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Ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh

Published September 25, 2023last updated September 25, 2023

Fearing revenge from Azerbaijan, ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began leaving en masse. More than a thousand have already arrived in Armenia.

An elderly woman and children sit on bags of belongings as residents gather in central Stepanakert to leave Nagorno-Karabakh, a region inhabited by ethnic Armenians, September 25
More ethnic Armenians are leaving Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan's 'anti-terror operation'Image: David Ghahramanyan/REUTERS

Armenia on Monday prepared to receive more ethnic Armenians fleeing from neighboring Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian government said on Sunday that more than 1,000 refugees from the enclave had arrived, following Azerbaijan's military operation to take control of the disputed region populated mainly by ethnic Armenians.

Media outlets in Russia, Armenia's long-standing ally, reported early Monday that nearly 3,000 people crossed from Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia as of 5 a.m. local time (0100 GMT).

After decades of conflict, local Armenians fear expulsion or revenge from authoritarian Azerbaijan.

"Families who are homeless after the recent military operation and who want to leave the republic will be taken to Armenia," the Armenian leadership in Nagorno-Karabakh's capital Stepanakert said on Sunday.

Armenians feel 'abandoned' by West: DW reports

Last Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched a military operation to seize Nagorno-Karabakh. Within a day, the Armenian fighters in the region surrendered.

According to Armenian sources, more than 200 people died during the brief fighting and more than 400 others were injured. Azerbaijan promised to allow the wounded to leave the region and go to Armenia.

What is the situation on the ground?

As soon as the locals in Nagorno-Karabakh's capital city Stepanakert, also called Khankedi in Azerbaijan, heard the first gunfire last week, they rushed to their basements for shelter.

The town plunged into chaos, sowing panic and fear and leaving many people displaced and separated from their families.  

"Those two days were unbearable. We could hear explosions just next to our home. The drones were flying over our roofs. Our house was shaking," Nina, a local resident, recalled. In a voice message to DW's reporter Maria Katamadze, she explained that the situation in town was "catastrophic." 

"We almost have no electricity, no connection with the outside world. We don't even know what's happening with our relatives and friends."  

Meanwhile, the first refugees started arriving in their personal cars and buses escorted by Russian peacekeepers in Armenia on Sunday morning. Upon arrival, they were greeted by the Red Cross, where they received their first medical and psychological aid. 

A photo showing people in their car arriving in Armenia, taken by DW reporter Maria Katamdze
Some ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh fled to Armenia by carImage: Maria Katamadze/DW

Later in the evening, the refugees started arriving on buses at a hotel in nearby Goris. 

"I was crying all the time; we thought they would kill us. The missiles were passing over our heads. We are here, and that's the miracle," Sakuri, a mother of three, told DW. 

"It was so loud. Grad rockets, helicopters, and drones. I don't feel anything anymore. It is so bad. No, it's terrible," Angelina, a student, said. 

People photographed at a hotel lobby in Goris by DW reporter Maria Katamdze
Many stayed at a hotel in GorisImage: Maria Katamadze/DW

On Monday evening, local authorities in Karabakh said an explosion at a fuel depot left several dead and injured, without elaborating on what caused the blast.

Armenia urges UN to monitor human rights in Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia on Saturday called for the deployment of a UN mission in Nagorno-Karabakh to monitor human rights and ensure the safety of ethnic Armenians in the region.

"The international community should undertake all the efforts for an immediate deployment of an interagency mission by the UN to Nagorno-Karabakh with the aim to monitor and assess the human rights, humanitarian and security situation on the ground," Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said in a speech to UN delegates in New York.

Azerbaijan has said it is committed to protecting the rights of ethnic Armenians in the territory.

There were protests in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on Monday with demonstrators claiming that the government has failed to protect ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

"We feel terrible. The government... they don't think about our fellow citizens who are dying either from hunger or from being shot," Anait, one of the anti-government protestors in Armenia's capital Yerevan, said. 

Armenia calls for UN mission to Nagorno-Karabakh

Edited by: Farah Bahgat

Dmytro Hubenko Dmytro covers stories in DW's newsroom from around the world with a particular focus on Ukraine.