Armenia Warns ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Underway in Flashpoint Region

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 doubled overnight to 13,350, the government in Yerevan said Tuesday on its website. That amounts to more than 10% of the 120,000 Armenians that local officials have said live in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called for the Armenians to stay, saying their rights will be protected.

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 late Monday. At least 20 people were killed in the blast and 290 were in the hospital suffering from burn injuries, local officials said.

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

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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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 backs Aliyev’s demand, which Armenia has rejected.

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