Half of the population of Nagorno Karabakh has been displaced by hostilities between this separatist territory populated by Armenians and Azerbaijan, authorities said on Wednesday, on the eve of a first international mediation meeting announced for Thursday in Geneva.
France, denouncing a
military involvement Turkey in support of Azerbaijan, and the European Union have expressed fears of an internationalization of the conflict, in an area where many powers are in competition.
It's a huge tragedy, ruled Russian President Vladimir Putin.
We call, I insist on this, for a cease-fire. And it's as fast as possible to do it, said Mr Putin.
A few hours later, Azerbaijani diplomacy announced that its leader Ceyhun Bayramov would travel to Geneva on Thursday for a meeting with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, France, United States), the international mediator on the conflict.
Armenia has ruled out any meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian ministers in Geneva, without specifying whether its head of diplomacy, Zograb Mnatsakanian, would go there for a separate meeting with the co-chairs of the Minsk group.
However, he is expected in Moscow on October 12 for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, for his part, spoke by telephone on Wednesday with his Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts, according to Russian news agencies.
Displacement of population and imprecise balance sheet
On the 11th day of the fighting, half of the population of Nagorno Karabakh was displaced, including 90% of women and children, according to Artak Belgarian, the mediator of this self-proclaimed republic, or 70,000 to 75,000 of some 140,000 inhabitants.
The toll rises to more than 300 dead, including about fifty civilians, but remains very partial, Baku not announcing its military losses and the two camps claiming to have each eliminated thousands of enemy soldiers.
The clashes have been going on all day across the contact line and are continuing today, said Wednesday evening a spokesman for the Armenian army, Artsroun Hovhannissian, quoted by the official Russian agency TASS.
Nagorny Karabakh is populated almost entirely by ethnic Armenians, the Azeris having fled during the war of the 1990s.
The pro-independence authorities accuse Azerbaijan of blindly pounding Stepanakert, their capital, forcing the majority of some 50,000 inhabitants to leave and the rest to hide in caves.
This city has suffered rocket strikes, including those of large caliber – 300 mm – Smertch, on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday. After a morning respite, gunfire, presumably from drones, followed.
In the evening, Stepanakert and several other towns in Nagorno-Karabakh were targeted by further Azerbaijani bombardments, according to Yerevan.
In Azerbaijan too, the adversary is accused of targeting inhabited areas.
Baku said 427 homes housing 1,200 people had been destroyed since the clashes began on September 27.
Nagorno Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan after the fall of the USSR, resulting in war and 30,000 deaths. The front has been almost frozen since a ceasefire in 1994, despite regular clashes.
The two camps mutually reject the responsibility for the resumption of hostilities.
Abroad, the fear is to see this conflict internationalize in this region where Russians, Turks, Iranians and Westerners all have their interests, especially as Ankara encourages Baku to go on the offensive and Moscow is linked by a military treaty in Yerevan.
The novelty is that there is a military involvement of Turkey which risks fueling the internationalization of the conflict., noted the head of French diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian. An accusation repeatedly rejected by Ankara and Baku.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev has ruled out any truce without Armenian withdrawal from Karabakh and accuses Armenia of wanting
lead (…) without success Russia in the war, through their alliance within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Russia, the regional arbiter, maintains good relations with the two belligerents. She warned that as the fighting was limited to Karabakh, the CSTO was not concerned, but that if there was a direct attack on Armenia, that would change.
Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis claim to inflict heavy losses on themselves, but no belligerent seems to have gained a decisive advantage, even though Baku claims the conquest of multiple towns and villages and the recapture of a section of the border with Iran .
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