Beginning to leave the disputed enclave are ethnic Armenians

BBC || Shining BD

Published: 9/25/2023 6:23:16 AM

According to Armenia, 1,050 people have entered the nation from Nagorno-Karabakh in the days since Azerbaijan took control of the predominantly Armenian region.

They arrived after the Yerevan government declared plans to relocate those who had been rendered homeless by the fighting.

Azerbaijan claims it wants to reintegrate ethnic Armenians as "equal citizens" and retook the area inhabited by about 120,000 of them early this week.

But Armenia has warned they may face ethnic cleansing.

"As of 22:00 local time (18:00 GMT), 1,050 people entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh," the Armenian government said in a statement on Sunday.

It said many of them had already been provided with government-funded housing.

The Armenian separatist forces in the territory agreed to disarm on Wednesday, following a lightning Azerbaijani military offensive.

Armenia says it will help anyone leaving Nagorno-Karabakh - but has repeatedly said a mass exodus would be the fault of the Azerbaijani authorities.

In a TV address on Sunday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said many inside the enclave would "see expulsion from the homeland as the only way out" unless Azerbaijan provided "real living conditions" and "effective mechanisms of protection against ethnic cleansing".

He repeated that his government was prepared to "lovingly welcome our brothers and sisters".

But David Babayan, an adviser to Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian leader Samvel Shahramanyan, told Reuters he expected almost everyone to leave.

His people "do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan - 99.9% prefer to leave our historic lands", he said.

"The fate of our poor people will go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilised world," he told Reuters.

"Those responsible for our fate will one day have to answer before God for their sins."

Nagorno-Karabakh - a mountainous region in the South Caucasus - is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians for three decades.

The enclave has been supported by Armenia - but also by their ally, Russia, which has had hundreds of soldiers there for years.

As Azerbaijan's army overran the area last week, dozens of Azerbaijani soldiers and at least 200 ethnic Armenians were also killed, including five Russian peacekeepers.

The defence ministry of Azerbaijan announced on Sunday that it had seized additional military hardware, including a sizable quantity of ammunition, rockets, artillery shells, and mines.

There are still concerns for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh despite public assurances from Azerbaijan, since only one aid shipment totaling seventy tonnes of food has been permitted since separatists agreed to renounce their weapons and accept a ceasefire.

Thousands of ethnic Armenian leaders report that they are sleeping outside, in basements, or in school buildings without access to food or shelter.

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