A Peace Deal Ended the War in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Story Is Far From Over

Putin hopes the Russian-brokered deal will create "a long-term peace," but bitter arguments over banned cluster munitions and the consequences of the truce in Armenia rumble on.
November 13, 2020, 6:07pm
Worshippers light candles at the Dadivank Monastery​, which lies in territory now ceded to Azerbaijan.
Worshippers light candles at the Dadivank Monastery, which lies in territory now ceded to Azerbaijan. Photo: Alex McBride/Getty Images

Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev says he will present new evidence of the use of cluster munitions – independently verified by VICE World News – to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian-made weapons were used against civilians last month in the Azeri town of Barda, killing 21 and injuring 70 more, according to officials, in one of the bloodiest days of the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenian-backed forces. Armenia denies using cluster munitions, which are widely banned. 

Aliyev said he has repeatedly asked Putin to “stop sending weapons to Armenia.” Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a Russian-brokered peace deal this week, in what has been regarded as a significant military victory for Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has also been accused by human rights organisations of using the same cluster munitions, banned by over 100 countries, on ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev denied the claims to VICE World News.

“We don't use it. We use other weapons. What we use is shown on video. You can see it every day, what we use… So far there have been so many fake news [stories] about Azerbaijan and what we've done on the battlefield that, you know, one more, one less doesn't make a difference,” Ilyev said. 

On Thursday Armenia arrested 10 leading opposition figures after mass protests broke out – they’re being charged with “illegal violent mass disorder,”  prosecutors said in a statement.

After the Russian-brokered truce was signed, thousands of distraught people demonstrated in Armenia on Tuesday, demanding the resignation of President Nikol Pashinyan, going as far as storming parliament, smashing equipment, and beating up the speaker.  

Meanwhile in the Azeri capital of Baku thousands poured out onto the streets, waving flags and honking their horns in celebration. For six weeks Azerbaijan showed its military strength and gains on the battlefield – and that’s meant that Russian diplomacy has worked in its favor against Armenia. 

Aliyev called the deal a “historic day” for his country, while Pashinyan described it as “incredibly painful both for me and both for our people.”

Under the deal, Azerbaijan will hold on to areas of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed enclave that’s populated by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, that it had already seized during the last six weeks, which is around one fifth of the land it lost in the 1990s. Armenian troops will also be expected to hand over control of three areas in Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. And 2,000 Russian peacekeepers will be deployed in a buffer zone.

Russia’s President Putin called the situation Nagorno-Karabakh "a truly great tragedy" and said he hoped that the agreement would create "a long-term peace."

The deal came after Armenia lost control of a strategic city in Nagorno-Karabakh known as Shusha to Azerbaijanis and Shushi to Armenians. The city is located on a mountain top that  overlooks the region’s capital Stepanakert, and is also near the main road which connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. 

The two countries have been arguing over the territory for the last 27 years. It’s a region that broke away following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s internationally recognised as Azerbaijani, but has been held by ethnic Armenias, who make up the majority, since 1994, in a conflict that claimed 30,000 lives. Around 700,000 Azerbaijanis were also expelled from the area. 

This latest round of fighting has been the most severe in the last few decades, with scores of people killed on both sides. Armenians are reporting that at least a hundred thousand ethnic Armenians have been forced to flee their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, accusing Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing.

Speaking to Russian TV after the ceasefire, President Putin said  “internally displaced persons and refugees will return to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent districts,” with assistance from the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

VICE World News was in Azerbaijan and visited towns near the front line that were heavily affected. At the funeral of Orkhan Ismaylizade, a 16-year old who was killed by shrapnel while picking fruit from a tree, the entire community showed up to mourn. But his death, and that of others, didn’t deter Azerbaijanis from supporting the war they seem to have won. Instead, it actually seemed to have fueled more anger and national pride, and great support for their President, who had the military upper hand, with support and advanced weaponry from allies Turkey and Israel. 

“Armenians always wage war against Muslims. They have always been a bloodthirsty nation… They’ve always wanted us to bend the knee. Only now … with the help of God we’ll bring them misfortune. This will be the end,” the grandfather of the deceased, Natig Mammadov said at the burial.  

A few miles away, in Barda, the streets were covered in blood and debris as several ambulances rushed past following the deadly cluster munitions attack. Outside the hospital family members were frantically looking for their loved ones. 

Meanwhile, doctors were performing CPR by hand on 65-year-old Suleymanov Humbat for over half an hour - as the hospital had no electricity due to the bombardment - but were unable to save him. 

Although the conflict seems to have paused for now, the brutality of it has largely been hidden, especially on the Azeri side. It’s still unclear how many soldiers have actually died on both sides. Armenian authorities say nearly 1,200 of its soldiers have died in the fighting since the start of the conflict in September. Azerbaijan refuses to release figures, but Russia’s president reported last month that the figure was 5,000 soldiers split equally on both sides.