Following weeks of escalating tensions that culminated in deadly fighting this weekend, Azerbaijan announced a unilateral ceasefire between its military and separatist forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on Sunday.
Despite the eastern European country’s Defense Ministry pledge to put conflict on hold in the autonomous Caucasus nation, Nagorno-Karabakh rebels are saying that Azerbaijani forces are still firing on them, per The Associated Press.
Nagorno-Karabakh, while technically contained within the Republic of Azerbaijan’s borders, has been under Armenian control since a violent conflict ended without resolution in the waning years of the Soviet Union's influence. Since a 1994 ceasefire was declared between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the 4,400-square-mile territory, its official status has not been determined.
Despite two decades of relative calm, at least 30 were killed on both Azerbaijani and separatist sides this weekend including a boy, per the AP. Armenia reported 18 fatalities Saturday, and Azerbaijan 12.
Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargyakhly said early Sunday that his military was involved in conflict overnight, and that civilian areas also came under fire.
Under international pressure, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said it would be “suspending a counter-offensive and response on the territories occupied by Armenia.”
Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev said that his side would lay down their arms despite what they view as Armenian transgression.
“Armenia has violated all the norms of international law,” Mr. Aliyev said on Azeri state TV, per Reuters. “We won't abandon our principal position. But at the same time we will observe the ceasefire and after that we will try to solve the conflict peacefully.”
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed solidarity with the former Soviet republic, saying Sunday that Turkey country “will support Azerbaijan to the end.”
“We pray our Azerbaijani brothers will prevail in these clashes with the least casualties,” he added.
Turkey shares an extensive border with Armenia, which has suffered from the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh situation as both Azerbaijan and Turkey closed their borders with the state.
Both the United States and Russia urged restraint in the contested area. Russia maintains a military installation in northern Armenia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin asked that both sides should “immediately stop firing and exercise restraint,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Armenian and Azerbaijani forces should “show restraint, avoid further escalation and strictly adhere to the cease-fire,” per The Washington Post.
The Post also reported that Azerbaijan suppressed a Nagorno-Karabakh assault Sunday, and that it would support “liberated” territories in the conflict despite the cessation of fighting. Armenian officials disputed the sincerity of the motion from Baku, with Radio Free Europe reporting that military operations were continuing.
David Babayan, spokesman for the president of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, called the Azerbaijani announcement an “information trick,” according to RFE, although the region’s military leaders say they are still open to a ceasefire – if aimed at “restoring former positions.”