YEREVANH • Hundreds of Russian peacekeepers were being deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh yesterday after Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a peace deal to end weeks of fighting over the disputed region.
The Moscow-brokered agreement, which saw a ceasefire take effect at 1am local time, came after a string of Azerbaijani victories in its fight to retake the ethnic Armenian enclave.
The deal sparked celebrations in Azerbaijan but fury in Armenia, where protesters took to the streets to denounce the country's leadership for losses in the territory, which broke from Azerbaijan's control during a war in the early 1990s.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the deal in the early hours of yesterday. Mr Pashinyan described the agreement as "unspeakably painful for me and for our people", while Mr Aliyev said it amounted to a "capitulation".
The full text of the deal was released several hours later and 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 armoured personnel carriers will be sent to the region as peacekeepers, for a renewable five-year mission. The Russian Defence Ministry yesterday said 10 IL-76 aircraft carrying the first peacekeepers and their equipment had taken off from an airfield in Russia.
Mr Aliyev said that Turkey, a key ally, would also be involved in peacekeeping efforts, but there was no mention of it in the agreement.
Armenian Defence Ministry spokesman Shushan Stepanyan said on Twitter that the situation was calm in the region at 6am local time and that "combat operations on the whole front line are suspended".
The conflict over the territory that 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 actual death toll is believed to be significantly higher.
Azerbaijani 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 Mr Aliyev announced that his forces had captured Shusha, the region's strategically vital second-largest town.
1,960 Number of Russian military personnel that will be deployed to the region as peacekeepers.
Shusha sits on cliffs overlooking Nagorno-Karabakh's main city, Stepanakert, and on the main road to Armenia, which backs the separatists.
Karabakh declared independence nearly 30 years ago but the declaration has not been recognised internationally, even by Armenia, and it remains a part of Azerbaijan under international law.