Wednesday July 24, 2024

Nearly half of Karabakh population flees Azerbaijan’s control

September 28, 2023

GORIS, Armenia: Armenia said on Wednesday that nearly half of Nagorno-Karabakh´s population has fled the enclave since Azerbaijan crushed the rebels´ decades-long fight for an independent state last week.

Yerevan´s attempts to absorb the sea of homeless and hungry ethnic Armenians come with officials still trying to identify the whereabouts of more than 100 people reported missing in a fuel depot blast Monday that claimed 68 lives.

The fireball erupted as refugees from the rebel enclave of Azerbaijan were stocking up on fuel for the long drive along the lone mountain road leading to Armenia. The Armenian government said more than 50,000 refugees had entered since Azerbaijan lifted its nine-month blockade on the enclave on Sunday.

Some of the refugees at the border told AFP that they were urged to leave by the separatist authorities. That represents nearly half of the region´s estimated 120,000 population and marks a fundamental shift in ethnic control of lands that had been disputed by mostly Christian Armenians and predominantly Muslim Azerbaijanis for the past century.

It also adds to the economic strains of Armenia -- a landlocked Caucasus country with few natural resources and emerging problems with longstanding diplomatic and military partnership with Russia.

Pensioner Alekhan Hambardzyumyan was one of hundreds of people trying to survive on the streets of Armenia´s mountaintop village of Goris after fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh this week. Goris has become the main destination point for the families fleeing their hometowns in beat up Soviet-era Ladas and farm vehicles.

The golden-toothed 72-year-old was spending nights in a shelled-out van and grieving the loss of his son in last week´s fighting. “I want to go to Yerevan,” Hambardzyumyan told AFP. “But I don´t know what the state can offer me.”Meanwhile, Azerbaijan said on Wednesday it had detained a former separatist leader of Nagorno-Karabakh while he was trying to enter Armenia in the wake of Baku´s offensive last week.

The state border service said Ruben Vardanyan, a businessman who headed the Armenian separatist government from November 2022 until February, had been handed to officials in Baku after being detained on the road to Armenia.It also released a photograph of Vardanyan, who was born in 1968, being flanked by two security officers, who were holding him by the arms.