- At least 13,500 Armenians left Karabakh
- The United States says Azerbaijan must protect its rights
- The United States demands a humanitarian and surveillance mission
- Russia rebukes Armenia for flirting with the West
- Azerbaijan hints at a land corridor to Türkiye
NEAR KORNIZOR (Armenia) September 26 (Reuters) – Hungry and exhausted Armenian families crowded roads to flee their homes in the defeated separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, while the United States called on Azerbaijan to protect civilians and allow aid in.
Armenians in Karabakh – a part of Azerbaijan outside Baku’s control since the breakup of the Soviet Union – began fleeing this week after their forces were defeated in a lightning military operation by the Azerbaijani army.
At least 13,550 of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians who call Nagorno-Karabakh home arrived in Armenia on the first day of the exodus, with hundreds of cars and buses packed with belongings pouring down the mountain road out of Azerbaijan.
Some fled piled into open-top trucks, others on tractors. The grandmother of four, Naren Shakarian, arrived in her brother-in-law’s old car with 6 people on board. She said the 77-kilometre journey took 24 hours. They didn’t have any food.
“All the way the children were crying, they were hungry,” Shakarian told Reuters at the border, carrying her three-year-old granddaughter, who she said fell ill during the trip.
“We left to survive, not to survive.”
As Armenians rushed to leave the Karabakh capital, known as Stepanakert in Armenia and Khankendi in Azerbaijan, gas stations were filled with panic buying. Authorities there said at least 20 people were killed and 290 others injured in a massive fire when a fuel storage facility exploded on Monday.
In the Armenian capital, Yerevan, Samantha Power, head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), called on Azerbaijan to “maintain the ceasefire and take concrete steps to protect the rights of civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Power, who earlier handed Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan a message of support from US President Joe Biden, said that Azerbaijan’s use of force is unacceptable and that Washington is looking for an appropriate response.
She called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to fulfill his promise to protect the rights of the Armenian ethnicity, fully reopen the Lachin Corridor, which connects the region to Armenia, and allow the entry of aid and an international monitoring mission.
Aliyev pledged to ensure the safety of Armenians in Karabakh, but said that his iron fist had consigned the idea of the region’s independence to history.
“Nowhere to go”
Ethnic Armenians who managed to reach Armenia told harrowing accounts of fleeing death, war and hunger.
Some said they saw many dead civilians, one said loaded trucks. Others, some with young children, burst into tears as they described a tragic journey of escaping war, sleeping on the ground with hunger boiling in their bellies.
“We took what we could and left. We don’t know where to go. We have nowhere to go,” Petya Grigoryan, a 69-year-old driver, told Reuters in the border town of Goris on Sunday.
Reuters was unable to independently verify accounts of the military operation inside Karabakh. Azerbaijan said it targeted only Karabakh fighters.
USAID’s Power said the world will soon learn more about the seriousness of conditions in Karabakh and what people there went through that prompted them to leave.
Balance of power
The Azerbaijani victory changes the balance of power in the South Caucasus region, a patchwork of ethnicities criss-crossed by oil and gas pipelines where Russia, the United States, Turkey and Iran vie for influence.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Armenia has relied on a security partnership with Russia, while Azerbaijan has moved closer to Turkey, with which it shares linguistic and cultural ties.
Armenia has recently sought closer ties with the West and blames Russia, which had peacekeeping forces in Karabakh but is now preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, for its failure to protect Karabakh. Moscow denies blame, telling Pashinyan that he is making a big mistake by flirting with the United States.
On Monday, Aliyev hinted at the possibility of establishing a land corridor to Turkey via Armenia.
Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, asked Washington to stop fanning anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia.
(Reporting by Felix Light near Kornezor in Armenia, Jay Faulconbridge in Moscow and Lydia Kelly in Melbourne – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Jay Faulconbridge. Edited by Peter Graff
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