'Nightmare' Exodus Begins Amid Fears of Ethnic Cleansing

Thousands of ethnic Armenians leave homes in disputed region now held by Azerbaijan
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 25, 2023 6:35 AM CDT
Mass Exodus Begins Amid Fears of Ethnic Cleansing
An ethnic Armenian boy from Nagorno-Karabakh looks on from a vehicle upon arrival in Armenia on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.   (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov)

The Azerbaijan military offensive was quick and decisive. Now comes the mass migration amid fears of ethnic cleansing. Thousands of ethnic Armenians are leaving their longtime homes in a disputed region between their native country and Azerbaijan, after the Azerbaijan military easily reclaimed control in a 24-hour blitz, reports the BBC. The AP says about 5,000 ethnic Armenians have so far streamed across the border back into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, but that number is expected to grow exponentially. An estimated 120,000 lived there, and a top official with the de facto ethnic Armenian government tells Reuters that "99%" want to leave rather than live under Azerbaijan control.

"The past two days were the most horrific in my life," 23-year-old Meline Hakobyan, a law student who left her village in Nagorno-Karabakh, tells the New York Times. "My wish is that the feeling we have now, nobody goes through it." Another evacuee tells the AP that her village was heavily shelled and almost completely evacuated—a "nightmare." Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought over Nagorno-Karabakh, roughly the size of Rhode Island, at least three times since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia has generally sided with Armenia and Turkey with Azerbaijan, and those alliances help explain why Azerbaijan was so easily able to take control in this latest offensive: Russia now needs Turkey as a trade partner because of its Ukraine war, notes the Times.

"The fate of our poor people will go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilized world," says the ethnic Armenian official who spoke to Reuters. Armenia now must figure out where the influx of perhaps tens of thousands of new people will live. "The government will welcome our sisters and brothers from Nagorno-Karabakh in the Republic of Armenia with every care," said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in a national address Sunday. But Pashinyan himself is the subject of much criticism at home, with demonstrators accusing him of caving too quickly in the long-running territorial dispute. (Read more Nagorno-Karabakh stories.)

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