Azerbaijan and Armenia have agreed to a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict beginning 0000 Oct. 18, following mediating talks between the two countries. Negotiations over the dispute and specific terms of the ceasefire, supported by Russian, US, and French officials, will continue in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, isolated clashes between Azeri and Armenian forces remain possible.
The agreement was confirmed by both governments on Oct. 17, after Azerbaijani officials accused Armenia of attacking the city of Ganja and allegedly killing 13 people and wounding 50 others. Armenian officials denied the attack and also accuse Azerbaijani forces of ongoing violence in civilian areas.
Both countries had reached a previous agreement on Oct. 10; nevertheless, fighting continued in some areas of the NK line of contact into the early morning of Oct. 11, with both sides accusing each other of violating the ceasefire. Armenia has also alleged that Azerbaijani forces continued conducting rocket attacks against the NK cities of Stepanakert, Martuni (Khojavend), and Mardakert for much of Oct. 10; Azerbaijan's government, on the other hand, asserts that Armenian and Karabakhi units launched missile attacks on the city of Ganja, as well as localities in the Agdam, Agjabadi, Fuzuli, and Tartar districts. The attack on Ganja struck a densely populated neighborhood in the city at about 0200 Oct. 11, killing at least seven people and injuring about 28 others. Additionally, air defense units in Mingachevir reportedly shot down an Armenian drone over that city during the night of Oct. 10-11; it remains unclear whether the drone was weaponized or equipped for reconnaissance. Neither Azerbaijani nor Armenian authorities have released independently verifiable information concerning casualties or damage incurred in the other cities that were reportedly targeted.
While combat operations on both sides appear to have lessened significantly since Oct. 11, heavy fighting, shelling, and drone strikes had been occurring in areas along the NK line of contact since hostilities began Sept. 27. The heaviest fighting appears to have been concentrated around the Agdam, Fuzuli-Jebrayil, and Martuni (Khojavend) sectors of the line of contact and near Mount Murovdag; however, in recent days, combat operations seemed to increase in the southern Fuzuli and Jebrayil districts, possibly representing a more concerted effort by Azerbaijan to take more ground in a zone where the terrain is less favorable to the Armenian defenders. Baku also claims to have seized key positions and towns during the conflict, including parts of the Fuzuli-Jebrayil sector and the towns of Talis and Madaghis. Armed skirmishes and shelling have also occurred in the Armenia-Azerbaijan border region, including several cities and towns that are somewhat outside of the immediate conflict zone.
While each side's reporting of military losses is unreliable, it still appears clear that both armies have seen substantial numbers of troop casualties and military hardware lost.
Armenian forces have reportedly been launching daily rocket attacks on the Azeri city of Ganja since Oct. 4, with similar attacks sporadically targeting other locations, including Barda, Yevlakh, and Beylaqan, as well as villages in the Agjabadi, Agdam, Horadiz, Tartar, and Goranboy districts. Armenian forces also launched what appears to have been an isolated rocket attack Oct. 4 on Mingecevir - approximately 50 km (31 miles) northeast of the line of contact. While reports indicate property damage and injuries occurred in all of these incidents, neither the national government in Baku nor the local municipal governments have released any details on the extent of damage caused, the number of persons injured, or the number of missiles striking the locations in question - with the notable exception of the strikes against Ganja.
In Armenia, there have been reports of rocket and artillery strikes against targets near Vardenis, a town about 18 km (11 miles) from the border with Azerbaijan. Officials in Baku have asserted that artillery fire against Azerbaijani cities emanates from areas within Armenia, including Jermuk, Kapan, and Berd, and not from within NK; Azeri forces may expand strikes to include any location from which they believe artillery fire originates.
In NK, reports indicate the cities of Stepanakert and Shusha, as well as several other towns, have regularly come under heavy rocket and gun artillery attack by Azerbaijani forces, causing significant property and infrastructural damage - including to the electrical grid - and displacing many locals. NK authorities also assert that Azerbaijani artillery has struck the Lachin (Berdzor) bridge - an important supply route connecting NK with Armenia - on at least three occasions.
Hostilities remain unlikely to affect Baku or Yerevan.
Azerbaijan is continuing its partial troop mobilization, calling up thousands of reservists to active duty. Martial law remains in effect nationwide; an indefinite 2100-0600 curfew is in force in six of the nation's most important cities, as well as in the districts along the NK line of contact and in the border region with Armenia. Azerbaijan has also implemented certain restrictions on internet social media access, which authorities assert have been put in place to thwart potential hostile disinformation efforts.
Martial law remains in force nationwide in Armenia, and the government in Yerevan is continuing the country's general mobilization, requiring males under the age of 55 to report for military duty and prohibiting them from leaving the country. Similarly, NK officials have declared martial law within their enclave and have mobilized military-aged men. Due to the hostilities, Armenian hospitals have reportedly suspended routine procedures and are only providing emergency treatment. Additionally, Armenia's National Security Service (NSS) has urged the public to refrain from sharing information about troop movements or frontline actions by telephone or SMS due to concerns over intercept by enemy forces.
Operations at Baku's Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD) remain severely reduced due to the imposition of martial law as of Oct. 11. Only flights by Azerbaijan Airlines (J2) and Turkish Airlines (TK) are currently operating. Cargo flights by Silk Way West (7L) are also operating. Further cancellations and disruptions to international flights serving Armenia or Azerbaijan are possible while hostilities persist as airlines restrict services out of an abundance of caution. Zvartnots International Airport (EVN) in Yerevan has not officially altered its operations despite Armenia's imposition of martial law.
Spontaneous or planned demonstrations in response to the latest fighting are possible in Armenia or Azerbaijan's major cities. Authorities will probably move quickly to disperse any such gatherings that may materialize.
Background and Analysis
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has openly presented his nation's current military action as an offensive to retake occupied Azerbaijani territories - a move that has been very popular with the country's citizenry but has locked him into a position of having to produce results. Despite the latest truce, hostilities could resume at any time; some government officials in Baku have suggested that the current ceasefire would only remain in effect until the ICRC has completed facilitating the prisoner and body exchange.
Moreover, Baku may very well intend on continuing the fight until it can claim a politically or militarily meaningful victory, enabling it to enter negotiations from a position of strength. Such a scenario would require recapturing sufficient ground in NK; this being the case, Azerbaijani forces may seek to resume their offensive without significant delay in order to minimize the potential impact of winter weather on their operations. However, despite Azerbaijan's two decades of military modernization, Armenian forces still have the easier task on the battlefield. Highly motivated and entrenched in terrain that is generally very favorable to the defender, Armenian troops need only be able to stymie Baku's offensive and threaten to turn hostilities into a protracted battle with little gain. Such a development could easily turn public sentiment against the Azerbaijani president as casualties mount, potentially resulting in significant backlash.
While Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have frequently engaged in clashes along the NK line of contact and the two countries' shared border further north, neither government has previously gone so far as to declare martial law, impose curfews, or launch mobilizations since the ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict went into effect in 1994. Nevertheless, actual hostilities will probably remain confined to the zone around the NK line of contact and the two countries' shared border areas; therefore, they are unlikely to threaten people operating in locations away from the combat zone, including Baku and Yerevan.
Avoid nonessential travel to areas near the NK line of contact or close to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border until the situation stabilizes. If operating in these areas, exercise extreme caution; carry proper identification at all times, and heed the instructions of local security personnel. Consider alternative methods for routing shipments in the vicinity of the conflict zone. Avoid any demonstrations that might materialize in Azerbaijan or Armenia.