Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s office described the talks held in Yevlakh, an Azerbaijani town northeast of Karabakh, as “positive” and “constructive,” saying that they focused on the “reintegration” of Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population and its “activities within the framework of Azerbaijan’s constitution and laws.”
It said the two sides agreed on the need for quick implementation of the truce agreement reached after more than 24 hours of fighting. More such talks will be held soon, it added in a statement.
The authorities in Stepanakert said, for their part, that the Yevlakh meeting was “businesslike.” “The parties emphasized that all outstanding issues need to be discussed in a peaceful atmosphere, with readiness to continue the meetings,” they said without elaborating.
“There is no concrete agreement yet except that everything must be done in a peaceful environment and the meetings will continue,” Davit Babayan, a Karabakh official, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service from Stepanakert. “There are various thorny issues that could hardly be settled during a single meeting.”
Babayan stressed that the Karabakh government’s main objective now is to “save our people from physical destruction.”
The truce agreement commits the leadership of Karabakh to disbanding and disarming the region’s forces. It essentially paves the way for the restoration of full Azerbaijani control over the region. Few of its residents are expected to stay in Karabakh in that case.
Thousands of Karabakh Armenians were displaced by the two-day fighting that left at least 200 Karabakh soldiers and civilians dead. Many of them found shelter at the headquarters of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh located about 10 kilometers east of Stepanakert.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 1,340 Karabakh civilians, including 607 children, remained there on Thursday. The peacekeepers evacuated many others from Karabakh settlements shelled by the Azerbaijani army.
“The Russian peacekeepers made every effort to help people in Karabakh leave dangerous areas,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. He said Moscow hopes that they will be able to return to their homes.
There was widespread skepticism on this score in both Armenia and Karabakh, however, with the Armenian government facing growing calls to evacuate Karabakh’s population. Protesters blocked several streets in central Yerevan on Thursday to demand that the government open a “humanitarian corridor” for a mass evacuation of the Karabakh Armenians.
The government’s press office told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that it still hopes that the Karabakh Armenians will be able to continue safely living in their homeland. But it pledged to try to organize their evacuation to Armenia if their life under Azerbaijani rule is “deemed impossible.” The government’s steps will depend on the outcome of the talks between Baku and Stepanakert, said the office.
In a video address to the nation aired later in the day, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian denied rumors that his administration is reluctant accept more refugees from Karabakh. He said that earlier this week he set up a working group tasked with dealing with a possible influx of such refugees.
“We don’t want to talk about this,” he said. “Why? Because we believe the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh must live in their homes, in their homeland in dignified and safe conditions.”
“Our assessment today is that there is no direct threat to the civilian population of Karabakh,” added Pashinian.