Ethnic Armenians are said to be leaving their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan asserts control of the region.
As many as 3,000 people have fled in recent days, with Armenian officials regularly warning that the minority population could face “ethnic cleansing” in the region.
According to Russia’s state-owned news service TASS, many are fleeing for Armenia proper with the help of Russian peacekeepers.
“Russian servicemen escorted motor convoys with Nagorno-Karabakh residents leaving for Armenia,” the defence ministry confirmed on September 24.
“In all, five buses and 41 private passenger cars were escorted by Russian peacekeepers. As many as 311 civilians, including 102 children, were evacuated.”
Authorities in the Armenian capital Yerevan put the number of refugees entering its territory at more than 2,900, with members of the de facto ethnic Armenian Government in Nagorno-Karabakh saying they expect thousands more to leave the region soon.
Russian state officials have confirmed that a number of Russian peacekeepers were killed in an attack in Nagorno-Karabakh. https://t.co/XtmhN0zmSd
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) September 21, 2023
Recognised internationally as belonging to the Republic of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the effective control of a breakaway ethnic Armenian Government that claims to better represent those living there.
Azerbaijan has been keen to assert its authority over the region, with both it and Armenia fighting a number of wars over the territory in the past, the last of which occurred in 2020.
This latest military operation appears likely to result in Azerbaijan gaining complete control over Nagorno-Karabakh for the first time, prompting concerns internationally of a possible ethnic cleansing.
Officials in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku have not taken kindly to the warnings, insisting that those living in Nagorno-Karabakh are citizens of Azerbaijan and will receive the same protections as the rest of the population.
Speaking to Brussels Signal, Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the European Union Vagif Sadigov insisted that his country had a right to assert control over its territory.
He also repeated claims that Armenia had stationed up to 10,000 of its troops in the region – something that Yerevan has repeatedly denied – before comparing the conflict to the war in Ukraine.
“The EU cannot tolerate even the distant presence of Russian forces in Ukraine saying that that could be a threat and they already are making precautions and rightfully so,” the ambassador said.
“We’re talking about the presence of the 10,000 heavily armed people on our territory … Why the hell should we tolerate that?”
Azerbaijan has since repeatedly called on armed troops and partisans in Armenia to lay down their weapons, promising that they will be given complete amnesty as long as they are not listed as potential war criminals from previous conflicts with the country.
“The membership of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the EU and in NATO is not envisaged. It is not on our agenda,” Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the EU, Vagif Sadigov, said during a visit to the Brussels Signal studios. https://t.co/9DDd8d4nSC
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) September 22, 2023