Sept 29 2023
- Separatist country Nagorno-Karabakh is planning to reintegrate back into Azerbaijan following three decades of both regions accusing each other of targeted attacks.
- While the original population of Nagorno-Karabakh was nearly 120,000, about 84,770 have fled for Armenia.
- Nagorno-Karabakh, which was run by ethnic Armenian separatist authorities, is expected to dissolve its separatist government by the end of the year.
More than 70% of Nagorno-Karabakh's original population has fled to Armenia as the region's separatist government said it will dissolve itself and the unrecognized republic inside Azerbaijan will cease to exist by year’s end after a three-decade bid for independence.
By Friday morning 84,770 people had left Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Armenian officials, continuing a mass exodus from the region of ethnic Armenians that began Sunday. The region's population was around 120,000 before the exodus began.
The moves came after Azerbaijan carried out a lightning offensive last week to reclaim full control over the breakaway region and demanded that Armenian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh disarm and the separatist government disband.
20 DEAD IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH IN EXPLOSION AT GAS STATION CROWDED WITH RESIDENTS FLEEING TO ARMENIA
A decree signed by the region’s separatist President Samvel Shakhramanyan cited a Sept. 20 agreement to end the fighting under which Azerbaijan will allow the "free, voluntary and unhindered movement" of Nagorno-Karabakh residents to Armenia.
Some of those who fled the regional capital of Stepanakert said they had no hope for the future.
"I left Stepanakert having a slight hope that maybe something will change and I will come back soon, and these hopes are ruined after reading about the dissolution of our government," 21-year-old student Ani Abaghyan told The Associated Press on Thursday.
During the three decades of conflict in the region, Azerbaijan and separatists inside Nagorno-Karabakh, alongside allies in Armenia, have accused the other of targeted attacks, massacres and other atrocities, leaving people on both sides deeply suspicious and fearful.
While Azerbaijan has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region, most are now fleeing as they do not believe the Azerbaijani authorities will treat them fairly and humanely or guarantee them their language, religion and culture.
After six years of separatist fighting ended in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by Armenia. Then, during a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of the region in the south Caucasus Mountains along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed earlier.
Nagorno-Karabakh was internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.
THOUSANDS OF ARMENIANS FLEE NAGORNO-KARABAKH AS AZERBAIJAN RECLAIMS SEPARATIST REGION
In December, Azerbaijan blockaded the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging the Armenian government was using it for illicit weapons shipments to the region’s separatist forces.
Armenia alleged the closure denied basic food and fuel supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing that 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 Monday night, a fuel reservoir exploded at a gas station where people lined up for gas to fill their cars to flee to Armenia. At least 68 people were killed and nearly 300 injured, with over 100 others still considered missing after the blast, which exacerbated fuel shortages that were already dire after the blockade.
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On Thursday, Azerbaijani authorities charged Ruben Vardanyan, the former head of Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist government, with financing terrorism, creating illegal armed formations and illegally crossing a state border. A day earlier, he was detained by Azerbaijani border guards as he was trying to leave Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia along with tens of thousands of others.
Vardanyan, a billionaire who made his fortune in Russia, was placed in pretrial detention for at least four months and faces up to 14 years in prison. His arrest appeared to indicate Azerbaijan’s intent to quickly enforce its grip on the region.
Another top separatist figure, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former foreign minister and now presidential adviser David Babayan, said Thursday he will surrender to Azerbaijani authorities who ordered him to face a probe in Baku.