A swift military operation Azerbaijan conducted this week to establish full control over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh might trigger a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians living in the area, Reuters reported, citing the breakaway region’s leadership.
As many as 120,000 Karabakh Armenians might flee their homes since they do not want to stay under Baku’s rule and fear ethnic cleansing, the news agency said. “Our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan. Ninety-nine point nine percent prefer to leave our historic lands,” David Babayan, an adviser to the president of the self-styled Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh), told Reuters.
Babayan also blasted the lack of international reaction to Baku’s actions, claiming that developments this week would “go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilized world.” Azerbaijan repeatedly stated that it would guarantee the rights of ethnic Armenians as it would be integrating the region, which had been out of Baku’s control for decades.
Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan said that his nation was ready to take in all those fleeing the disputed region. So far, a total of 377 people have arrived in Armenia as of Sunday night, AP reported, citing Armenian authorities.
Thousands of Karabakh Armenians were also evacuated from local villages and taken to a Russian peacekeepers’ camp, AP also said. Local leaders told Reuters that all those who lost their homes in the latest outbreak of hostilities and were willing to leave the region would be escorted to Armenia by the peacekeeping forces.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that the nation’s peacekeepers had evacuated a total of 311 civilians to Armenia, including 102 children. It was also said that no outbreaks of violence have been recorded since September 20. The local ethnically Armenian militias continue to surrender their weapons under the peacekeepers’ control, the ministry added. A total of 130,000 munitions, 1,200 small arms, anti-tank weapons, and portable air-defense systems have been surrendered as of Sunday, it said.
The Russian peacekeeping force has also delivered 125 tons of food and 65 tons of fuel to the disputed region, according to the ministry’s statement.
Nagorno-Karabakh split from Azerbaijan in the waning days of the USSR, with its predominantly ethnic Armenian population fighting a bloody war for independence in the 1990s. Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the region after a flare-up in 2020 which concluded with Baku reclaiming a large portion of the territory it had previously lost.
Yerevan had tacitly supported the self-proclaimed authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh for decades but formally acknowledged Baku’s sovereignty over the region last year, following a series of border clashes and several rounds of talks between the two neighbors.
The latest flare-up in the region took place on Tuesday, when Azerbaijan launched “counter-terrorism measures of a local nature,” citing an alleged Armenian military buildup in the disputed region – something Yerevan denied. On Wednesday, the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh announced a ceasefire with Baku, following a proposal by Russian peacekeeping forces.