YEREVAN: Guns fell silent in the Caucasus on Tuesday after a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended weeks of fierce fighting.
Hundreds of Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the disputed ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke from Azerbaijan’s control during a war in the early 1990s. The deal followed a series of Azeri military victories in their fight to retake the territory.
It prompted celebrations in Azerbaijan but anger in Armenia, where protesters took to the streets to denounce their leaders.
The Moscow-brokered agreement was signed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pashinyan described the deal as “unspeakably painful for me and for our people,” while Aliyev said it amounted to a “capitulation” by Armenia.
The full text of the agreement showed clear gains for Azerbaijan. Its forces will retain control over areas seized in the fighting, including the key town of Shusha, while Armenia agreed to a timetable to withdraw from large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh.
A Russian force of 1,960 military personnel and 90 armored personnel carriers will act as peacekeepers, for a renewable five-year mission.
The conflict over the territory, which has simmered for decades despite international efforts to reach an accord, erupted into fresh fighting in late September. More than 1,400 people have been confirmed killed, including dozens of civilians, but the death toll is believed to be significantly higher.
Azeri forces made steady gains over the weeks of fighting, sweeping across the southern flank of the region and eventually into its heartland. A turning point came on Sunday when they captured Shusha, the region’s strategically vital second-largest town.
The agreement caused outrage in Yerevan, with angry protesters stormed government headquarters, ransacked offices, and broke windows. Crowds also entered parliament and demanded Pashinyan’s resignation.
Police retook control of both buildings but the opposition called for a protest on Wednesday against Pashinyan, who came to power leading peaceful protests in 2018.
Pashinyan said he was personally responsible for the Karabakh “catastrophe,” but said the situation could only have grown worse. “It is necessary to draw lessons; this will help Armenia’s future development,” he said.
In the Azeri capital, Baku joyful residents took to the streets waving flags and chanting “Karabakh! Karabakh!”
“I am very happy, congratulations to the motherland, I hope these lands will be ours forever,” one said.