After Azerbaijan recaptured the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict region in the South Caucasus, almost 85,000 people have sought refuge in Armenia. Government spokeswoman Naseli Bagdassarian said in the Armenian capital Yerevan that these were people who had been forced to leave their homeland. According to official, unverifiable information, 120,000 Karabakh Armenians previously lived in the region. The authoritarian-ruled Azerbaijan reconquered the region, which had been fought over for decades, in a military offensive last week.

The leadership of the internationally unrecognized Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) then capitulated and this week also sealed its self-dissolution on January 1, 2024. The Azerbaijani government and Russia, which is considered Armenia’s protecting power, had declared that there was no reason to flee. However, Karabakh Armenians fear persecution and violence from Azerbaijan.

In Yerevan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused the neighboring country of “ethnic cleansing” at a government meeting on Thursday evening. “The analysis of the situation shows that in the coming days there will be no more Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.” In the past there had been conflicts between the Christian Karabakh Armenians and the Muslim Azerbaijanis.

At least 200 people killed in fighting

According to the Armenian government, a humanitarian center for the refugees has been set up near Nagorno-Karabakh. The government spokeswoman said the people received accommodation. Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights commissioner, Gegam Stepanyan, said at least 200 people were killed and around 400 injured in the fighting. The Azerbaijani side also reported losses in its own ranks.

The region has been disputed for decades between the feuding ex-Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia. In the 1990s, Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies on Azerbaijani territory but is predominantly inhabited by Armenians, was able to break away from Baku in a bloody civil war with the help of Yerevan. Azerbaijan, which is militarily armed thanks to oil and gas revenues, managed to recapture large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. A ceasefire brokered by Russia proved fragile.

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