YEREVAN—A last-minute humanitarian ceasefire negotiated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo between Armenia and Azerbaijan collapsed after 45 minutes of going into effect at 8:00 AM GMT+4.
The ceasefire, which changes little from the previous failed ceasefires brokered by fellow OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs Russia and France, also broadly follows the lines of the 1994 Bishkek Protocols which ended the first Karabakh War. It calls for both sides to refrain from violence and return to the negotiation table with no preconditions. In a ‘Face the Nation’ segment on Sunday, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien mentioned that Armenia had readily agreed to a ceasefire, while Azerbaijan had remained reluctant.
Azerbaijan’s sincere commitment to the ceasefire was tested on Monday morning when the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense put out a tweet at 8:02 AM local time accusing Armenia of violating the agreement, before being quickly deleted. The Armenian MoD quickly responded that its forces had followed an order to hold fire and were respecting their obligations. The tweet was later reposted almost an hour later. The fact that it had been posted mere seconds after the ceasefire went into effect suggests that it had been prewritten and mis-scheduled for posting. Perplexingly, the Azerbaijani MoD then followed that tweet with another announcing that they had both complied (unlike Armenia) with the agreement and also—quite paradoxically—captured the small village of Sanasar (Gubadli) in the southern part of Artsakh. The announcement marked the second time the Azeri Army claimed to have occupied the town in at least a week.
Earlier on Monday Prime Minister Pashinyan announced that despite sporadic violations in localized areas, the ceasefire remained largely intact for most of the morning. “The Armenian side continues to strictly adhere to the ceasefire regime,” he tweeted. However, his tone sharply changed during a Facebook Live address to the nation later that evening, when he declared the ceasefire to be dead in the water. “Armenians have been flexible in negotiations since the beginning, but Azerbaijan has always had only one negotiating position: the capitulation of Artsakh,” said Pashinyan. “We’ve always been ready to compromise but never capitulate.” Pashinyan later tweeted at President Trump directly, notifying him that civilians in Artsakh were killed after the failed US-brokered ceasefire.
I would like to state that the efforts of the international community, this time brokered by the #UnitedStates, to establish a ceasefire, have failed. As a result of continuous shelling by Azerbaijan, civilians were killed and wounded in #Artsakh today.@realDonaldTrump
— Nikol Pashinyan (@NikolPashinyan) October 26, 2020
For his part, President Aliyev continued with unusually bellicose rhetoric for a ceasefire. In a televised speech to the Azeri public, he declared that the world powers had now sided against Azerbaijan, which, he vowed, would not be intimidated from completing its mission to “chase the enemy from our lands until the end.” He ended his speech by listing a number of villages he claimed to have “liberated,” however conflictingly these were also located in territory which he had already announced to be under Azerbaijani control last week, casting further doubt on the actual extent of Azerbaijani military success.
Armenian Defense Spokesman Artrsun Hovhannisyan confirmed that Azerbaijan had broken the ceasefire and took advantage of the negotiations to capture the town of Sanasar during the night. “Yes, we have retreated in some areas because we value human life more than defending to the last man strategically negligible positions,” he said, adding that while Azeri forces had gotten closer to Syunik Province, the situation remained well within the control of Armenian forces. He once more urged Armenians to trust that the army had a very good intelligence operation in place, are well aware of Azerbaijani movements and have certain plans in motion that cannot be made public for obvious reasons.
According to Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman Artak Beglaryan, civilian Gevorg Hambardzumyan was killed; two others, Henrikh Adamyan and Andrey Hambardzumyan, were wounded in Avetaranots village by an Azerbaijani artillery strike.