Armenia Prepares for Thousands of Karabakh Refugees Amid Azerbaijani Claimed Territory

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In a wake of surrender, thousands of ethnic Armenian civilians are anticipating evacuation from Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region now under Azerbaijani command. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia voiced readiness to welcome the displaced, in an announcement that hinted at provisions made for this unexpected intake.

Pashinyan was candid in admitting to plans accommodating tens of thousands of refugees, despite seeing “no direct threat” against Karabakh’s ethnic Armenians. This assurance is counter to the Karabakh authorities’ warning of a potential ethnic cleansing, which has led to widespread panic and fear among civilians.

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Contrarily, Azerbaijan proposed a vision of “peaceful reintegration” for the region. The ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh correspondingly conceded to a ceasefire with Azerbaijan on Wednesday, following a tense day of combat. Compliance to complete disbandment and disarmament was assured in accordance to the Russian-brokered truce terms.

Gegham Stepanyan, Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman portrayed a grim image of the capital Khankendi, or Stepanakert to the Armenians, overwhelmed with displaced, terrified, and hungry civilians.

Pashinyan, on national television, made a heartfelt plea for the estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians of the region to be permitted a dignified and safe life in their homes. He also revealed that Armenia had initiated preparations to shelter as many as 40,000 families in the eventuality of a refugee crisis.

At Khankendi airport alone, more than 10,000 hopefuls lined up for evacuation on Wednesday. The airport fortuitously sits adjacent to a Russian peacekeeping base.

Azerbaijan’s military faced accusations of violating the ceasefire from local forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite social media footage circulating of citizens fleeing in Khankendi amid the echo of gunshots, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry promptly dismissed any reports pointing to resumed hostilities as purely “false”.

Seeking resolution, ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives convened in Yevlakh, north of Khankendi, to discuss the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. The meeting, glimpsed upon through Azerbaijani state media photos showing the delegates seated with Russian peacekeepers, concluded with a commitment to send necessary supplies and medical assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh.

With isolation harshly imposed on Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan since December 2022, lifted spirits shall now be received by the approximately 5,000 individuals Russia claimed to have evacuated since the onslaught. The territory, being internationally recognized as an Azerbaijani region, will now be rightfully held under the Baku government.

Victory was declared by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who was quick to celebrate a reinstated sovereignty over the territory. However, ethnic Armenians continue to fear the utmost likelihood of ethnic cleansing and eventual forced migration from Karabakh.

Meanwhile, protests demanding Pashinyan’s resignation arose in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. The nation and the forces of Karabakh, weakened due to the crippling blockade and lack of international support, started experiencing notable territorial loss to Azerbaijan since the launch of its military operations.

As uncertainty shadows the region, a promising note is struck by the anticipated follow-up meeting to address Nagorno-Karabakh’s future. Despite the immediate problems looming large, the tone of negotiations remains “constructive and positive,” promising eventual respite in the conflict-marred region.