| 22 June 2024, Saturday |

Thousands of Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh as Erdogan is set to visit Azerbaijan

Thousands of Armenians streamed out of Nagorno-Karabakh after the Azerbaijani military reclaimed full control of the breakaway region while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was set to visit Azerbaijan Monday in a show of support.

The Azerbaijani military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz last week, forcing the separatist authorities to agree to lay down weapons and start talks on Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan after three decades of separatist rule.

While Azerbaijan pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and restore supplies after a 10-month blockade, many local residents feared reprisals and said they were planning to leave for Armenia.

The Armenian government said that 4,850 Nagorno-Karabakh residents had fled to Armenia as of midday Monday.

Demonstrators demanding Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation continued blocking the capital’s main avenues Monday, engaging in occasional clashes with police that sought to disperse the protests.

Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.

After a Russia-brokered armistice, a contingent of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it.

In December, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging that the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illicit weapons shipments to the region’s separatist forces.

Armenia charged that the closure denied basic food and fuel supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh’s approximately 120,000 people. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing the region could receive supplies through the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam — a solution long resisted by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who called it a strategy for Azerbaijan to gain control of the region.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged support for Armenia and Armenians, saying that France will mobilize food and medical aid for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, and keep working toward a ‘’sustainable peace’’ in the region.

“France is very vigilant about Armenia’s territorial integrity because that is what is at stake,” Macron said in an interview with France-2 and TF1 television, accusing Russia of complicity with Azerbaijan and charging that Türkiye threatens Armenia’s borders.
Erdogan’s office said he will travel to Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave for talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss Türkiye-Azerbaijan ties and regional and global issues. Nakhchivan is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory but forms a slim border with Türkiye.

Meanwhile, senior Biden administration officials were to arrive in Armenia on Monday, a US official told Reuters.

The visit by US Agency for International Development chief Samantha Power and US State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim would be the first by senior US officials to Armenia since a ceasefire last week.

Power will meet with senior government officials and will “affirm US support for Armenia’s democracy, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity and commitment to address humanitarian needs stemming from Nagorno-Karabakh,” the official said.

Power will be the first USAID Administrator to go to Armenia, the official said, and will affirm the US partnership with the country and “express deep concern for the ethnic Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh and to discuss measures to address the humanitarian crisis there.”

“The United States is deeply concerned about reports on the humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for unimpeded access for international humanitarian organizations and commercial traffic,” the official said.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat