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Armenians began fleeing the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday, which Azerbaijan began to take control of after a brief but deadly military assault defeated the region’s separatist leadership.
There are 120,000 Armenians in the fiercely independent South Caucasus, who fear they will be completely annexed by their historic enemy Azerbaijan, so the flow of refugees is expected to increase.
At least 200 people were killed and more than 400 injured in a 24-hour attack in Azerbaijan last week, according to officials. The enclave is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and has been effectively controlled by Armenia or local Armenian leaders since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After the latest attack, Nagorno-Karabakh separatist forces quickly agreed to a ceasefire, agreeing to disband, hand over weapons to their long-time rivals and start talks in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlach.
Azerbaijani official and presidential adviser Hikmet Hajiyev told the Financial Times after last week’s action that Baku planned to fully absorb and integrate Nagorno-Karabakh and not grant it special status within Azerbaijan autonomous status and grant citizenship to its residents.
He also said Baku was envisioning a “general amnesty” for all residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, where men make up the majority, who served with separatist forces or the Armenian army. But he said this would not extend to “criminals, who have…”. . . Committed crimes against humanity and war crimes against Azerbaijani civilians. That’s a separate story. “
But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an address to the nation that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh saw “fleeing their homeland as a way to save their lives and their identity” in the face of what he claimed was Azerbaijan’s intentions. The only way”. Carry out ethnic cleansing.
According to local website CivilNet, citing Armenian authorities, a total of 377 refugees had arrived in southern Armenia as of 6 pm local time on Sunday. The leader of Nagorno-Karabakh said anyone wanting to leave the enclave for Armenia would be accompanied by Russian peacekeepers.
Russia has historically been the largest supporter of the Armenian region, stationing more than 2,000 peacekeepers in the region under a 2020 agreement brokered by President Vladimir Putin.
But after Pashinyan came to power in the 2018 “Velvet” revolution, relations between Yerevan and Moscow continued to deteriorate, and Russia failed to provide aid to Armenia during the war.
Russian peacekeepers did not intervene during last week’s attack in Azerbaijan. Moscow also responded with restraint after the attack, in which five peacekeepers were accidentally killed by Azerbaijani forces, prompting President Ilham Aliyev to apologize to Putin.
The Kremlin instead blames Armenia’s plight on Pashinyan’s attempts to broker a separate peace with the help of the United States and the European Union, and says Azerbaijan has the right to conduct military operations on its own territory.
“The security groups and allies on which we have long relied have set a goal that shows our vulnerability and makes it impossible for the Armenian people to have an independent state,” Pashinyan said in his speech, without naming Russia directly.