SThere are now 53,629 refugees in Armenia, according to new data released today by Yerevan, following the Azeri military operation that resulted in more than 400 deaths on both sides.
To make the situation worse, there are still more than 100 people missing since the explosion of a fuel depot invaded by the inhabitants on Monday night, in the midst of an exodus. The impact resulted in 68 deaths and 290 injuries.
Azerbaijan had opened the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia the day before, four days after the capitulation of the separatists and a ceasefire agreement that placed the region of around 120,000 inhabitants, mostly Armenians, under Baku’s control. .
The authorities committed to allowing rebels who surrendered their weapons to leave the territory. However, today they detained businessman Ruben Vardanyan, who led the enclave’s separatist government between November 2022 and February this year, when he was heading to Armenia.
On the other side of the border, chaos reigns. The first stage of the journey for most people, the city of Goris is unrecognizable: hundreds of vehicles fill the streets, helicopters fly over the area.
“There are thousands of refugees in Goris at the moment. Giving an exact number is impossible, they come and go,” said the vice-president of the city council, Irina Yolian, quoted by the French news agency AFP.
Many hungry refugees spent the night in their vehicles and say they have nowhere to sleep or anywhere to go in Armenia.
Alekhan Hambardzyumyan, 72, slept in his van. The retired man, with gold teeth and a faded coat in the colors of an American baseball team, mourns his son’s death in the last battles.
The offensive left 213 dead on the side of the Armenian separatists, and Baku reported losing 192 soldiers and one civilian in the military operation.
“I want to go to Yerevan, but I don’t know what the state has to offer me,” he explained.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian declared his willingness to welcome 40,000 refugees in his country of 2.9 million inhabitants.
However, to date, the Government has only managed to house 2850 people, which suggests a humanitarian crisis.
“Armenia has a lack of resources and will not be able to face the situation without external help”, maintained political analyst Boris Navasardyan, interviewed by AFP.
For Navasardyan, this situation “will have serious repercussions in the political arena”, with “widespread discontent” in the background.
The capital, Yerevan, has been the scene of a series of demonstrations in recent days against a prime minister accused of passivity towards Azerbaijan.
Nikol Pachinian also has to deal with Russia, which has an important military base in Armenia and sees the Caucasus as its territory, although its influence has declined since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
“It is impossible to completely ignore Russia’s interests in the Caucasus,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian state news agency TASS today.
On the ground, Armenian civil society is organizing itself without waiting for the State and, in the case of the small town of Goris, this is not its first exodus: it has already welcomed refugees during the previous Nagorno-Karabakh wars that opposed the two ancient Soviet republics, Christian-majority Armenia and Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, between 1988 and 1994 (30,000 deaths) and in autumn 2020 (6,500 deaths).
To those who decided to stay, Azeri President Ilham Aliev promised that the rights of Armenians in the enclave, annexed to Azerbaijan in 1921, would be “guaranteed”.
Following the appeal to protect civilians issued on Tuesday by the head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken, his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, urged Baku to allow international observers to enter the mountainous enclave.
“The children, women and men of Nagorno-Karabakh must be able to stay in their homes and in their homeland in peace and with dignity”, defended the German minister.
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