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Nagorno-Karabakh: Over 75% of ethnic Armenians have fled

Published September 29, 2023last updated September 29, 2023

Armenian officials say almost 93,000 people have now fled the mountainous Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Meanwhile, the EU is urging Azerbaijan to allow UN access to the region. DW has the latest.

Children play on the roadside as Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh sit in a long traffic jam of vehicles along the Lachin corridor
The United Nations refugee agency said it expected almost all of the enclave's population would fleeImage: SIRANUSH ADAMYAN/AFP/Getty Images
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

More than three-quarters of ethnic Armenians have now fled the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh for neighboring Armenia, officials say.

The rapid exodus comes after the region's separatist government said it would dissolve itself, and the unrecognized republic inside Azerbaijan would cease to exist by the end of this year

The region's population was around 120,000 before the exodus began, and the United Nations refugee agency has suggested almost all the population will flee.

In other news, Brussels has called for the UN to be allowed access to the mountainous breakaway region.

Here are the main headlines concerning Nagorno-Karabakh on Friday, September 29:

Skip next section Cyprus looking at ways to help Armenia
September 29, 2023

Cyprus looking at ways to help Armenia

EU member Cyprus said it was looking ways of helping Armenia, if needed.

"The Cypriot government maintains an open corridor for the Armenian people and in that framework is ready to offer immediate humanitarian aid," the Cypriot Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Cyprus has close ties with Armenia, and there is minority Armenian Christian representation in parliament.

"Cyprus is considering, among other things, ways to host a number of displaced Armenians in our country should that be deemed necessary," the foreign ministry said.

Skip next section Armenia approaches International Court of Justice
September 29, 2023

Armenia approaches International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) said Armenia had submitted a request on Thursday in order to "preserve and protect rights enshrined in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination."

Armenia's application called for Azerbaijan to withdraw all military and security personnel from civilian establishments in Nagorno-Karabakh which were occupied following the offensive on September 19.

The application also called for Azerbaijan to facilitate and not impede access of the UN and specialized agencies to ethnic Armenians in the region, and also to allow movement of humanitarian aid. 

Skip next section Azerbaijan invites UN mission for Nagorno-Karabakh visit
September 29, 2023

Azerbaijan invites UN mission for Nagorno-Karabakh visit

The foreign ministry of Azerbaijan said a UN mission has been invited to visit Nagorno-Karabakh "in the coming days."

The visit will take place amid an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region, who have fled since Azerbaijan's military launched an offensive.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed the mission would be taking place and would be led by a senior aid official this weekend.

"While there the team will seek to assess the situation on the ground and identify the humanitarian needs for both people remaining and the people that are on the move," Dujarric told reporters on Friday.

The move follows calls for Baku to allow international observers into Karabakh over concerns of possible human rights abuses.

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing, with estimates of nearly 93,000 refugees crossing into Armenia.

Skip next section DW's Maria Katamadze reports from Goris
September 29, 2023

DW's Maria Katamadze reports from Goris

DW correspondent Maria Katamadze in Goris
DW correspondent Maria Katamadze has been reporting from the Armenian border town of GorisImage: Sergey Kaspri

In Goris, some of the elderly refugees are getting medical help right on the benches. The pain of leaving their homeland and the tiring long ride from the enclave to the border took a toll on their health.

Arkady’s mother, a local of Martuni village, is among the most vulnerable, as she suffers from heart problems. Arkady shares the tragic story of his killed neighbour.

"A drone fell on his roof. It was all in front of our eyes," he told DW.

He said that while Russian peacekeepers were in Nagorno-Karabakh, he felt safe, but added that Russia should have backed Nagorno-Karabakhi Armenians. "They should have helped us. But the fact that we are alive, it’s thanks to them."

While most of the Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh, one woman told DW, that she knew some Armenians who preferred to stay in Nagorno-Karabakh. "We couldn’t stay there. How can you live with your enemy? But I know people who stayed; I am not going to lie. They said they didn’t want to leave their homes," she shrugged.

It’s uncertain how many people decided to stay in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Skip next section EU calls for UN to be allowed into Nagorno-Karabakh
September 29, 2023

EU calls for UN to be allowed into Nagorno-Karabakh

The European Union is urging Azerbaijan to let a United Nations mission visit the Nagorno-Karabakh region "in the next days."

The call comes after tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians fled.

"A mass exodus of Karabakh Armenians is currently taking place as a result of Azerbaijan's military operation of 19 and 20 September and of the previous months-long blockage of the Lachin corridor," an EU spokesman said in a statement. 

"People are fleeing their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh and are finding refuge in Armenia."

Brussels said Azerbaijan was responsible for securing the rights and security of Armenians on the territory. It added that there needed to be guarantees that people could stay in their homes and those displaced can return.

"It is essential that a UN mission can access the territory within the next days," Brussels said. 

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Skip next section Azerbaijan detains former Nagorno-Karabakh commander
September 29, 2023

Azerbaijan detains former Nagorno-Karabakh commander

The Azeri military has detained a former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist forces at a frontier checkpoint with Armenia, according to Russia's state-run TASS news agency. 

The agency cited a source close to the commander.

TASS said the commander, Levon Mnatsakanyan, led the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh's army from 2015 to 2018.

A decree signed by the region's separatist President Samvel Shakhramanyan cited a September 20 agreement said Azerbaijan had agreed to allow the "free, voluntary and unhindered movement" of Nagorno-Karabakh residents to Armenia.

Azerbaijan's state security service also said on Friday it had arrested another former military commander, Davit Manukyan. 

Manukyan was once the the first deputy commander of the Karabakh Armenian forces. Baku said he was wanted for "terrorist crimes."

Ruben Vardanyan, a former separatist head of Nagorno-Karabakh, is shown being detained by two Azerbaijani security officers
Ruben Vardanyan, a former separatist head of Nagorno-Karabakh, was detained by Azerbaijani security officers earlier this weekImage: State Border Service of Azerbaijan/Handout/AFP
Skip next section Kremlin says Russia and Azerbaijan to decide on peacekeeping
September 29, 2023

Kremlin says Russia and Azerbaijan to decide on peacekeeping

Moscow says the future of any "peacekeeping" mission in Nagorno-Karabakh will be determined by Russia and Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan last week took control of the territory from Armenian separatists.

"Since the mission is now on Azerbaijani territory, this will be a subject of our discussion with the Azerbaijani side," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

As part of a ceasefire deal it brokered between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which ended six weeks of brutal fighting for control of the territory, Russia sent nearly 2,000 forces to the mountainous region in 2020.

Skip next section UN agency readies for some 120,000 refugees to Armenia
September 29, 2023

UN agency readies for some 120,000 refugees to Armenia

Armenian officials say more than three-quarters of Nagorno Karabakh's original population has now fled to Armenia, with the region's separatist government saying it will dissolve itself by the end of the year.

By Friday afternoon, figures showed almost 93,000 people had left the enclave, which lies wholly within Azerbaijan. 

The total number of arrivals in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh could rise to some 120,000 — the population before the exodus started — a United Nations refugee agency official has said.

Authorities are asking for more outside support as they struggle to cope with the influx.

UNHCR representative in Armenia Kavita Belani told a press briefing by video link that tired and frightened people were gathering at registration centers in large numbers.

"This is a situation where they've lived under nine months of blockade," she said. "And when they come in, they're full of anxiety, they're scared, they're frightened and they want answers."

"We are ready to cope with up to 120,000 people. It's very hard to predict how many will come at this juncture," she added in response to a question about refugee numbers.

Almost a third of the refugees are children, another UNHCR official told the briefing.

"The major concern for us is that many of them have been separated from their family," said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF regional director.

'It's no surprise that Armenians fled,' researcher says

rc/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)