Alain Jocard Agence France-Presse Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh find refuge in the Armenian border town of Goris.
Thibault Marchand – Agence France-Presse and Mariam Haroutiounian – Agence France-Presse respectively in Goris and Yerevan
The enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh was almost emptied of its Armenian inhabitants on Friday evening, the day after the announcement of the spectacular dissolution of the self-proclaimed separatist republic and despite calls from the Azerbaijan to stay.
The UN announced it was sending a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh this weekend to mainly assess humanitarian needs, even though the organization had not had access to this region “for around 30 years”.
“The government of Azerbaijan and the UN have agreed on a mission in the region. The mission will take place this weekend,” said UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.
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, according to a new report communicated by the police of the separatist forces. /p>
“The remains of 170 people have been found so far,” she said. They will be sent to Armenia for identification.
Many motorists had stopped at this station located on the outskirts of the “capital” Stepanakert, one of the few still in service.
The accident also left 349 people injured, most of them suffering from serious burns.
Samvel Hambardsioumian is one of them: taken into care in the Armenian border town of Goris, he is resting in a Red Cross tent. His face is partially burned and both hands are wrapped in thick bandages.
He had gone on foot to get gasoline when the blast from the explosion knocked him to the ground.
“There were nine people ahead of me in line. If they hadn’t been there, I would have been burned,” the 61-year-old man, father of nine children, told AFP. “No one knows exactly what happened, some say someone started a fire, others say a grenade was thrown.”
In total, almost 600 people died. to be deplored in the wake of Baku's victorious military offensive, which led the separatists to capitulate on September 20.
The fighting itself killed around 200 soldiers on each side.
Memories and burned books
The enclave on Thursday decreed the dissolution “of all government institutions […] on January 1, 2024,” marking the end of the existence of the self-proclaimed “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” more than 30 years ago.
In a few days, around 99,000 people, or more than 80% of the territory's 120,000 official inhabitants, left their homes, according to the latest count from Yerevan cited by the Russian agency Interfax.
The population fears reprisals: this predominantly Christian region, which seceded from predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan following the disintegration of the USSR, opposed Baku for more than three decades, notably during two wars. between 1988 and 1994 and in the fall of 2020.
Among the refugees met by AFP in Goris, all recount the terror of the arrival of enemy soldiers.
And most, in this ultramilitarized region where all men have experience of the army and combat, say they have burned their uniforms, military documents, and sometimes much more.
“Family photos, our memories, the history books of our heroes. There is no question that the Azerbaijanis will defile them,” said a young girl, Larissa.
“No one believes in the possibility of cohabitation of the two communities. Neither the Armenians nor the Azeris are prepared for this option,” said Bayram Balci, researcher at Sciences Po in France.
If this uninterrupted flow has revived fears of “ethnic cleansing”, he emphasizes that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh “left on their own”. “I find it much more worrying” than if they had been chased away, he adds, estimating that only “5 to 10,000 inhabitants will perhaps remain” there.
The fear of the inhabitants is fueled according to Yerevan by a series of “illegal arrests” within the columns of civilians, although the Azerbaijani authorities have committed to allowing rebels who surrender their weapons to leave.
Azerbaijan's security services announced on Friday the detention of an Armenian general, Davit Manoukian, accused of “terrorism” in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“When the government says it will treating Armenians well is completely wrong,” said lawyer Zhala Bayramova, daughter of an imprisoned opposition figure, while Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev once again pledged on Friday to guarantee their rights.
In an Armenia overwhelmed by exiles, anger now rumbles. Opponents of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, accused of passivity in the face of Baku's lightning victory, planned to organize a rally on Saturday after having muted their criticism in recent days.
Yerevan places the blame on Russia, a traditional ally supposed to guarantee full respect of the ceasefire since 2020 and which has not intervened.
Moscow must now discuss with Azerbaijan the future of its mission of peacekeeping, which has become obsolete.