Thousands of Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan’s army regained full control of the breakaway region, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Azerbaijan on Monday in a show of support for his ally.
Azerbaijan’s military routed Armenian forces in a 24-hour bombardment last week, forcing separatist authorities to agree to lay down their arms and begin talks on the “reintegration” of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan after three decades of separatist rule.
A second round of talks between Azerbaijani officials and separatist representatives began in Khojaly on Tuesday after the opening meeting last week.
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While Azerbaijan pledged to respect the rights of Armenians in the region and restore supplies after a 10-month blockade, many residents of the region feared reprisals and said they planned to leave for Armenia.
The Armenian government said 4,850 Nagorno-Karabakh residents had fled to Armenia as of midday Monday.
“It was a nightmare. There are no words to describe. The village was heavily bombed. Almost nobody is left in the village,” said one of the displaced who spoke to The Associated Press in the Armenian town of Kornidzor and declined to be named for security reasons.
Moscow said Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh were helping the evacuation.
Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said on Monday that two of its soldiers were killed a day earlier when a military truck hit a land mine. He did not name the area where the explosion occurred.
In an address to the nation on Sunday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his government was working with international partners to protect the rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“If these efforts do not yield concrete results, the government will welcome our sisters and brothers from Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia with all care,” he said.
Protesters demanding Pashinyan’s resignation continued to block the Armenian capital’s main avenues on Monday, occasionally clashing with police.
Russian peacekeepers have been in the region since 2020, when a Russian-brokered ceasefire ended a six-week war between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan and many others in Armenia accused the peacekeepers of failing to prevent hostilities and protect the Armenian population. Moscow rejected the accusations, arguing that its forces had no legal grounds to intervene, particularly after Pashinyan recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.
“We are categorically opposed to attempts to shift the blame to the Russian side, especially to the Russian peacekeepers, who showed real heroism,” Peskov said in a teleconference with reporters.
He demurred when asked whether Russian peacekeepers would remain in the area, saying “no one can really say anything at this point.”
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Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian army, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During the 2020 war, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territories that had been claimed by Armenian forces during the previous conflict.
In December, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade on the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, claiming the Armenian government was using the road for mineral extraction and illegal arms shipments to separatist forces in the region.
Armenia charged that the shutdown denied basic supplies of food and fuel to Nagorno-Karabakh’s roughly 120,000 residents. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing that the region could receive supplies through the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam – a solution long resisted by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who called it a strategy for Azerbaijan to gain control of area.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged support to Armenia and Armenians, saying France would mobilize food and medical aid for the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and continue to work for a “sustainable peace” in the region.
France, which has a large Armenian diaspora, has played a mediating role in Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. A few hundred people demonstrated outside the French Foreign Ministry over the weekend, demanding sanctions against Azerbaijan and accusing Paris of not doing enough to protect Armenian interests in the region.
“France is very vigilant about the territorial integrity of Armenia because that is what is at stake,” Macron said in an interview on France-2 and TF1 television, accusing Russia of complicity with Azerbaijan and accusing Turkey of threatening Armenia’s borders .
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Russia has been Armenia’s main ally and sponsor and has a military base there, but has also sought to maintain friendly ties with Azerbaijan. But Moscow’s influence in the region has waned rapidly amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, while Turkey’s influence, Azerbaijan’s top ally, has grown.
Erdogan arrived in Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan enclave on Monday for talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss Turkey-Azerbaijan ties and regional and global issues. Nakhchivan is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by the territory of Armenia, but forms a thin border with Turkey.
During his one-day trip to the region, Erdogan will also attend the inauguration of a natural gas pipeline and a modernized military base, his office added in a statement.
Asked about Erdogan’s visit, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, expressed hope that it would “contribute to regional security and help normalize life in Karabakh.”
Meanwhile, the head of the US Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, visited Armenia on Monday to “reaffirm US support for Armenia’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and democracy and to help address humanitarian needs arising from the recent violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. ” her office said in a statement. She was joined by US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim.
“The United States is deeply concerned by reports of humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for unfettered access by international humanitarian organizations and commercial traffic,” USAID said.