Ethnic cleansing fears as thousands flee Azerbaijan into Armenia

Ethnic cleansing fears as thousands flee Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia after Azerbaijan seized the disputed enclave

  • Armenia has accepted nearly 6,700 refugees since Sunday
  • Its prime minister said that ethnic Armenian refugees are scared of an ethnic cleansing at the hands of Azerbaijan
  • Azerbaijan launched a major military operation against a disputed enclave last week 

Thousands of people have fled from a disputed Azerbaijani territory to neighbouring Armenia amid fears that they may face ethnic cleansing. 

Nearly 6,700 people arrived in Armenia after leaving the Nagorno-Karabakh region, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, in the two days since the Armenian government began accepting refugees on Sunday. 

Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, said that the country has plans to look after up to 40,000 refugees, but said he expects up to 120,000 people to leave the region due to the ‘danger of ethnic cleansing’, raising serious concerns over whether Armenia will be able to cope with the influx of people. 

Refugees have been fleeing the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has been fought over for three decades, after Azbaijan’s government launched a lightning-fast military campaign on September 19 that forced separatists in the region to lay down their arms. 

The major military move saw at least 200 people die and more than 400 wounded after Azerbaijan began an ‘anti-terrorist’ campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian region that has been at the heart of conflict in the region for generations. 

Refugees have been fleeing the Nagorno-Karabakh region for fears they may be subjected to ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Azerbaijani government

Armenia says it has plans in place to hold up to 40,000 refugees from the region

Armenia said that it up to 120,000 refugees may come knocking at its doors

Hikmet Hajiyev, a political adviser to the president of Azerbaijan, told CNN last week that the ‘counterterrorism action’ was launched in response to the deaths of six people in a series of landmine explosions inside Azerbaijan. 

Two civilians and four police officers were reportedly killed. 

 ‘The Azerbaijani government has made a decision to start with an unlimited, but local counterterrorism actions and measures on the ground to neutralize finally the military installations of military infrastructure that illegally exists on our territory,’ Hajiyev said at the time. 

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, assured that the rights of ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh would be respected, proclaiming on Sunday: ‘Karabakh’s residents – regardless their ethnicity – are citizens of Azerbaijan.’

But the region’s de facto leaders have warned citizens not to trust Azerbaijan’s leaders. 

Azerbaijan launched the major military operation on September 19

Refugees, mostly ethnic Armenians, have been fleeing the region for days

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, assured that the rights of ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh would be respected

The ethnic Armenian leadership said it would remain in place until all those who wanted to leave Nagorno-Karabakh were able to go. 

They urged residents to hold back from crowding the roads out, but promised free fuel to all those who were leaving. 

Tensions have been rising for nearly a year, after Azerbaijan blocked off the only road between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia in December, preventing Armenian supplies from going through. 

The conflict has been on the radar of the rest of the world for months. 

Russian peacekeepers were deployed in 2020 to prevent tensions from escalating, though Russia has refused to help Armenia and has largely been supporting Azerbaijan’s military. 

EU and US officials have also been involved in mediation, with limited success. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, an ally of Russia, lauded Azerbaijan’s ‘historic success’ at a meeting with its president Ilham Aliyev in the country’s western exclave of Nakhichevan.

‘The window of opportunity has opened to settle the situation in the region. This opportunity must not be missed,’ Erdogan said.

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