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New Cease-Fire In Nagorno-Karabakh Off To Shaky Start

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a cease-fire after talks he hosted in Moscow. Lavrov (center) is pictured with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov (left) and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have agreed to a cease-fire aimed at ending the worst fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh in years.

The deal was in danger of collapsing within hours of coming into effect amid reports of ongoing artillery and drone strikes.

But Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisian told reporters in the evening that the truce in the conflict zone, for the most part, had held.

"The truce mainly holds despite Azerbaijani military provocations in some areas," Hovhannisian said late on October 10. "All provocations were given a commensurate response."

The two sides agreed to the cease-fire early on October 10 after talks in Moscow brokered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The cease-fire was supposed to come into effect at 12 noon local time. In addition to a cessation of hostilities, it also calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross to take part in the exchange of prisoners and other aspects of the cease-fire.

The agreement also calls for the return of the bodies of those killed in and around Nagorno-Karabakh since the latest fighting broke out on September 27. Hundreds of soldiers and an unknown number of civilians have been killed since then.

According to the cease-fire agreement, relaunched peace talks are to be mediated by the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group -- Russia, France, and the United States.

The agreement says the existing format of negotiations will remain in place and will not be changed over time.

Overnight and in the hours before the cease-fire was due to come into force, there were scattered reports of fighting and accusations from both sides.

Immediately after the cease-fire was supposed to take effect, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of violating the deal in two separate locations along the front lines.

Meanwhile, an Armenian defense spokeswoman said Azerbaijani forces attacked a town on the eastern side of the breakaway region.

Earlier, Armenia and Azerbaijan both confirmed the outlines of the deal, saying it called for "substantive negotiations with the aim of reaching a peaceful settlement as soon as possible."

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan. But it has been under the control of Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire brought an end to a separatist war that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has been populated and governed by ethnic Armenians, leaving hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from the region as internally displaced war refugees in Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan for more than a quarter century.

On October 9, as the foreign ministers from Yerevan and Baku began their talks in Moscow, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he was giving Armenia a "last chance" to resolve the conflict peacefully.

"The conflict is now being settled by military means and political means will come next," he warned, saying nearly three decades of international talks "haven't yielded an inch of progress, we haven't been given back an inch of the occupied lands."

Residents search for their belongings at a restaurant hit by shelling in the town of Bardain on October 8 in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Residents search for their belongings at a restaurant hit by shelling in the town of Bardain on October 8 in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Zaur Shiriyev, a South Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, said there was a "very visible lack of support" from the Azerbaijani population for going back to peace talks in the hope of returning the internally displaced people to their homes in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.

In a post to Twitter, Shiriyev said Azerbaijanis "demand" from Aliyev that he "not to return to 'fruitless' talks, but to continue the war, which finally promises real results."

"Therefore, the international calls for cease-fire are broadly seen as an attempt to disrupt Baku's success and do not find support in the Azerbaijani public," Shiriyev says.

The latest fighting is the biggest escalation in the conflict since the shaky 1994 cease-fire. The violence has increased concern that a wider conflict could drag in regional power Turkey, which is Azerbaijan's closest ally, and Russia, which has a defense pact with Armenia.

The defense forces of Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto government said on October 9 that there was intense fighting to the south of Stepanakert, the region’s largest city.

Cathedral In Nagorno-Karabakh Shelled As Azerbaijani Districts Also Attacked
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The previous day, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of shelling a historic cathedral perched on a strategic clifftop in Shushi (known as Susa in Azeri), just a few kilometers south of Stepanakert.

Residents of the town said the Holy Savior Cathedral sustained exterior and interior damage after being hit twice within several hours.

Also known as the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, the 19th century building is part of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Russia's Health Ministry said two Russians wounded in shelling were airlifted to Moscow on October 9 and were in satisfactory condition.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani and Armenian services

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