Paris, Oct 5 (efe-epa).- The governments of the United States, Russia and France came together on Monday to demand that Azerbaijan and Armenia accept an “immediate and unconditional cease-fire” in their conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The Ministers stress unconditionally that recent attacks allegedly targeting civilian centers – both along the Line of Contact and on the territories of Azerbaijan and Armenia outside the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone – and the disproportionate nature of such attacks constitute an unacceptable threat to the stability of the region,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a joint statement.
Washington, Moscow and Paris are the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, created nearly 30 years ago by the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) with a mission to promote a peaceful solution of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The Co-Chairing countries are determined to exercise fully their mandate, entrusted to them by the OSCE and the international community, with the contribution of the Minsk Group capitals,” the statement said.
Stepanakert, the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh (the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh), looked like a ghost town on Monday amid artillery and aerial bombardment.
“Only we women and old people remain. All of the children have been evacuated. We don’t know what to do. We’re here shut-in and scared to death. All of the men are at the front,” 40-something Rita told Efe.
She is among nine people who have sheltered in the basement of a five-story building since Sept. 27, the start of the latest round of fighting in a conflict that goes back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“We ask God to protect us. And we ask the world to save our city,” Rita said. “We can’t bear it any longer. We don’t have electricity or gas and food is running short.”
In Soviet times, the presence of the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh within the borders of Azerbaijan did not present much of a problem.
But when the two erstwhile Soviet republics became independent states, the Armenians in Karabakh sought unification with Armenia, leading to a 1991-1994 war that claimed more than 25,000 lives.
Armenian troops and their local allies, including Assyrians, Greeks and Yezidis, now occupy the entire enclave and seven adjacent districts and have created a “security buffer” that represents just over a fifth of Azerbaijani territory.
Stepanakert, already under bombardment by heavy artillery, experienced airstrikes on Monday, including at least one involving the use of cluster munitions.
Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, acknowledged Monday for the first time that Azeri forces were gaining ground.
“When I last spoke about the situation on the Line of Contact, I said that in certain directions the battles are intense, in others the Artsakh Defense Army is in control of the situation. I do not want to hide anything from you,” he said in a broadcast address.
The prime minister then appealed to recently demobilized Armenian soldiers to re-enlist.
“According to our legislation, those who have finished their mandatory military service are not subject to the mobilization. The issue is that the boys that have completed their mandatory service and have been demobilized over the past year are the most combat ready resource. Boys, the homeland needs your help,” Pashinyan said.
“This is not just a Karabakh issue, this is a continuation of a genocidal policy against the Armenians and we should protect our people from genocide. If we don’t all take a stand, we will be subjected to genocide,” he said.
The leader of oil-and-gas-rich Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, touted progress Monday in the offensive against the Armenian forces.
“Today, Azerbaijan’s Army has liberated Shikhali Agali, Sarijali and Mezre villages of Jabrayil district and several strategic heights in different directions. Successful operation of our glorious Army is ongoing. Karabakh is Azerbaijan!,” he tweeted.
Earlier Monday in Ankara, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg ruled out a military solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.