Over 75% of ethnic Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh amid Azerbaijan's victorytext_fields
In the aftermath of Azerbaijan's decisive victory over the ethnic Armenian breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an unexpectedly rapid mass exodus has occurred.
More than three-quarters of the region's 120,000-strong population is fleeing after losing the region to Azerbaijan.
This sudden displacement has brought a swift conclusion to one of the enduring and complex "frozen conflicts" in the former Soviet Union.
Cars, buses, and tractors filled with refugees crowded the highways during the fifth day of this exodus. The scale of the displacement has exceeded expectations, with nearly 93,000 people crossing into Armenia, according to Armenia's government, as reported by Russia's RIA news agency. UN refugee agency officials had earlier estimated that the total number of displaced individuals could reach 120,000, essentially matching the population of the enclave, which had broken away from Azerbaijan in the 1990s.
Armenia, which had supported the separatist region for decades but ultimately proved powerless to protect it, dispatched city buses from its capital, Yerevan, to assist in evacuating people. Volunteers met these purple buses at the border, providing essentials such as bread and water, reported Reuters.
Azerbaijan has stated its intention to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians who choose to remain, but it has declared the concept of a breakaway state to be eradicated permanently. The country also announced its willingness to allow a UN team to visit the region within days, a significant demand from Western nations.
The exodus, which unfolded rapidly, followed Azeri forces' swift recapture of Karabakh, a region they had blockaded since the beginning of the year. Residents reported suffering from hunger and illness during this effective siege.
The situation has presented significant challenges for humanitarian organisations.
Kavita Belani, UNHCR representative in Armenia, noted that many refugees arrive anxious, scared, and frightened, seeking answers. Almost one-third of the displaced individuals are children, including many who have been separated from their families.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been actively involved in transferring approximately 200 bodies from Karabakh, victims of a massive blast at a fuel depot during the exodus and recent fighting. The ICRC will focus on providing basic food and hygiene items to those who remain in the region.
Azerbaijan's victory marks a reversal of a humiliating defeat it suffered during the collapse of the Soviet Union. This conflict had previously displaced around a million Azeris as Karabakh separatists captured a significant portion of surrounding territory.
While Western nations have criticised Azerbaijan's rapid assault on Karabakh, they have called on the country to fulfil its promises to protect civilians. The European Union emphasised Azerbaijan's responsibility to ensure the rights and security of the Karabakh Armenians, including their right to live in their homes without intimidation and discrimination, as well as the right to return for displaced individuals.
The need for a UN mission to access the territory promptly has been demanded by the international community.