Alain Jocard Agence France-Presse In the town closest to Goris, hundreds of refugees are waiting to be offered accommodation on the central place, in the middle of their luggage.
Karen Minassian – Agence France-Presse and Armine Gevorgian – Agence France-Presse Respectively in Kornidzor and in Yerevan
September 30, 2023
The separatist republic of Nagorno-Karabakh was almost entirely deserted by its inhabitants on Saturday after the lightning victory in Baku, with more than 100,000 refugees having fled to Armenia for fear of reprisals from Azerbaijan.
While their reception is being organized with difficulty and the UN is expected in the enclave this weekend, the opponents of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, accused of passivity and abandoned by Moscow, plan to make their voices heard again in the streets.
“100,417 people” have now “entered Armenia” since the September 20 capitulation, according to Nazeli Baghdassarian, the prime minister's spokesperson, or more than 80% of the 120,000 Armenians who officially lived in the enclave before the Azerbaijani offensive.
“There are a few hundred civil servants, emergency workers and people with special needs left, who are also preparing to leave,” the former mediator wrote on X (ex-twitter) of Nagorno-Karabakh rights, Artak Beglarian, specifying that this information is “not official”.
At the Kornidzor crossing point, an AFP journalist saw only a few ambulances arrive, with border guards saying they were still expecting the last buses carrying civilians.
In the town closest to Goris, hundreds of refugees are waiting to be offered accommodation in the central square, among their luggage.
The UN announced that it had received the green light to send a mission to the territory this weekend to mainly assess humanitarian needs, while the organization has not had access to this region “since around 30 years.”
France deplored its “limited” and late authorization granted by Azerbaijan, arriving after the flight of the population “under the complicit gaze of Russia.”
The Quai d'Orsay stressed on Saturday that Paris was reaffirming “its commitment to supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Armenia where these populations have found refuge.”
In total, nearly 600 deaths have been reported in the wake of Baku's victorious military offensive. The fighting itself killed around 200 soldiers on each side.
The enclave on Thursday decreed the spectacular dissolution “of all government institutions […] as of January 1, 2024,” a historic announcement signing the end of the existence of the self-proclaimed “Republic of [Upper] Karabakh” more than three decades ago.
Its panicked residents left their homes for fear of reprisals by burning their personal belongings before joining the column of refugees of all ages.
Fear of arrests
This predominantly Christian region, which seceded from predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan upon the disintegration of the USSR, opposed Baku with the support of Armenia for more than three decades, notably during of two wars between 1988 and 1994 and in the fall of 2020.
It has been massively militarized and all the men there have had combat experience.
This fear is fueled, according to Yerevan, by a series of “illegal arrests”, although the Azerbaijani authorities have committed to allowing the departure of rebels who surrender their weapons.
Several leaders of the enclave have been placed in detention, accused of “terrorism” and other crimes, like the former head of foreign affairs David Babaian, arrested Friday.
Between Kornidzor and Goris, near a gas station where he loaded his car with gas bottles on Friday, former soldier Garri Harioumian, 38, says he deleted photos of his “dead friends” on the front from his phone .
In their flight on the only mountainous road linking the territory to Armenia, at least 170 people also died in the explosion on Monday of a fuel depot. The accident also left 349 people injured, most of them suffering from serious burns.
Demonstration in Armenia
Samvel Hambardsioumian, taken into care in Goris, is one of them: his face is partially burned and his two hands are surrounded by 'thick bandages.
“There were nine people in front of me in line. If they hadn't been there, I would have been burned,” the 61-year-old told AFP.
The chaotic flow has revived accusations of “ethnic cleansing”, Yerevan having launched a new appeal to the International Court of Justice demanding urgent measures to protect the inhabitants of the enclave.
And the opponents of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, deemed responsible for the debacle, have planned to organize a rally on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. after having muted their criticism in recent days for welcoming the refugees.
Yerevan places the blame on Russia, a traditional ally supposed to guarantee full respect since 2020 ceasefire and which did not intervene.