Ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh amid fears of ‘ethnic cleansing’

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Thousands of ethnic Armenians have left their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region in the South Caucasus, following a military defeat by Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has warned that ethnic cleansing is “under way” in the region, which has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since a war in the 1990s.

The exodus comes after a lightning military operation by Azerbaijan last week saw it take full control of the region, which is internationally recognized as part of its territory but has a majority of some 120,000 ethnic Armenians. Azerbaijan has said it wants to re-integrate the ethnic Armenians as “equal citizens”.

However, many of the refugees who have crossed into Armenia from the enclave fear for their safety and do not trust the promises of the Azerbaijani government. They say they have lost everything and do not expect to ever return to their ancestral homeland.

Some of the refugees have witnessed atrocities and violence during the six-week conflict, which claimed more than 6,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands of people. An explosion at a petrol station in Karabakh’s main city, Stepanakert, is said to have badly injured more than 200 people on Monday.

The humanitarian crisis has sparked international concern and calls for a lasting peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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