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Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan offensive



Ethnic Armenians living in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh began evacuating from the enclave Sunday, just days after Azerbaijan launched a rapid offensive to retake the territory, prompting local fighters to agree to a cease fire.

The first evacuees arrived in Armenia on Sunday afternoon local time, the country’s state-owned news agency reported, and by Sunday night, more than 1,000 people had crossed the border into Armenia, the government said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also facilitated the evacuation of 23 wounded patients from the region, the organization said on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

But leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, warned that the initial departures could quickly grow into a mass exodus from the enclave, amid fears among ethnic Armenian residents that they would face violence or persecution if they opted to stay.

“Our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan,” David Babayan, an adviser to the region’s president, told Reuters on Sunday. “Ninety-nine point nine percent prefer to leave our historic lands.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday also called on Azerbaijan to “protect civilians and uphold its obligations to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh,” according to a readout of his phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.


The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

About 120,000 ethnic Armenians live in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in the South Caucasus that has been a flash point for more than 30 years. In 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal war for the territory.

A cease fire was declared in 1994, leaving Armenia in control of the region, despite its location within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. In the decades since, brief skirmishes flared along the border. But in 2020, another war erupted, and Azerbaijan recaptured parts of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Russia, which has relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, then dispatched nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to guard the Lachin Corridor, a road that connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and that served as a lifeline for the territory.

But in December, Azerbaijan started to stem the flow of people and goods through the corridor, establishing an official checkpoint in April it said was necessary to prevent weapons smuggling. The move angered Armenians, who directed their ire at Russia.

The blockade and surprise attack “raise serious questions … about the goals and motives of the peacekeeping troops of the Russian Federation,” Pashinyan said in a speech Sunday.

Azerbaijan launched its lightning-quick offensive on Sept. 19, describing it as an “anti-terrorist” operation and urging armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh to lay down their arms.


The operation included drone and artillery strikes around the main city, Stepanakert, and in other towns in the north and south, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a nonprofit data collection and crisis mapping initiative.

The attacks with large-caliber artillery, drones and mortars caused “dozens of civilian casualties, including children, displaced several thousand local residents, and damaged residential buildings and infrastructure,” the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said in a statement.

On Sept. 20, Nagorno-Karabakh’s military force agreed to a complete disarmament. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry claimed victory, saying all weapons and heavy equipment would be handed over and that Armenian armed forces would leave the territory.

But the fate of the ethnic Armenian inhabitants remained unclear. Pashinyan said Sunday that 30 percent of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population was displaced and that there was only limited humanitarian assistance provided by Russia and the ICRC. Thousands of people from villages affected by the fighting were brought to a Russian peacekeepers’ camp, the Associated Press reported.

“There is no food, no medicine, no shelter, no place to go, separated from their families, terrorized and scared for their lives,” he said.

On Wednesday, following the victory of Azerbaijan’s 24-hour ground and artillery offensive, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced sovereignty had been restored and vowed his Muslim country would provide future coexistence for the Christian Armenians. “All their rights will be guaranteed — educational rights, cultural rights, religious rights, municipal election rights,” he said in a speech.

“This is our proposal and today was the turning point,” he continued. “The bloodsucking leeches were now completely exposed and surrendered.”


Source: Washington Post

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