Thousands of Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan takes control
The Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing the separatist authorities to agree to lay down weapons.
Thousands of Armenians have streamed out of Nagorno-Karabakh after the Azerbaijani military reclaimed full control of the breakaway region, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Azerbaijan on Monday in a show of support to its ally.
The Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing the separatist authorities to agree to lay down weapons and start talks on Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan after three decades of separatist rule.
A second round of talks between Azerbaijani officials and separatist representatives began in Khojaly on Tuesday after the opening meeting last week.
While Azerbaijan pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and restore supplies after a 10-month blockade, many local residents feared reprisals and said they were planning to leave for Armenia.
The Armenian government said 4,850 Nagorno-Karabakh residents had fled to Armenia as of 12pm on Monday.
“It was a nightmare. There are no words to describe. The village was heavily shelled. Almost no one is left in the village,” said one of the evacuees who spoke to the Associated Press in the Armenian city of Kornidzor and refused to give her name for security reasons.
Moscow said Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh were assisting the evacuation.
Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said on Monday that two of its soldiers were killed a day earlier when a military truck hit a landmine.
It did not name the area where the explosion happened.
In an address to the nation on Sunday, Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan said his government was working with international partners to protect the rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“If these efforts do not produce concrete results, the government will welcome our sisters and brothers from Nagorno-Karabakh in the Republic of Armenia with every care,” he said.
Demonstrators demanding Mr Pashinyan’s resignation continued blocking the Armenian capital’s main avenues on Monday, engaging in occasional clashes with police who sought to disperse the protests.
Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting which ended in 1994.
During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory which Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
After a Russia-brokered armistice, a contingent of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it.
In December, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illicit weapons shipments to the region’s separatist forces.
Armenia charged that the closure denied basic food and fuel supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh’s approximately 120,000 people.
Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing the region could receive supplies through the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam — a solution long resisted by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who called it a strategy for Azerbaijan to gain control of the region.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged support for Armenia and Armenians, saying France will mobilise food and medical aid for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and keep working toward “sustainable peace” in the region.
France, which has a big Armenian diaspora, has for decades played a mediating role in Nagorno-Karabakh.
A few hundred people rallied outside the French foreign ministry over the weekend, demanding sanctions against Azerbaijan and accusing Paris of not doing enough to protect Armenian interests in the region.
“France is very vigilant about Armenia’s territorial integrity because that is what is at stake,” Mr Macron said in an interview with France-2 and TF1 television, accusing Russia of complicity with Azerbaijan and charging that Turkey threatens Armenia’s borders.
Since the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan has relied on strong backing of its ally Turkey, which has offered political support and provided it with weapons.
Mr Erdogan arrived in Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave on Monday for talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss Turkey-Azerbaijan ties and regional and global issues.
Nakhchivan is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory but forms a slim border with Turkey.
The men signed a deal for a gas pipeline and the Turkish leader said “I’m very pleased to be with all of you as we connect Nakhchivan with the Turkish world”.
Mr Aliyev, at a news conference with Mr Erdogan, said “It is crystal clear that, independent of their ethnicity, the people living in the Karabakh region are Azerbaijani people so their safety and security is ensured by the Azerbaijani state.”