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20 September 2023

Separatists in Karabakh Accept Azerbaijan’s Ceasefire Terms

On 20 September, the de facto authorities in Karabakh agreed to Azerbaijan's ceasefire terms.

Separatists in Karabakh Accept Azerbaijan’s Ceasefire Terms

Image: MOD Azerbaijan 

On 19 September, Azerbaijan enacted what Baku described as “counter-terrorism” measures in response to alleged “military provocations” and “terrorist attacks by reconnaissance-sabotage groups” within the Armenian army in Karabakh. However, only 23 hours and 43 minutes later, a ceasefire has been agreed upon. 

Following the measures enacted by Azerbaijan, the de facto Karabakh authorities requested immediate talks with Baku. Azerbaijan accepted on the stated proviso that “the illegal Armenian military formations must raise the white flag, all the weapons must be handed over, and the illegal regime must be dissolved.”

Presumably this was agreed as Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence subsequently reported that a ceasefire agreement was reached at 13:00 on 20 September, with the Russian peacekeeping contingent to coordinate and ensure the completion of the terms. Accordingly, a meeting between Azerbaijan’s Presidential Administration and representatives of Armenian residents living in Karabakh was confirmed for 21 September in Yevlakh, Azerbaijan. 

The de facto Karabakh authorities released a statement accusing Azerbaijan of “unleashing war” and claiming that as the international community’s actions in resolving the conflict had been “insufficient,” but nonetheless stating that they would accept the ceasefire proposal relayed by the Russian peacekeeping contingent. 

For its part, Armenia has insisted that it was not involved in the development of the ceasefire agreement. Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan voiced his concern over one term of the agreement being “the withdrawal of Armenian forces,” claiming that there are no Armenian armed forces in Karabakh, reiterating the comments from the Armenian MFA yesterday. 

The Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia, Armen Grigoryan, accused Russia of failing in its obligations under the 2020 trilateral ceasefire agreement to defend Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded that these allegations are “unfounded” and that Moscow is in dialogue with both Yerevan and Baku. 

In the geopolitical game of cat and mouse, it seems possible that the separatist leadership had become victim to its own message. For months, pro-separatist media had tried to portray Azerbaijan’s closure of the Lachin Road as a genocidal blockade while from Baku’s point of view it was a perfectly legitimate if muscular move to have supplies re-routed on a more logical route via Agdam. 

Nonetheless, it seems likely that the continued spectre of potential genocide or ethnic cleansing, which fills the narrative for pro-separatist Armenians, also led to a genuine fear that Baku’s “anti-terror” response really was an all-out war that could be the start of such an imagined campaign. 

Of course, in reality, any such murderous intent would be absolutely counter-productive for Azerbaijan, which has steadfastly tried to explain since 2020 that its aims are clear—that of absorbing Karabakh into the national structure and removing military forces not loyal to Baku. But not driving away the Armenian residents. 

It seems the robust series of strikes over recent hours might prove to have been strong enough to have finally awoken the separatist authorities, making a swift agreement the best outcome not only for Baku but, long term, for the Armenians of Karabakh who will hopefully not now be drawn into a whole new conflict.