Azerbaijan Says It Stops Assault on Armenian Enclave

Azerbaijan said on Wednesday that it would stop its assault on a breakaway Armenian enclave after the pro-Armenian authorities there announced an apparent surrender to Azerbaijan’s demands, a development that could avert a wider war in a volatile region while altering its geopolitics.

In a statement carried by the Azerbaijani state news agency Azertac, the country’s Defense Ministry said that it had agreed to halt its “antiterror measures” in the enclave, Nagorno-Karabakh, after the separatist government there agreed that its forces would lay down their arms and withdraw from their battle positions.

Around the same time, the Armenian separatist government issued its own statement declaring that it had accepted a Russia-brokered cease-fire after Azerbaijani forces managed to break through Armenian positions and “take control of a number of heights and strategic road junctions.”

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave slightly bigger than Rhode Island in area, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is home to tens of thousands of Armenians who stayed after a 2020 cease-fire and are under the protection of Russian peacekeepers.

Azerbaijan’s assault this week had prompted fears that it could mark the beginning of a third war with Armenia since the Soviet Union’s collapse — after a yearslong war in the 1990s that left Armenia in control of the territory and seven surrounding districts and the 44-day conflict in 2020 in which Azerbaijan recaptured much of its land.

It was not immediately clear whether the cease-fire was being enacted. In a video address, Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, said that there had been a “steep decline” in the fighting, but that it had not ended, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. Speaking in Moscow after the cease-fire was announced, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia also did not describe the fighting as having ended.

“We are in close contact with all sides of the conflict,” Mr. Putin said. “I hope that we will be able to achieve de-escalation and to transfer the resolution of this problem into a peaceful channel.”

But the wording of the statements from the warring parties indicated that the ethnic Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh were surrendering to Azerbaijan’s demands in a deal mediated by Moscow, which deployed peacekeepers to the region after brokering an end to the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020.

The statement from the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh signaled that they were relenting in part because neighboring Armenia did not send troops to their aid, and because Russian peacekeepers did not try to interfere with Azerbaijan’s assault.

“In the current situation, the actions of the international community towards ending the war and resolving the situation are insufficient,” the Armenian separatist government said in its statement.

Mr. Pashinyan, the Armenian leader, said in his address on Wednesday that his government had played no role in drafting the cease-fire and that his country had no troops in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to news agency reports. And the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, signaled that Russia did not see Azerbaijan’s actions as a violation of international law.

“De jure, we are talking about actions of the Azerbaijani side on its own territory,” Mr. Peskov told reporters.

The hostilities escalated on Tuesday when Azerbaijan launched a military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian separatist authorities said at least 27 people had been killed since that operation began; the American secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, held separate calls on Tuesday with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The assault appeared to be an effort by Azerbaijan’s authoritarian leader, President Ilham Aliyev, to secure full control over Nagorno-Karabakh, which declared its independence as the Soviet Union collapsed. And even as other countries urged an end to the fighting, there appeared to be little they could do to prevent Mr. Aliyev from getting his way.

“We expect immediate cessation of hostilities,” the European Union’s spokesman on foreign affairs, Peter Stano, told reporters after the cease-fire was announced. “We also expect that Azerbaijan stops the current military operation.”

If the fighting does stop, the fate of the tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians still living in Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to emerge as an explosive and painful question after decades of interethnic violence. While Mr. Aliyev has demanded that Armenians there recognize Azerbaijani rule, many Armenians accuse Azerbaijan of seeking to carry out a policy of ethnic cleansing.

“It is very important that this current military operation is not used as a pretext to force the exodus of the local population from Karabakh, of the Karabakh Armenians,” Mr. Stano said.

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting.

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