Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Kornidzor Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Kornidzor 

Tens of thousands flee Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia says some 42,500 Armenians have now fled Nagorno-Karabakh, about a third of the population of the wartorn enclave that neighboring Azerbaijan recaptured last week. They are hungry and exhausted.

By Stefan J. Bos

Tens of thousands of mainly Christian Armenians have been fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh amid fears of more attacks by Azerbaijan. Authorities say that the Armenian community of about 120,000 people may leave the enclave.

Desperate people carry their last possessions tied to the roofs of their old cars, minibuses, or pickup trucks.

"The last days were…we barely survived," an elderly man said. "It was scary."

Many fled to Goris, a resort town near the border with Armenia. "I'll never come back. Never in this life," another man explained, looking desperate.  

The massive exodus began after Azerbaijan seized Nagorno-Karabakh in a brief offensive in which hundreds of people are said to have died.

Residential homes and even a school were destroyed or damaged. "They were bombing us hard. Children ran into the school," this witness says. "The Azerbaijan then attacked the school using a mortar gun. Our children were injured there."

But even after a declared ceasefire, dangers remain for the refugees.

Massive explosion

Smoke rises near Nagorno-Karabakh's regional capital known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan after an explosion at a fuel depot killing at least nearly 70 people.

Local authorities said more than 100 people remained missing, and nearly 300 were injured in Monday's blast as many had been queuing for fuel to flee the region.  

Hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of injured people. The tragedy underscored the broader suffering of people without enough food and medicines as Azerbaijan effectively blocked a key road to the enclave for months.  

In the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power announced $11.5 million in emergency U.S. aid for the region. She urged Azerbaijan "to maintain the ceasefire and take concrete steps to protect the rights of civilians" in Nagorno-Karabakh. "It is absolutely critical that independent monitors as well as humanitarian organizations get access to the people in Nagorno-Karabakh who still have dire needs," she told reporters.    

Power, earlier, handed Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan a letter of support from U.S. President Joe Biden.

Delegates of Armenia and Azerbaijan are meeting in European Union-backed peace talks. Both countries have fought two wars over Nagorno Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

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27 September 2023, 16:51