Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Azerbeijan calls 'unilateral ceasefire'
Azerbaijan announced a "unilateral ceasefire" in fighting with Armenian forces over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The decision was made in light of growing international concern over the escalation of violence in the region. The clashes have so far left 30 soldiers and civilians dead on both sides. International pressure has been mounting for a cessation of hostilities in this latest flareup of the conflict.
The conflict is centered around the landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh along the Ajerbaijan-Armenia border. The region was created as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in the 1920s. It lies in Azeri territory, but is inhabited by ethnic Armenians. In 1991, the region declared itself independent after ethnic clashes that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.
Karabakh is a word of Turkic and Persian origin meaning "black garden", while "Nagorno" is a Russian word meaning "mountain". The region is situated between the eastern border of Armenia and the south-western border of Azerbaijan. It is an independent autonomous region with its own government, ministries and leaders, however parts of the region remain under Azerbaijan's control. Armenia backs the region militarily.
In 1994, Russia brokered a ceasefire between both forces, leaving the territory in control of ethnic Armenians. Presently, Russia, France and the US co-chair the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group, which has been attempting to broker an end to the dispute.
There was intermittent fighting between 1994 and 2006. In 2006, Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum and created a new constitution. The referendum was termed a farce by Azerbaijan and fighting has continued ever since. The fighting became intense after 2008 and clashes left over a 100 civilians and soldiers dead on both sides. 2014 was the bloodiest year in the conflict with 72 soldiers dead.
The latest flare-up of hostilities was triggered by claims by Armenian and Karabakh forces that Azerbaijan launched an offensive to take over territory in the region on 2 April 2016.
The Azeri defence ministry issued a statement saying "Azerbaijan, showing goodwill, has decided to unilaterally cease hostilities." Azerbaijan warned that it would retaliate to any resumption of fighting by Armenian backed forces. However, the claims were disputed by Karabakh military officials, who stated that, "fierce fighting is under way on south-eastern and north-eastern sectors of the Karabakh frontline."