Thousands of ethnic Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday in lines of cars which stretched for kilometres after Azerbaijan took control of the breakaway region sparking fears of persecution.
The Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing the authorities of the breakaway region to agree to lay down weapons. They also agreed to start talks on the “reintegration” of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, into Azerbaijan, after three decades of separatist rule.
r\Atak Beglaryan, a former adviser to the self-declared government of Artsakh, told The Independent that people fear reprisals and ethnic cleansing and so “almost all the villages” and large parts of main city Stepanakert, which Azerbaijan calls Khankendi, “are emptying”.
“They are fleeing because of the genocidal policy of Azerbaijan, the blockade, their aggression, and the failure of Russian peacekeepers to guarantee protection,” Mr Beglaryan added with desperation.
“It is impossible to live under Azerbaijani subjugation. The Azerbaijani state and society is full of hatred of Armenians.
“The international community is just looking at this and saying sorry. Nothing else is being done. We are frustrated with everyone. We are frustrated with humanity.”
Both sides have been locked in a bloody battle over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan – which is backed by Turkey – but home to 120,000 ethnic Armenians who have enjoyed de facto independence since then.
In 2020, a six-week war erupted during which nearly 7,000 people were killed Azerbaijan reclaimed swathes of region. Russia, historically a close ally of Armenia, brokered a truce and dispatched 2,000 peacekeepers. But in recent months Moscow has taken a step back since building stronger ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey after suffering crippling sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.
And so on Tuesday, the Russian-agreed true was broken by the Azerbaijan army who launched a 24-hour string of lightning strikes against the severely outnumbered and outgunned breakaway forces. The area had been struggling with a humanitarian crisis due to Azerbaijan’s blockade of the “Lachin Corridor” - the road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia - piling on further pressure.
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