Armenia Says ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Happening in Karabakh

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told top US officials that “ethnic cleansing” is taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh as the exodus of people fleeing to his country from Azerbaijan accelerated.

(Bloomberg) — Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told top US officials that “ethnic cleansing” is taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh as the exodus of people fleeing to his country from Azerbaijan accelerated.

“The ethnic cleansing of Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is underway, that’s happening just now,” Pashinyan told US Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power and Acting Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim at talks Monday. “This situation and tensions in our region continue to grow, and now it is very important to take concrete measures to prevent further escalation and even bigger problems.”

The number of “forcibly displaced” people entering Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh exceeded 28,000, the government in Yerevan said Tuesday. That represents almost a quarter of the 120,000 Armenians that local officials have said live in Nagorno-Karabakh.

An explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city, Stepanakert, as people sought gas for vehicles to leave the region added to the misery. The Health Ministry of Armenia said the blast late Monday killed 68 people.    

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called for Armenians in the territory to stay, saying their rights will be protected and living standards improve. “Armenians in Karabakh are our citizens,” he said in a Sept. 20 address to the nation.

Power and Kim traveled to Armenia’s border region of Goris on Tuesday to meet officials coping with the flood of people leaving Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan took full control of the enclave in a military operation last week that effectively ended a bitter territorial conflict.

Power told reporters at the border crossing that Azerbaijan had created “excruciating” conditions for people in Nagorno-Karabakh by blocking the Lachin road linking the region to Armenia for nine months before the military attack. She said the US will provide $11.5 million in aid to assist people who’ve fled the region and called for “full and unimpeded” access for humanitarian organizations to people still living there. 

The European Union announced it will give Armenia 5 million euros in aid. It hosted talks Tuesday between Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, and Armenian National Security Secretary Armen Grigoryan ahead of a possible meeting between the president and the prime minister in Spain next week.

Azerbaijan opened its airspace to allow Armenian medics to fly to Nagorno-Karabakh to help treat people injured in the fuel blast, the Caliber news service reported. The Emergencies Ministry in Baku said an ambulance was sent to Stepanakert with medical equipment, local hospitals were put on standby to receive patients, and 15 fire engines were despatched to help fight the blaze.

The struggle for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has a largely Armenian population but is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has killed tens of thousands and turned more than 1 million into refugees. The region’s Armenian population declared independence as the Soviet Union collapsed and controlled the territory until Azerbaijan took part of Nagorno-Karabakh and reclaimed seven surrounding districts in a 2020 war with Armenia that ended when Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered a cease-fire.

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Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had a “thorough exchange of views” on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan in a phone call Tuesday, the Kremlin said in a statement. 

Officials from Baku and Armenian representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh have begun talks on integrating the territory into Azerbaijan as part of an agreement that ended last week’s fighting. Nagorno-Karabakh has pledged to “completely disarm” its defense forces and accept rule by Azerbaijan under the accord.

At their meeting in Yerevan, Power handed Pashinyan a letter from President Joe Biden that promised “strong” US support for a “durable regional peace that maintains your sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and democracy.”

That’s amid spiraling tensions between Armenia and its traditional ally Russia, which accused Pashinyan of “unacceptable attacks” after he criticized Moscow for failing to aid the country against Azerbaijan. “The Yerevan leadership is making a huge mistake by deliberately trying to demolish Armenia’s multifaceted and centuries-old ties with Russia and making the country hostage to the geopolitical games of the West,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said Monday. 

Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also met Monday as Baku presses for a “corridor” across southern Armenia to Azerbaijan’s exclave of Naxcivan. Erdogan reiterated his support Tuesday for Aliyev’s demand, which Armenia has rejected.

(Corrects death toll from explosion in fourth paragraph based on clarification from Armenian Health Ministry)

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