Nagorno-Karabakh: Thousands of ethnic Armenians flee after the region’s defeat




CNN

Nona Poghosyan spent Monday morning walking around her family home in Nagorno-Karabakh “trying to figure out what to take, what’s the most important thing I can fit in my suitcase.”

Her nine-year-old twins had gone upstairs, deciding which of their belongings to leave behind. “They cry for every toy,” Poghosyan, program coordinator at the American University of Armenia in the region’s capital, Stepanakert, told CNN.

Poghosyan and his family are set to join thousands of people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan launched a crackdown and said it had taken back full control of the breakaway region, leaving the region A mass exodus of 120,000 ethnic Armenians has begun.

Armenia’s foreign ministry told CNN that more than 6,500 people had arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as of 5 p.m. local time (9 a.m.) Monday.

As many people tried to flee the enclave on Monday evening, local media reported a “very powerful” explosion at a gas station near Stepanakert, where people were trying to get fuel before heading to Armenia. were

“There was an explosion in a petrol warehouse,” Metaxe Hakubyan, a member of the Karabakh parliament, told Armenia’s state-run news agency, adding that “there will definitely be victims.”

The state-run news agency Arminpress reported later on Monday, citing a statement by Nagorno-Karabakh human rights defender Gigum Stepanyan, that hundreds of people were injured in the incident.

“Medical assistance is being provided to the wounded at the Republican Medical Center and Stepanakert Children’s Hospital with limited medical conditions, which are insufficient. According to Arminpress, Stepanyan said that the injured were airlifted to their lives. Evacuation is urgently needed to save.

Nona Poghosian

Poghosyan’s daughter, who is 9, says goodbye to some of her toys.

More than 200 people were killed and scores wounded in Azerbaijan’s brief but bloody offensive last week before Karabakh officials agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire in which they agreed to disband their armed forces. What did Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Baku had restored its sovereignty over the enclave “with an iron fist”.

The Karabakh presidency told Reuters that the majority of Karabakh Armenians do not want to live in Azerbaijan and will move to Armenia. Azerbaijan has said it will guarantee the rights of those living in the region, but Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and international experts have repeatedly warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing of Armenians in the enclave.

“Our people do not want to be part of Azerbaijan. Ninety-nine percent of people prefer to leave our historical lands,” David Babyan, an adviser to the president of the self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic, Samuel Shahramyan, told Reuters.

Poghosyan told CNN that she did not know of a single family planning to stay in Nagorno-Karabakh. If they say 99.9, it’s wrong. It’s 100%,” he said.

Aliyev can tell you many stories that look, look, there are many Armenian families living. But I know that nobody – not even the poorest families – are living.”

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Azerbaijan has long been clear about the choice facing the Karabakh Armenians. Those who choose to remain must accept Azerbaijani citizenship. Those who don’t leave should leave.

Anna Ohanian, a senior scholar in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN that there is no question that Azerbaijan will use force against those who seek to retain and reject rule from Baku. tried to.

“If the Armenian community doesn’t leave, but also doesn’t take an Azerbaijani passport, I think it’s basically suicide,” Ohanian said.

Karabakh Emergency Services told Armenian Press that more than 100 bodies have been recovered in the latest search and rescue operations following the Azerbaijani military operations.

Officials said that two children and an elderly couple were among the dead. CNN could not independently verify the claims.

Photos shared on social media show residents of the region’s capital, Stepanakert, packing their belongings into cars and vans and scrambling for gas. The area had been blockaded by Azerbaijani-backed activists for nine months, leading to severe shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

Irina Yulian, the deputy mayor of the Armenian town of Gores, told the Armenian Press on Monday that most of those fleeing Karabakh were women, children and the elderly. Gores is located near the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, near the Lachen Corridor – the only road that connects the enclave to Armenia.

According to Poghosyan, the road has been partially opened, to allow people to flee to Armenia.

Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

Refugees wait after crossing the border and arriving at the registration center of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, near the town of Kornidzor, on September 25, 2023.

Poghosyan told CNN she plans to leave on Tuesday with her husband, nine-year-old twins, parents and grandmother. Seven of them would have left soon, but were warned that traffic on the road meant many people had been trapped for hours, with thousands already trying to escape.

As she and her children began to sort out their belongings, her father joined the long line for fuel. “The government told us we could get five liters for free,” Poghosyan said. “But they say the line is so big, the traffic, maybe we’ll need more and it won’t be enough.”

She said her children were “terrified” by Steppenkert’s shooting, which began as they were walking home from school. Her husband managed to find her on the street and take her to a bomb shelter, where her family hid on Tuesday night.

After the initial shock, it became clear over the weekend, she said, when her children began to understand that they would have to say goodbye to their home. “I was amazed how they could… understand everything,” Poghosyan said.

“Today, they took their markers, and they went into their rooms, and they painted on their walls. They drew churches, crosses, some words, like ‘Artsakh, we love you.’ We will never forget you. We don’t want to lose you, our motherland.”

Nona Poghosian

The Poghosyan twins wrote farewell messages to Nagorno-Karabakh on their bedroom walls.

According to the Armenian Press, the Armenian government said it is providing housing to all those who do not have a place to live.

“I knew Artsakh was a conflict zone. I knew, because I’d been through four wars already. But who knew it would end so badly. Like, it’s the end, you know, Poghosian said.

They changed our flag, our government surrendered. Bus. I think no Armenians will be left here within two weeks at the most.

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