent heard sounds of sporadic gunfire when he visited the Talish and Mataghis, two local villages close to the frontline. Many houses there were destroyed or severely damaged by shelling from Azerbaijani army positions.
Most women, children and elderly persons in Talish and Mataghis were evacuated shortly after Azerbaijani troops attacked nearby Karabakh Armenian army positions early on Saturday. The Talish mayor confirmed reports that three elderly members of a local family were shot dead in their home by Azerbaijani soldiers that briefly infiltrated the village on that day.
The mayor also said that about 50 men from Talish have volunteered to defend the village alongside soldiers. Unlike the other civilians, they have not left the village, he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, for its part, claimed that the Armenian side fired on its frontline positions throughout the day. “The Azerbaijani armed forces will have to respond strongly to enemy provocations,” it said in a statement.