Negotiations began between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh, where the fighting continues, on Friday in Moscow, according to scenes broadcast by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
After they ignored calls for a truce, Baku and Yerevyan sent its foreign minister to Moscow to conduct negotiations that the Kremlin sought, which constitutes the first glimmer of hope to stop the fighting that resumed on September 27th.
The exchange of bombing between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijani forces continued in Nagorny Karabakh on Thursday, and twice in a few hours a cathedral bearing great symbolism, in a negative sign preceding the first international mediation meeting on this conflict in Geneva.
Russian President Vladimir Putin invited the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to Moscow on Friday to hold negotiations, the Kremlin announced Thursday evening.
The Kremlin said in a statement that “On the ninth of October, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia were invited to visit Moscow for consultations,” mediated by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
He added that the aim is to “stop the fighting”, in particular with the aim of exchanging prisoners and the bodies of dead soldiers.
The Kremlin added that “the Russian president calls for an end to the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh for humanitarian reasons, with the aim of exchanging the bodies of the dead and prisoners,” explaining that Putin held talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
The bombing of Stepanakert, the capital of the separatist Karabakh region, and populated areas in Azerbaijan continued throughout the day, according to local authorities.
In Shusha, 15 kilometers south of Stepanakert, a cathedral bearing a great historical symbol was bombed twice.
While the first bombing did not leave any casualties, Russian and local journalists were wounded in the second, one of them carrying a severe wound.
The Armenian government said that journalists went to the scene “to inspect remnants of the attack in the morning,” noting that one of them was “about to undergo an operation”.
After the first bombing, an AFP journalist saw significant damage, including a hole in the ceiling and shattered windows and seats that were spread out among the rubble and dust.
“There is nothing military or strategic here,” Simon, who lives near the church, told France Presse.
“How can you target a church?”
“It is a very important cathedral for the Armenians,” he added.
The cathedral was rebuilt in the 1990s after the first war in Nagorno Karabakh, which made it a symbol for Armenians.
In turn, the Azerbaijani army denied bombing the site, stressing that it does not target “historical and cultural buildings and monuments, especially religious ones”.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan accused the separatists of “targeting populated areas” in its territory.
Baku confirmed that two civilians were killed in these bombing operations, but a number of residents ruled out the idea of displacement, clinging to their position since the beginning of the hostilities.
An Azeri citizen in the village of Alkanli near the frontline said, “We are at our homes and will not go anywhere.
I say this from the bottom of my heart, we do not fear anything”.
“We heard the sounds of shelling at night,” said local official Medhat Atakishiyev.
“At first we thought they were targeting the enemy.
Later, a shrapnel fell on the house, and we understood that what was happening was the opposite, so we quickly went down to the basement.
The bombing attacks came while the parties of the Minsk Group, which includes Russia, the United States and France, are supposed to meet with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jihon Permov in Geneva.
Since the mid-1990s, the group has been trying to reach a solution to the conflict through negotiations, and a first war between the two sides left 30,000 people dead in the period of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The meeting will be held in a closed manner, and there is a complete reservation about the date and place specified for it.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry declared that “the aim of the visit is… to present the position of Azerbaijan on the settlement of the conflict”.
Baku expressed its determination to take back the Karabakh region, which is inhabited by the majority of Armenians, by force, stressing that the conflict will not end without the withdrawal of separatist and Armenian forces.
On the other hand, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan will be received in Moscow on Monday by his counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
Paris expressed its hope that the Geneva and Moscow meetings would lead to “opening negotiations”.
Separatist authorities reported that the conflict has displaced half of Nagorny Karabakh’s population of about 140,000.
It was not known precisely the type of weapons used, but local authorities reported shelling by 300 mm “Smirch” missiles on cities.
Unexploded missiles of this type can be seen in cities, while the bombing completely destroyed a number of homes, leaving craters some up to ten meters high, which testifies to the strength of the shells used.
Drones are constantly flying over the city, especially during the day, and it appears to carry out sporadic bombing operations on specific targets.
The official toll of the battles since September 27 has reached 300 to 400 deaths, including fifty civilians, but these numbers are still partial, as Baku does not announce its military losses, and both sides confirm that the other has inflicted thousands of deaths among its soldiers.
The renewed fighting raises fears abroad of the “internationalization” of the conflict in a region where the interests of Russia, Turkey, Iran and the West overlap, especially since Baku enjoys Turkish support while Moscow has a military treaty with Yerevan.
Turkey has been accused of interfering in the conflict by sending equipment and forces.
And Putin, who plays the role of arbiter in the region, warned that in the event that the battles spread outside Nagorno Karabakh to reach Armenia, Moscow would fulfill its “obligations” under its military alliance with Yerevan.
Azerbaijan recalled its ambassador in Athens, in response to a similar measure.
Baku had asked Greece to investigate the arrival of Armenians wishing to fight to Nagorno Karabakh from its lands, something the Greeks considered “offensive allegations”.
For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said, on Friday, that he is ready to return to talks on the Nagorno Karabakh region, but he is not ready to make concessions to Armenia and that no other country will be able to influence Baku’s position on the conflict.
In a televised address to his country, Aliyev added that the talks could not take place if Armenia continued to insist that Nagorno Karabakh is part of its territory.
He pointed out that his country’s resort to force changed the facts on the ground and that it proved that the conflict could be solved militarily.
Clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces continued on Friday, while Russian plans to hold talks in Moscow kept hopes to end the worst clashes in the southern Caucasus in more than 25 years.