Armenian PM: Hotline with Azerbaijan set up after clashes

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaks during an online news conference in Yerevan, Armenia, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Armenia’s prime minister says the country has reached an agreement with Azerbaijan to establish a hotline between their defense chiefs after last week’s deadly clashes on their border. (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia has reached an agreement with Azerbaijan to establish a hotline between their defense chiefs after last week’s deadly clashes on their border, the Armenian prime minister said Tuesday.

Nikol Pashinyan said during an online news conference that contacts between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials should become more frequent to “help stabilize the situation, find solutions and try to avoid crises.”

Pashinyan said six Armenian soldiers were killed and 32 others taken prisoner by Azerbaijanis during the clashes on Nov. 16, which were the worst since the 2020 hostilities. Azerbaijan said seven of its troops died.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-old dispute over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

The Azerbaijani military routed the Armenian forces in 44 days of fierce fighting in the fall of 2020, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal that saw Azerbaijan gain control of a significant part of Nagorno-Karabakh and reclaim all the regions controlled by Armenian forces outside the separatist region.

Russia has deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers for at least five years to monitor the peace deal.

The peace agreement was celebrated as a triumph in Azerbaijan but was seen as a betrayal by the opposition in Armenia. Pashinyan defended it as the only way to prevent the Armenian forces from losing control over the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The 2020 peace deal envisaged a transport corridor via Armenia that would link Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhchivan region — a plan resented by the Armenian opposition, which also fears that Armenian interests could be compromised by the planned demarcation of the border.

About 2,000 opposition supporters rallied in central Yerevan on Tuesday, urging Pashinyan to make the demarcation agreement public before signing it and rejecting plans for the transport corridor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to host Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for talks in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Friday.

Pashinyan and Aliyev are also expected to meet in Brussels for the EU-sponsored talks on Dec. 15.

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