Armenia and Azerbaijan on Saturday agreed to a ceasefire following Russia’s mediation, AP reported. The two countries were engaged in a conflict over a territory leading to heavy firing from both sides for nearly two weeks.

In a statement, the countries’ foreign ministers said that the truce was intended to exchange prisoners and recover the dead. Specific details of the agreement will be agreed upon later, they added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov read the joint statement of truce following 10 hours of mediation in Moscow. He said the two countries can now begin “substantive talks”, reported BBC.

Fresh clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan had broken out on September 27 resulting in the death of at least 21 people. The two countries, both part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, are fighting over a territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although recognised as a part of Azerbaijan, the Nagorno-Karabakh territory is home to the ethnic Armenian majority and is run by them with support from Armenia.

During the fighting on September 27, over 100 citizens of the Nagorno-Karabakh region were injured in air and artillery attack launched by Azerbaijan. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh declared martial law and mobilised the male population. In response, Azerbaijan also declared martial law.

Despite a ceasefire agreement, clashes between the countries over the contentious territory are a recurring feature. In 2016, at least 200 people were killed in the region. In July 2020, sixteen people lost their lives. Fresh clashes have attracted the concern of other countries like China and Russia since the region is a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.

On September 27, the French government had said that it will call for talks between Russia, France and the United States and mediate the conflict. “We will trigger in the coming days a coordination of the Minsk Group to clear up what happened, who is responsible and find a way out,” an official at French President Emmanuel Macron’s office had said.

Pakistan had supported Azerbaijan and “its right of self-defence”. Turkey had blamed Armenia for the flare-up and assured Azerbaijan of its full support. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had asked global powers to stop Turkey from getting involved in the conflict, claiming that the situation was close to degenerating into a full-scale war.

The Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict

The largely mountainous and forested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, with a population of around 1.5 lakh, is at the centre of the conflict. Nagorno-Karabakh is located within Azerbaijan but is mostly populated by people of Armenian descent. The government of the erstwhile Soviet Union had given Nagorno-Karabakh to its Azerbaijan republic, but offered it autonomy from the Azeris.

Separatism began in Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s, when Soviet power was on the decline. In 1988, the Armenian national assembly voted to dissolve the region’s autonomous status and make it join Armenia. However, this was opposed by Azerbaijan, leading to clashes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two countries became independent and the clashes worsened to an open war. Tens of thousands of people were killed in the war, before a ceasefire was reached in 1994.

But by 1994, Armenia had taken control of Nagorno-Karabakh and handed it to Armenian rebels, who declared independence from Azerbaijan. This independent status is not recognised internationally. There have been occasional clashes on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border since 1994.