YEREVAN/BAKU -- Russian peacekeepers are on their way to Nagorno-Karabakh to be deployed as part of an agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia to halt six weeks of military conflict over the breakaway region.
The first 200 Russian troops of the peacekeeping force arrived in Armenia on November 10 following the announcement earlier in the day of a Russia-brokered truce to end fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians in and around the enclave.
The announcement triggered celebrations in Azerbaijan but a political crisis in Armenia, where angry protesters stormed government buildings and parliament.
The move came after Azerbaijani forces made major battlefield gains, including reports that they were approaching Nagorno-Karabakh's main city, Stepanakert (Xankandi in Azeri), after taking the nearby strategic town of Shushi (Susa).
Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and ethnic Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.
Efforts to resolve the conflict by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States -- have not brought any results since 1992 and three previous cease-fires signed since fighting broke out again on September 27 have failed to hold.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian first announced the trilateral agreement in a Facebook post, saying he had signed a statement with the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan on the "termination" of the war as of 1 p.m. local time.
Pashinian said the deal, which includes the long-term deployment of Russian troops to the region, was "the best possible solution for the current situation."
"I made this decision as a result of an in-depth analysis of the military situation and an assessment of the people who know it best," Pashinian wrote.
Later in the day, Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian said military actions in and around Nagorno-Karabakh had ceased completely.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believed the agreement "will create [the] necessary conditions for a long-term and full-fledged settlement of the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh on a fair basis and in the interests of the Armenian and Azerbaijani people."
According to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the agreement amounted to a "capitulation" by Armenia.
"An iron hand forced him to sign this document," he said, referring to Pashinian.
Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian de facto leader, Arayik Harutiunian, said he had agreed with Pashinian to end hostilities "given the current dire situation" and to avoid completely losing the separatist enclave.
Under the deal, Azerbaijan will keep territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas captured during the conflict. It also calls for Armenian forces to hand over some areas they held outside the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the eastern district of Agdam and the western area of Kalbacar.
Armenians will also forfeit the Lachin region, where a crucial road connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The agreement calls for a 5-kilometer-wide area in the so-called Lachin Corridor to remain open and be protected by a Russian force of 1,960 peacekeepers under a five-year mandate.
Russia's Defense Ministry said that 12 Ilyushin Il-76 military transport planes delivered more than 200 peacekeepers and their equipment to Armenia on November 10.
The agreement also calls for Russian border services to monitor a new transport corridor through Armenia connecting Azerbaijan to its western exclave of Naxcivan, which is surrounded by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey.
European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell on November 10 welcomed the truce agreement and called for further negotiations "to ensure that any settlement is sustainable."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone with Putin following the announcement and said his country would participate in monitoring the truce.
Erdogan also called for the return of ethnic Azeris to Nagorno-Karabakh and reiterated the need to create the corridor through Armenian territory between Azerbaijan and Naxcivan.
Since fighting erupted in late September, several thousand people are believed to have been killed on both sides.
Azerbaijan's forces scored a major victory on November 8, taking the key town of Shushi, offering strategic heights over Stepanakert, just 10 kilometers away.
Shushi also lies along the main road connecting Stepanakert with Armenia.
Thousands of people have fled Nagorno-Karabakh in recent days to Armenia, with lines of vehicles clogging the main road connecting the enclave to Armenia.
Azerbaijan's forces in recent weeks have also retaken several regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh that had been occupied by ethnic Armenian forces.
Several thousand angry protesters gathered in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in the early hours after Pashinian announced he had signed the cease-fire agreement, with mobs storming the government headquarters and parliament, ransacking offices and smashing windows in an outburst of anger.
Parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan was injured in a mob attack and hospitalized, drawing a sharp rebuke from the government.
Dozens of men also caused an incident at the RFE/RL bureau in Yerevan, calling the Armenian Service "traitors."
Acting RFE/RL President Daisy Sindelar said that what happened at RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau was "a reprehensible assault on the essential duty of journalists to serve as impartial witnesses during major news events.
"Our Armenian Service, Azatutyun, is one of the few media outlets in Armenia that has aimed to present all sides of a deeply divisive conflict. We call on the police and public alike to support the right of Azatutyun and all independent journalists to report the news, objectively and in full, without threat of violence or scapegoating," Sindelar added.
The Union of Journalist of Armenia strongly condemned the attacks and any threats against media.
President Armen Sarkisian's office said he was launching "political consultations" to build national unity and "coordinate...solutions arising from our agenda of protecting national interests."
Sarkisian said in a statement he had learnt about the agreement to end the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh from the media.
"Unfortunately, there were no consultations or discussions with me, as the President of the Republic, regarding this document, and I did not participate in any negotiations," he said, insisting that the signing of such an important document involving Armenia's "vital security interests" and the "whole Armenian nation" should have been subjected to "comprehensive consultations and discussions."
The previous day, 17 opposition parties issued a joint statement calling for Pashinian's resignation amid a series of military defeats suffered by Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian forces in the enclave fighting against Azerbaijan.
Among the parties that signed the statement were the main parliamentary opposition party, Prosperous Armenia, led by tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, the former ruling Republican Party of ex-President Serzh Sarkisian, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun).
In his comments following the night of chaos, Pashinian implied that corruption in previous governments was also to blame for the current situation.
"We must prepare for revenge. We haven't dealt properly with the corrupt, oligarchic scoundrels, those who robbed this country, stole soldiers' food, stole soldiers' weapons," said Pashinian, a reformist pressing an anti-corruption campaign who came to power in 2018 in the wake of mass popular protests.
"I call on citizens with dignity to be ready for us going after the rioters and their bosses, after the corrupt part of Dashnaktsutiun, after the robbers from the Republican Party, the Prosperous Armenia party, the deserters from the Hayrenik party who left their combat positions and fled, and must be tried for desertion," he charged.
In Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, joyful crowds took to the streets on November 10 chanting "Karabakh! Karabakh!" and waving Azerbaijani and Turkish flags.
Lawmaker Aydin Mirzazadeg, who is also a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party's (YAP) Political Council, called the trilateral agreement "a historic victory."
However, the chairman of the opposition Musavat Party deplored that no consultations on the trilateral agreement were held in Azerbaijan.
"Azerbaijanis learned about the agreement at 4 a.m., which is not acceptable," Arif Hacili said.
According to Hacili, the agreement violates Azerbaijan's constitution and Declaration Of Independence, which he said do not allow the deployment of foreign troops in the country.
The deputy chairman of the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (PFPA), Seymur Hazi, expressed concern over "the return of the Russian Army to the region," calling it a threat to Azerbaijan's independence.