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Over half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population flees as the separatist government says it will dissolve

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) – The separatist authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh mentioned Thursday it can dissolve itself and the unrecognized republic will stop to exist by 12 months’s finish after a three-decade bid for independence, whereas Armenian officers mentioned over half of the area’s inhabitants has already fled.

The strikes got here after Azerbaijan carried out a lightning offensive final week to reclaim full management over the breakaway area and demanded that Armenian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh disarm and the separatist authorities disband.

A decree signed by the area’s separatist President Samvel Shakhramanyan cited a Sept. 20 settlement to finish the preventing beneath which Azerbaijan will enable the “free, voluntary and unhindered motion” of Nagorno-Karabakh residents to Armenia.

A few of those that fled the regional capital of Stepanakert mentioned that they had no hope for the longer term.

“I left Stepanakert having a slight hope that possibly one thing will change and I’ll come again quickly, and these hopes are ruined after studying concerning the dissolution of our authorities,” 21-year-old scholar Ani Abaghyan advised The Related Press.

Lawyer Anush Shahramanyan, 30, lamented that “we will by no means return to our houses with out having an impartial authorities in Artaskh,” referring to Nagorno-Karabakh by its Armenian identify.

The mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from the mountainous area inside Azerbaijan started Sunday. By Thursday night, over 78,300 individuals – greater than 65% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s inhabitants of 120,000 – had fled to Armenia, and the inflow continued unabated, in keeping with Armenian officers.

In three a long time of battle between the 2 international locations, every has accused the opposite of focused assaults, massacres and different atrocities, leaving individuals on either side deeply suspicious and petrified of the opposite.

Whereas Azerbaijan has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians within the area, they don’t belief the authorities to deal with them pretty and humanely or to grant them their language, faith and tradition.

After six years of separatist preventing resulted in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh got here beneath the management of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenia. Then, throughout a six-week conflict in 2020, Azerbaijan took again elements of the area within the south Caucasus Mountains together with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed earlier.

Nagorno-Karabakh was internationally acknowledged as a part of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.

In December, Azerbaijan blockaded the one street connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, alleging the Armenian authorities was utilizing it for illicit weapons shipments to the area’s separatist forces.

Armenia alleged the closure denied fundamental meals and gas provides to Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, arguing that the area may obtain provides by way of the Azerbaijani metropolis of Aghdam – an answer lengthy resisted by Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, who referred to as it a technique for Azerbaijan to realize management of the area.

Weakened by the blockade and with Armenia’s management distancing itself from the battle, ethnic Armenian forces within the area agreed to put down arms lower than 24 hours after Azerbaijan started its offensive final week. Talks have begun between officers within the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist authorities on “reintegrating” the area into Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani authorities have pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians within the area and restore provides, however tens of hundreds of Nagorno-Karabakh’s residents have fled to Armenia, fearing reprisals. The one street to Armenia rapidly full of automobiles, creating a large visitors jam on the winding mountain street.

It took Abaghyan, the coed, three days to get to Armenia from Stepanakert, a distance of about 50 miles (80 kilometers).

Shahramanyan spent 30 hours on the street and nonetheless had half the journey forward of her Thursday.

She mentioned that for her and her household, residing in Nagorno-Karabakh shall be unimaginable beneath Azerbaijan rule as a result of she believes their fundamental rights shall be violated.

“No energy on this planet is prepared to cease the atrocities of Azerbaijan. What can any Armenian hope for beneath the management of that genocidal state?” she mentioned.

Azerbaijan’s navy final week accused Nagorno-Karabakh residents of burning down their houses in Martakert, a city within the north of the area that till the final week’s offensive remained beneath the management of ethnic Armenian forces. Their claims couldn’t be independently verified. However that’s one thing that additionally occurred in 2020 when individuals fled territories taken over by Azerbaijan.

On Monday night time, a gas reservoir exploded at a gasoline station the place individuals lined up for gasoline to fill their automobiles to flee to Armenia. At the very least 68 individuals have been killed and almost 300 injured, with over 100 others nonetheless thought of lacking after the blast that exacerbated gas shortages that have been already dire after the blockade.

It is unclear what number of ethnic Armenians will stay within the area. Nagorno-Karabakh authorities beforehand predicted that a lot of the inhabitants will go away.

In Yerevan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan mentioned that “within the coming days, there shall be no Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

“It is a direct act of an ethnic cleaning and depriving individuals of their motherland, precisely what we have telling the worldwide group about,” he mentioned.

Azerbaijan’s International Ministry strongly rejected Pashinyan’s accusations, accusing him of “in search of to disrupt Azerbaijan’s efforts to offer humanitarian help and the reintegration course of” and undermining prospects for negotiating a peace treaty between the 2 international locations.

“Pashinyan is aware of properly sufficient that the present departure of Armenians from Azerbaijan’s Karabakh area is their private and particular person choice and has nothing to do with pressured relocation,” the ministry mentioned.

It urged the Armenian inhabitants of the area “to not go away their locations of residence and grow to be a part of the multinational Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijani authorities mentioned they have been sending 30 buses to Stepanakert on the request of “the Armenian residents” for many who haven’t got automobiles however wish to go to Armenia.

Armenia has arrange two principal facilities within the cities of Goris and Vayk to register and assess the wants of these fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh. The federal government is providing lodging to anybody who does not have a spot to remain, though solely about 14,000 of the 70,500 individuals who have crossed into the nation – beneath 20% – utilized for it.

“The lodging urged by the federal government is generally within the border villages, the place individuals face severe safety points as a result of periodic shootings by Azerbaijan. In addition to, discovering a job is tough,” mentioned Tatevik Khachatrian, who arrived Thursday. She mentioned she and her household will stick with family members in Yerevan earlier than attempting to lease an condo.

On Thursday, Azerbaijani authorities charged Ruben Vardanyan, the previous head of Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist authorities, with financing terrorism, creating unlawful armed formations and illegally crossing a state border. A day earlier, he was detained by Azerbaijani border guards as he was attempting to depart Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia together with tens of hundreds of others.

Vardanyan, a billionaire who made his fortune in Russia, was positioned in pretrial detention for a minimum of 4 months and faces as much as 14 years in jail. His arrest appeared to point Azerbaijan’s intent to rapidly implement its grip on the area.

One other prime separatist determine, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former international minister and now presidential adviser David Babayan, mentioned Thursday he’ll give up to Azerbaijani authorities who ordered him to face a probe in Baku.

“My failure to seem, or worse, my escape, will trigger severe hurt to our long-suffering individuals, to many individuals, and I, as an sincere individual, laborious employee, patriot and a Christian, can’t enable this,” Babayan mentioned.

Related Press writers Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, and Aida Sultanova in London contributed.

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