Senior US officials travel to Armenia as Karabakh’s Armenians start to leave

By Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Senior Biden administration officials arrived in Armenia on Monday, a day after ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began fleeing following Azerbaijan’s defeat of the breakaway region’s fighters in a conflict dating from the Soviet era.

The visit by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power and U.S. State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim is the first by senior U.S. officials to Armenia since the Karabakh Armenians were forced into a ceasefire last week.

Power will meet with senior Armenian government officials on the trip, first reported by Reuters, and will affirm the U.S. partnership with the country and “express deep concern for the ethnic Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh and to discuss measures to address the humanitarian crisis there,” a U.S. official said.

Power will be the first USAID Administrator to go to Armenia, the official added.

“The United States is deeply concerned about reports on the humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for unimpeded access for international humanitarian organizations and commercial traffic,” USAID said in the announcement of the trip.

The Armenians of Karabakh, a territory internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond its control, sued for peace last week after a 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.

The Armenians are not accepting Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region is integrated. The Nagorno-Karabakh leadership told Reuters the region’s 120,000 Armenians did not want to live as part of Azerbaijan for fear of persecution and ethnic cleansing.

The Armenian government said that as of 5 a.m. on Monday more than 2,900 people had crossed into the country from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia has prepared space for tens of thousands of Armenians from the region, including hotels near the border, though Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he does not want them to leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary.

Thousands of Karabakh Armenians have been left without food.

The Armenian authorities in the region said late on Saturday that about 150 tonnes of humanitarian cargo from Russia and another 65 tonnes of flour shipped by the International Committee of the Red Cross had arrived in the region.

Karabakh has been run by a breakaway administration since a war in the early 1990s amid the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In 2020, after decades of skirmishes, Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, won a 44-day Second Karabakh War, recapturing territory in and around Karabakh. That war ended with a Russian-brokered peace deal that Armenians accuse Moscow of failing to guarantee.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Donna Bryson, Michael Perry, Philippa Fletcher)