Exodus to begin in the Caucasus as over 120,000 Armenians leave the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia
Major blast rocks region
The swift military operation conducted by Azerbaijan this week to establish full control over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh could 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 could flee their homes since they do not want to remain 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, saying the developments this week will “go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilized world.”
Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated that it will guarantee the rights of ethnic Armenians as it integrates the region, which had been out of Baku’s control for decades.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his nation is ready to take in those that flee the disputed region. So far, a total of 377 people have arrived in Armenia as of Sunday night, AP reported, citing the Armenian authorities.
A Russian peacekeeper stands at a checkpoint in Nagorno-Karabakh © Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
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 those who lost their homes in the latest outbreak of hostilities and want to leave the region will be escorted to Armenia by the peacekeeping forces.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that the peacekeepers have 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.
Local ethnic-Armenian militias continue to surrender their weapons to the peacekeepers, 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.
A powerful blast rocked a fuel storage facility in Nagorno-Karabakh, authorities in the disputed region said on Monday. The facility is near a highway linking the region’s self-styled capital of Stepanakert (known as Khankendi in Azerbaijan) to the town of Askeran in the northeast.
© social media
Videos of the incident shared on social media showed a fire raging over the area and a plume of thick black smoke. The highway near the fuel depot appeared to contain heavy traffic. According to reports, a large number of vehicles were lining up for gas at the time of the blast.
Local media stated that more than 200 people have been killed or injured. The Nagorno-Karabakh Interior Ministry confirmed there had been casualties, but did not provide further details.
Armenian authorities have not commented on the incident, while officials in Baku and the Russian peacekeeping force stationed in the disputed region are also yet to issue any statements.
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 sent to 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, which Yerevan denied.
On Wednesday, the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh announced a ceasefire with Baku, following a proposal by Russian peacekeeping forces.