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Armenia says ‘ethnic cleansing’ under way in Karabakh region

Armenia says ‘ethnic cleansing’ under way in Karabakh region
Ethnic Armenians flee Karabakh for Armenia in a truck at the Lachin checkpoint controlled by Russian peacekeepers and Azeri border guards in Azerbaijan on 26 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Roman Ismayilov)

The struggle for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has a largely Armenian population but is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, has killed tens of thousands and turned more than 1 million people into refugees.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told top US officials that “ethnic cleansing” was taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh as the exodus of people fleeing to his country from Azerbaijan accelerated.

“The ethnic cleansing of Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is under way, that’s happening just now,” Pashinyan told US Agency for International Development administrator Samantha Power and Acting Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim at talks on Monday. 

“This situation and tensions in our region continue to grow, and now it is very important to take concrete measures to prevent further escalation and even bigger problems,” Pashinyan said.

The number of “forcibly displaced” people entering Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh exceeded 28,000, the government in Yerevan said on Tuesday. That represents almost a quarter of the 120,000 Armenians that local officials have said live in Nagorno-Karabakh.

armenia karabakh

Firefighters on the site of a blaze after an explosion at a petrol warehouse near the Stepanakert-Askera highway in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, on 25 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Artsakh / Nagorno-Karabakh Human Rights Ombudsman Handout)

An explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city, Stepanakert, as people sought fuel for vehicles to leave the region added to the misery. Armenia Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan said the blast late on Monday killed 125 people.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called for Armenians in the territory to stay, saying their rights will be protected and living standards improved. “Armenians in Karabakh are our citizens,” he said in an address to the nation on 20 September.

Power and Kim travelled to Armenia’s border region of Goris on Tuesday to meet officials coping with the flood of people leaving Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan took full control of the enclave in a military operation last week that effectively ended a bitter territorial conflict.

Power told reporters at the border crossing that Azerbaijan had created “excruciating” conditions for people in Nagorno-Karabakh by blocking the Lachin road linking the region to Armenia for nine months before the military attack. She said the US would provide $11.5-million in aid to assist people who had fled the region and called for “full and unimpeded” access for humanitarian organisations to people still living there. 

The European Union announced it would give Armenia €5-million in aid. It hosted talks on Tuesday between Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, and Armenian National Security Secretary Armen Grigoryan ahead of a possible meeting between the president and the prime minister in Spain next week.

armenia karabakh

Ethnic Armenians flee Karabakh for Armenia in a truck at the Lachin checkpoint controlled by Russian peacekeepers and Azeri border guards, Azerbaijan, on 26 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Roman Ismayilov)

Azerbaijan opened its airspace to allow Armenian medics to fly to Nagorno-Karabakh to help treat people injured in the fuel blast, the Caliber news service reported. The Emergencies Ministry in Baku said an ambulance was sent to Stepanakert with medical equipment, local hospitals were put on standby to receive patients, and 15 fire engines were despatched to help fight the blaze.

The struggle for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has a largely Armenian population but is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, has killed tens of thousands and turned more than one million into refugees. The region’s Armenian population declared independence as the Soviet Union collapsed and controlled the territory until Azerbaijan took part of Nagorno-Karabakh and reclaimed seven surrounding districts in a 2020 war with Armenia that ended when Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered a ceasefire.

Read more: The tiny region Azerbaijan and Armenia fight over: QuickTake

Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had a “thorough exchange of views” on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan in a phone call on Tuesday, the Kremlin said in a statement. 

Officials from Baku and Armenian representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh have begun talks on integrating the territory into Azerbaijan as part of an agreement that ended last week’s fighting. Nagorno-Karabakh has pledged to “completely disarm” its defence forces and accept rule by Azerbaijan under the accord.

armenia karabakh

Military equipment seized during the disarmament of Nagorno-Karabakh forces is displayed under a sign reading ‘Karabakh — Azerbaijan!’ at a position held by Azerbaijani forces in Shusha, in the Azerbaijan-controlled region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on 23 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Roman Ismayilov)

At their meeting in Yerevan, Power handed Pashinyan a letter from US President Joe Biden that promised “strong” US support for a “durable regional peace that maintains your sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and democracy”.

That comes amid spiralling tensions between Armenia and its traditional ally Russia, which accused Pashinyan of “unacceptable attacks” after he criticised Moscow for failing to aid the country against Azerbaijan. 

“The Yerevan leadership is making a huge mistake by deliberately trying to demolish Armenia’s multifaceted and centuries-old ties with Russia and making the country hostage to the geopolitical games of the West,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on Monday. 

Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also met on Monday as Baku pressed for a “corridor” across southern Armenia to Azerbaijan’s exclave of Naxcivan. Erdogan reiterated his support on Tuesday for Aliyev’s demand, which Armenia has rejected. DM

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