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Nagorno-Karabakh: refugees pour into Armenia after military offensive


Almost 3,000 ethnic Armenians have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh in the wake of last week’s Azerbaijani military offensive in the disputed region, which left hundreds of people dead, wounded or missing.

By 5am local time on Monday, more than 2,900 refugees had arrived in Armenia, according to an Armenian government statement cited by Russia’s Tass state news agency.

Several hundred refugees began crossing over from Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday, becoming the first civilians to reach Armenia in nearly a year and reuniting families after a 10-month blockade by Azerbaijan that has led to desperate shortages of food, fuel and water in the local capital, Stepanakert, and surrounding areas.

Officials in the breakaway Armenian government in the region have said they plan to evacuate thousands of displaced people from the region into Armenia.

The local government said evacuees would be accompanied across the border from the disputed region into Armenia by Russian peacekeepers.

“Dear compatriots, we would like to inform you that, accompanied by Russian peacekeepers, the families who were left homeless as a result of the recent military operations and expressed their desire to leave will be transferred to Armenia,” a statement read.

“The government will issue information about the relocation of other population groups in the near future.”

Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, said in a live address on Sunday: “Our government will lovingly welcome our brothers and sisters from Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh still face the danger of ethnic cleansing. Humanitarian supplies have arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh in recent days but this does not change the situation.

“If real living conditions are not created for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in their homes, and effective mechanisms of protection against ethnic cleansing, then the likelihood is increasing that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see expulsion from their homeland as the only way out.”

The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh – a territory internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond its control – were forced into a ceasefire last week after a 24-hour military operation by the much-larger Azerbaijani military.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the enclave in 30 years – with Azerbaijan regaining swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in a six-week conflict in 2020.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is due to meet Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, on Monday to discuss the situation.

Last week, Erdoğan – an ally of Aliyev who backed Azerbaijan with weaponry in the 2020 conflict – said he supported the aims of Azerbaijan’s latest military operation but had played no part in it.

Armenia says more than 200 people were killed and 400 wounded in last week’s operation, which was condemned by the US and other western allies of Armenia.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said it had confiscated more military equipment from Armenian separatists, including rockets, artillery shells, mines and ammunition.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians do not accept Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region is integrated. Armenia has called for an immediate deployment of a UN mission to monitor human rights and security in the region.

“Ninety-nine point nine per cent prefer to leave our historic lands,” David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, the president of the breakaway state, which is also known as Artsakh, told Reuters.

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