Armenia and Azerbaijan 'could reach peace deal by end of year' over disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region

Armenia's prime minister has said his country and neighbouring Azerbaijan could reach a peace deal over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region by the end of this year.

Nikol Pashinyan was quoted as saying he is doing everything he can to conclude an agreement.

But the leader also said it was unlikely any documents would be signed when he meets Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev in October.

In March, five people were killed in clashes between Azerbaijani soldiers and Armenian police in the contested mountainous area, which is located between the two rival countries.

Tensions have risen again this month, with the sides accusing each other of building up troops.

Despite this, the two sides appear to be making some progress on opening up roads into Karabakh and getting more supplies to residents.

People there have suffered food shortages after Azerbaijan limited access for the past nine months to scupper what it claims was arms smuggling.

But a deal to unblock roads to the territory has yet to take full effect.

History of conflicts

The former Soviet republics have fought two wars in the past 30 or so years over the region, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenian authorities.

The first conflict erupted as the Soviet Union crumbled, with the fighting lasting from 1988 to 1994. The clashes between Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists ended when a truce was brokered by Russia.

About 30,000 people were killed and more than a million others, mostly Azeris, were displaced, as they were driven from their homes when the Armenian side ended up in control of Nagorno-Karabakh and swathes of seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan.

The second war, which killed at least 6,500 people, began in late September 2020 and lasted for six weeks, after decades of intermittent skirmishes.

Azerbaijan, helped by drones bought from Turkey and Israel, carried out a military operation, quickly breaking through Armenian defences and taking back the seven districts and about a third of Karabakh itself.

Russia, a traditional ally of Armenia but which also has good relations with Azerbaijan, stepped in to negotiate a ceasefire.

The deal meant nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed to Karabakh.

In recent months, Armenia claims Moscow has failed to fully uphold the ceasefire treaty it helped broker.

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During the past week, Azerbaijan sent new peace plan proposals to its rival but big gaps remained between the two sides, Armenia's foreign minister Ararat Mirzoyan said.

His country has also submitted a proposal of its own for a withdrawal from border areas of troops from both sides.

Armenia's foreign ministry said any such action would be based on maps drawn up in 1975, when both countries were Soviet republics.