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KORNIDZOR, Armenia — The first convoys of civilians left Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia on Sunday following an Azerbaijani military offensive, amid growing warnings that a mass exodus could be on the cards.
Aid groups and the Armenian government said dozens of people were evacuated after Azerbaijan agreed to open the Lachin corridor that connects the breakaway territory to the country. According to the Ministry of Health, the Red Cross escorted 23 ambulances transporting “seriously and very seriously injured citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Meanwhile, other civilians say they begged Russian peacekeepers to take them across, after Karabakh’s Armenian leaders agreed to a surrender deal on Tuesday after just 24 hours of heavy fighting and shelling.
At a checkpoint near the village of Kornidzor, on the border with Azerbaijan, a steady stream of civilian cars now passes, many loaded with bags or filled with loose sheets and other goods.
At the border, POLITICO spoke with Artur, an Armenian from Karabakh blocked by the effective blockade of the region which has lasted for 9 months. While waiting for news from his loved ones after the launch of the Azerbaijani forces’ offensive, he received a call from his sister telling him that she had been evacuated with the Russian peacekeepers.
After an hour of anxious waiting, he found Rima, 27 years old. Sitting in the back of an SUV, she cried as her two children – ages three and one – unwrapped chocolate bars, a luxury they have been deprived of due to severe food and other shortages. essential products. “We have arrived,” she said.
Marut Vanyan, a local blogger, said many others were considering following suit. “Right now people are saying everyone is leaving. In Stepanakert there are no second opinions, everyone tries to find a few liters of gasoline and be ready at any moment, at any second, for when we leave,” said Vanyan, s ‘expressing after being able to recharge his phone at a Red Cross center. in Stepanakert, the de facto capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.
At an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) emergency aid point, an elderly man asked film crews and journalists why they only became interested once the situation had reached a critical point. “Where were you when we were in Karabakh?” Do you want to film? Here are my legs,” he said angrily, lifting the ends of his pants to reveal bandaged and bruised shins.
“This morning, an hour before we left, my husband called to tell me that an evacuation was being organized,” said Karina Kafyan, 32, one of the first to flee Nagorno-Karabakh. “The evacuation began in the villages of Berdadzor and Mets Shen, in the Shushi region. Anyone who has gasoline or gas can leave. Now the whole village is waiting for a bus, car or whatever to bring fuel so they can go to the village together. There are maybe 120 people there.
As night fell, a line of white medical vehicles, flanked by Red Cross vehicles displaying the large red cross, crossed the mountains towards the border town of Goris. At a hospital on the outskirts, a group of doctors, orderlies and police were there to greet the convoys, unloading stretchers and rushing into the building.
“We were able to facilitate the passage of 23 ambulances from the Armenian Ministry of Health carrying 23 patients injured during the recent hostilities,” Zara Amatuni, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told POLITICO outside. “After Goris, they will probably be taken to other specialized clinics across Armenia,” she said.
“We are now trying to have a clear assessment of the needs of people on the ground, but we see the need to strengthen our resources. As a neutral intermediary in contact with relevant decision-makers from all parties, we were able, during the week, to provide for some critical needs, including the provision of much-needed medical supplies to local hospitals, the transfer of 26 injured people from the battlefield to local hospitals, and we transferred the bodies of 30 killed people for dignified burials,” Amatuni said.
The Armenian prime minister warned earlier that, despite Russia’s assurances, “Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh still face the danger of ethnic cleansing.”
“If the needs of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians are not met (so that they can stay) in their homes and if effective mechanisms to protect against ethnic cleansing are not put in place, then it is increasingly “It is likely that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see expulsion from their country as the only way out,” predicted Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
At the same time, Pashinyan said Armenia would welcome its “brothers” from the enclave – within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders but held by the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh since the war that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.
The prime minister’s stark warning comes just two days after Pashinyan said he “assumed” Russia had taken responsibility for the population’s fate, after Armenian leaders in Karabakh agreed to a surrender deal brokered by Moscow after nearly 24 hours of fierce fighting with Azerbaijani forces. The embattled prime minister, however, said he believed there was real hope that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh could continue to live.
Shortly after Pashinyan’s speech, the official information center of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic issued a statement saying that “the families of those left homeless as a result of recent military actions and who expressed a desire to leave the republic will be transferred to Armenia accompanied by Russian peacekeepers. The authorities will provide information “on the relocation of other population groups in the near future,” according to the press release.
According to Azerbaijan’s foreign policy advisor Hikmet Hajiyev, the government will also “respect the individual choices of residents.”
“This once again shows that the allegations that Azerbaijan blocked crossing routes are not true,” Hajiyev told POLITICO. “They can use their private vehicles.”
Dozens of trucks carrying 150 tons of humanitarian aid, organized by the ICRC and the Russian Red Cross, gained rare access to the region via controlled Azerbaijani troops on Saturday.
Azerbaijan has said Karabakh Armenians can continue to live in the region if they lay down their arms and agree to be governed as part of the country.
However, in an interview with Reuters on Sunday, David Babayan, an advisor to Armenian leaders in Karabakh, said that “our people do not want to live within Azerbaijan. 99.9% (would prefer) to leave our historic lands.
Accusing the international community of abandoning the approximately 100,000 inhabitants of the besieged territory, Babayan said that “the fate of our poor people will go down in history as a disgrace and shame for the Armenian people and for the entire civilized world.” Those responsible for our fate will one day have to answer to God for their sins,” he said.
Pashinyan has accused citizens with close ties to Nagorno-Karabakh’s leaders of fomenting unrest in the country, with protesters clashing with police in the capital Yerevan as criticism of his handling of the crisis mounts.