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Nagorno-Karabakh: Thousands flee to Armenia

Published September 26, 2023last updated September 27, 2023

Almost 20,000 people have left Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia in fear of Azerbaijani reprisals. Meanwhile, officials said at least 68 people were killed in a fuel depot explosion in the breakaway region. DW has the latest.

Refugees wait after crossing the border and arriving at a registration centre of the Armenian foreign affairs ministry, near the border town of Kornidzor, on September 25
The first groups of Nagorno-Karabakh refugees since Azerbaijan's lighting assault against the separatist region entered Armenia on SundayImage: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Yerevan confirms 19,000 refugees arrived from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia as of Tuesday
  • More than 60 people were killed in fuel depot explosion in Nagorno-Karabakh, as officials provided an updated death toll
  • Armenian and Azerbaijani envoys due to meet in Brussels for talks 
Skip next section 'Ethnic cleansing accusation an insult,' says Azerbaijan presidential advisor
September 27, 2023

'Ethnic cleansing accusation an insult,' says Azerbaijan presidential advisor

Azerbaijan's presidential foreign policy adviser on Tuesday called Armenian accusations of ethnic cleansing, "an insult to the people of Azerbaijan."  

In an exclusive interview with DW's Jack Parrock, President Ilham Aliyev's advisor, Hikmet Hajiyev, said that people leaving Nagorno-Karabakh "haven’t been forced" from their homes. 

Hajiyev, in Brussels for EU-hosted talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, said, "Azerbaijan has nothing to hide" but insisted there is, "no need for any kind of international observer mission because the realities on the ground are obvious."

When pressed on whether his country was becoming a geopolitical pawn, Hajiyev concluded, "Azerbaijan was always against any kind of geopolitical competition in our region."

Armenians leaving "in a free manner": Azerbaijan official

Skip next section Death toll in gas station blast jumps to 68, nearly 300 injured
September 27, 2023

Death toll in gas station blast jumps to 68, nearly 300 injured

The death toll in an explosion at a crowded gas station in the Nagorno-Karabakh region earlier Tuesday has jumped to 68, according to several news agencies citing regional officials. 

The number of injured has risen to roughly 290 people. One hundred people remain missing. The cause of the blast has yet to be determined. 

The government in Yerevan said that by Tuesday evening, 28,000 ethnic Armenians had fled across its border from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Skip next section EU calls for transparency, Azerbaijani vision for ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh
September 26, 2023

EU calls for transparency, Azerbaijani vision for ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh

EU diplomats hosting national security advisors from Azerbaijan and Armenia — as well as those of France and Germany — in Brussels Tuesday, urged Azerbaijan to present its plan for ensuring the protection and rights of ethnic Armenians in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijan last week recaptured the long-disputed enclave with a lightning offensive. Since then, more than 19,000 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, have fled to Armenia.

"The EU stressed the need for transparency and access for international humanitarian and human rights actors and for more detail on Baku's vision for Karabakh Armenians' future in Azerbaijan," read an EU statement.

Representatives said Tuesday's meeting "allowed for intense exchanges between participants on the relevance of a possible meeting of the [Azerbaijan and Armenia] leaders" at an upcoming October 5, European summit in Granada, Spain. 

Prior to the recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU had been involved in mediation aimed at securing a normalization of relations between the two countries.

Tuesday's EU statement went on to say that, "Concrete action and decisive compromise solutions are needed on all tracks of the normalization process."  

Skip next section HRW calls on Azerbaijan to admit international observers
September 26, 2023

HRW calls on Azerbaijan to admit international observers

The group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is demanding the government of Azerbaijan admit international observers to the now defeated breakaway ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

HRW Central Europe and Asia Director Hugh Williamson told DW Tuesday that the international community must pressure Azerbaijan.

"There's one very specific important thing the international community can do now. They can persuade Azerbaijan to allow an international human rights monitoring mission to be established in Nagorno-Karabakh, to monitor what is happening there, that the local ethnic Armenian population is protected."

Although 19,000 of the region's estimated 120,000 residents have already fled, Williamson voiced concern with the fate of those who have not yet fled: "Azerbaijan is an extremely authoritarian country and there's legitimate fears among the Armenian population in Nagorno Karabakh."

Asked if HRW would describe what is transpiring as ethnic cleansing, Williamson told DW: "It's not a phrase we're using at the moment. We're obviously very concerned about the pressure, the possible pressure ethnic Armenians are under to leave the territory."

Skip next section Azerbaijan scanning for 'war criminals' among refugees
September 26, 2023

Azerbaijan scanning for 'war criminals' among refugees

Azeri border guards on Tuesday were busy scanning the endless procession of individuals fleeing from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia in a hunt for "war criminals." 

More than 19,000 people have now taken the enclave's one exit route to safety. Amid warnings of possible ethnic cleansing, many of the region's ethnic Armenian population of 120,000 have decided to leave.

Many of those fleeing are women, children and the elderly, who are allowed to pass into Armenia without incident. Military aged males, however, are required to be photographed as Azeri soldiers search for what they call "war criminals."

"Azerbaijan intends to apply an amnesty to Armenian fighters who laid down their arms in Karabakh, but those who committed war crimes during the Karabakh wars must be handed over to us," an Azerbaijani government source told AFP. 

Skip next section Armenia dramatically increases official refugee tally
September 26, 2023

Armenia dramatically increases official refugee tally

The Armenian government on Tuesday afternoon, dramatically increased its tally of the number of refugees fleeing the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was taken back by Azeri forces in a one-day lightning offensive last week.

"At the moment, 19,000 forcibly displaced persons have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh," said Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Khachatryan in televised remarks. 

This morning the number of those who fled stood at 13,350.

Long lines of cars have been reported along the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

Skip next section 19,000 refugees enter Armenia — official
September 26, 2023

19,000 refugees enter Armenia — official

At least 19,000 people have crossed into Armenia from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenian deputy prime minister Tigran Khachatryan was cited by Russian news agency TASS as saying.

Khachatryan dated the figure to 1215 UTC on Tuesday. Hours earlier, a figure of 13,550 had been reported.

While Azerbaijani authorities insist they will ensure the rights and security of Nagorno-Karabakh's civilian population, ethnic Armenians have begun to flee due to fear of expulsion or reprisals after Baku retook the territory.

Skip next section US announces aid for Nagorno-Karabakh civilians
September 26, 2023

US announces aid for Nagorno-Karabakh civilians

Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) says that Washington will provide $11.5 million (€10.9 million) in humanitarian assistance to Armenian civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

She called the situation in the region "harrowing" and said it was "absolutely critical" that independent monitors and aid organizations be given access to it.

Thousands of ethnic Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh since Azerbaijan retook the territory last week.

Skip next section Azerbaijan offers to treat depot explosion victims
September 26, 2023

Azerbaijan offers to treat depot explosion victims

Azerbaijan says it could treat victims of an explosion at a fuel depot that killed at least 20 and injured hundreds.

Azerbaijani presidential adviser Hikmet Hajiyev was cited by media as saying that hospitals in several districts were prepared to take in a large number of patients.

Skip next section EU increases Nagorno-Karabakh aid to €5 million
September 26, 2023

EU increases Nagorno-Karabakh aid to €5 million

The European Commission has announced that the bloc will provide a total of €5 million ($5.3 million) in humanitarian aid for people affected by the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"We must be prepared to support the thousands who have decided to flee Nagorno-Karabakh, especially as the upcoming winter is likely to expose the refugees to additional challenges," EU Crisis Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said.

"The EU is drastically stepping up its humanitarian aid in the region to provide emergency relief to people in need, both within the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, and to people now displaced in Armenia," he said.

Last week, the Commission announced a first tranche of aid totaling €500,000.

Skip next section Kremlin: International observers in Nagorno-Karabakh only with Azerbaijan's approval
September 26, 2023

Kremlin: International observers in Nagorno-Karabakh only with Azerbaijan's approval

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says that any international observer mission to the Nagorno-Karabakh region can happen only with the agreement of Azerbaijan.

He made the comments after the United States called for international observers to monitor the situation in the territory, which was retaken by Baku last week.

Skip next section Turkey's Erdogan insists on Zangezur trade corridor through Armenia
September 26, 2023

Turkey's Erdogan insists on Zangezur trade corridor through Armenia

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says that a trade corridor between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran must be completed.

The Zangezur corridor aims to give Azerbaijan unimpeded access to its Nakhchivan exclave through Armenia. Erdogan met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in the exclave on Monday.

Erdogan said, speaking to reporters on his return flight from the exclave, that Iran would be open to allowing a trade corridor to pass through its territory if Yerevan were to refuse to open Zangezur.

Skip next section Hundreds of cars wait to enter Armenia
September 26, 2023

Hundreds of cars wait to enter Armenia

Hundreds of vehicles have been spotted on the road to Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporters said that the flow of vehicles was continuous, with families stopping only a few seconds at the last Azerbaijani checkpoint before entering Armenia along the Lachin Corridor.

Journalist Neil Hauer, who spoke from the Armenian village of Kornidzor near the border with Azerbaijan, told DW that refugees were traveling with "as much as they could strap to the top of their cars." 

He said that there was an "endless line" of cars waiting to enter Armenia. "You can see it continuing down the border down the Lachin Corridor."

Hauer said that Armenians leaving Nagorno-Karabakh told him that they believed this was "their only chance to possibly escape with their lives."

He said that the "vast majority" of Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population was seeking to leave the territory.

DW correspondent Maria Katamadze spoke to Nagorno-Karabakh refugees in Goris, Armenia, some 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the border wtih Azerbaijan.

Katamadze said that there was a traffic jam on the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and that some people arriving had apparent signs of malnutrition.

“We were on the road for two days, trying to reach the border." Anait, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh's main city, Stepanakert, told DW. "Some people stayed. But I don’t want to live with my enemy who is killing my people."

Skip next section US urges Baku to protect Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians
September 26, 2023

US urges Baku to protect Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians

Washington has called on Azerbaijan to protect Nagorno-Karabakh's civilian population as thousands flee to neighboring Armenia.

"We are calling on Azerbaijan to maintain the cease-fire and take concrete steps to protect the rights of civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh," US Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power told reporters in Yerevan.

Power said Azerbaijan's use of force was unacceptable and that the US was looking for an appropriate response.

She called on Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to ensure the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and fully reopen the Lachin Corridor that connects the territory to Armenia.

Power urged Baku to let in aid deliveries and an international monitoring mission.

Skip next section Moscow, Washington trade diplomatic blame
September 26, 2023

Moscow, Washington trade diplomatic blame

Russia and the United States have accused each other of destabilizing the southern Caucasus following Azerbaijan's takeover of the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"We urge Washington to refrain from extremely dangerous words and actions that lead to an artificial increase in anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia," Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, said in a post on Telegram.

The statement comes after US State Department spokesmen Mathew Miller told reporters that Moscow was not a reliable security partner.

"I do think that Russia has shown that it is not a security partner that can be relied on," the spokesman said.

Armenia has been a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) since 1992. At the end of a monthlong war in 2020, Moscow brokered a peace deal between Yerevan and Baku that saw Russian peacekeepers deployed to the Lachin Corridor that connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

Last week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan questioned Yerevan's security agreements with Moscow, calling them "ineffective."

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