Dozens of Karabakh children reach safety in Armenia in back of a truck

By Felix Light

KORNIDZOR, Armenia (Reuters) – Nearly 50 people, mostly children, scrambled from the back of a large truck in this Armenian border village on Tuesday after two days on the road, part of a mass exodus of Armenians fleeing Azerbaijani forces in their native region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“It rained all night, there was no shelter. The nice driver took some of the children into his cabin to give at least some of them shelter,” said Maktar Talakyan, 54, who was travelling with her daughter Anna and her three grandchildren.

Anna’s husband, a demobilised soldier who had fought for the now defeated separatist forces of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, remains in Karabakh, Talakyan said.

The 48 people and their driver were from the village of Aterk, some 170 km (105 miles) away in Karabakh, the region of Azerbaijan populated mainly by ethnic Armenians which Baku’s forces retook last week in a lightning offensive that has prompted thousands to flee, provoking a major humanitarian crisis for Armenia.

At least one of the children had Down’s syndrome and others seemed to be have disabilities.

Like several other Armenians Reuters has spoken to in the past few days, Talakyan’s family members have become refugees for the second time in just three years, having had to flee an earlier Azerbaijani offensive in 2020 when Baku also retook some territory in Karabakh.

Talakyan said her group, which also included some women and about half a dozen elderly men, had begun their journey last week, travelling to the capital of Karabakh, known to Armenians as Stepanakert and to Azerbaijanis as Khankendi.

“There was no bombing, we just decided to get out,” she said, as the villagers waited by the roadside near a reception centre run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

They lived in a hotel basement for a week, as fighting raged between Azerbaijani and separatist Karabakh forces, but were able to leave Stepanakert two days ago, when the Lachin corridor linking their region to Armenia reopened.

Theirs was one of many such large trucks rolling into Kornidzor all through Tuesday.

Talakyan said Azerbaijanis had taunted them as they fled, saying ‘you couldn’t save Artsakh, you’re alone, helpless’. Reuters could not independently verify her account.

(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Ros Russell)