The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has witnessed a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians following the capture of the area by Azerbaijani forces. More than 6,000 refugees have left the region since Sunday, and the number is expected to rise up to 120,000, according to the government of Armenia.
The refugees have faced hunger, sleeplessness, and shelling as they fled their homes in the face of the Azerbaijani advance. Many of them have lost everything they had and are now seeking shelter in Armenia, where they are welcomed by the authorities and local residents. Some of them have expressed their determination to never return to Nagorno-Karabakh, fearing ethnic cleansing by the Azerbaijani side.
The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians for three decades, erupted in late September and lasted for six weeks.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashanyan has called on Azerbaijan to provide “real living conditions” and “effective mechanisms of protection against ethnic cleansing” for the ethnic Armenians who wish to stay in Nagorno-Karabakh. He has also accused Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in the war, of pursuing a “genocidal policy” against the Armenian people.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has denied any intention of harming the ethnic Armenians and has said that he wants to re-integrate them as “equal citizens” of Azerbaijan. He has also claimed that Nagorno-Karabakh is an “inalienable part” of Azerbaijan and that his country has restored its territorial integrity by liberating the region from Armenian occupation.
The fate of Nagorno-Karabakh remains uncertain, as both sides accuse each other of violating the ceasefire and committing atrocities. Russia has deployed nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the situation and facilitate the return of refugees.
The international community has urged both sides to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and to engage in dialogue to find a lasting solution to the conflict.