Vasily Krestyaninov Associated Press Armenia, with a Christian majority, for its part celebrated on Sunday a day of prayer for Nagorno-Karabakh.
Daphné Rousseau – Agence France-Presse and Mariam Haroutiounian – Agence France-Presse Respectively at the Lachin Corridor and Yerevan
October 1, 2023
A UN mission arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday, for the first time in three decades, Azerbaijan announced as the majority of the local Armenian population left the enclave after its recapture by Baku.
A spokesperson for the Azerbaijani presidency told AFP that the UN mission arrived “Sunday morning” with the main task of assessing the humanitarian needs there.
< p>Earlier, the UN announced that it had received the green light to send a mission to the territory this weekend. On Saturday, France deplored that Azerbaijan only agreed to this mission after the exodus of Armenians.
The Armenian separatists, who controlled Nagorno-Karabakh for three decades, after the dislocation of the USSR, capitulated last week, facing a lightning offensive by Azerbaijan which left nearly 600 dead in its wake.
Since then, the enclave has been deserted by its inhabitants, with more than 100,000 refugees – of the 120,000 inhabitants officially living there – having fled to Armenia for fear of reprisals from Azerbaijan, raising fears of a major humanitarian crisis.
“People have to live”
Sunday, the border post between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, located on the Lachin corridor, the the only road that connects the two territories was deserted, noted an AFP journalist.
Sergei Astsarian, 40, was among the last to leave. “The population that has lived here for centuries should be able to live here, regardless of whether they are Armenians or other ethnicities. “It's not right to expel, by force or not,” he told AFP.
According to him, the Azerbaijani government must show concretely that the Armenian populations can remain safe in the enclave and not just give “verbal guarantees”.
The Azerbaijani presidency announced on Sunday that a migration service had started operating in Nagorno-Karabakh's main city, Khankendi (Stepanakert in Armenian) to register remaining residents and ensure “their sustainable reintegration” into Azerbaijani society.
The day before, former Nagorno-Karabakh rights ombudsman Artak Beglarian claimed that only “a few hundred civil servants, emergency workers and people with special needs” remained there.
In their flight, at least 170 people died in Monday's explosion at a fuel depot, which also left 349 injured, most of them suffering from serious burns.
More than 47,300 refugees are currently in Armenia in state-provided accommodation, according to Yerevan.
Day of prayer
Armenia, with a Christian majority, has for its Sunday celebrated a day of prayer for Nagorno-Karabakh. In Yerevan, Saint Sarkis Cathedral was, according to the faithful, unusually full on Sunday morning.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh “is just politics, not about religion: Azerbaijan is a dictatorship, has oil and gas and Europe doesn't need us,” he told the AFP Ararat Havseian, an Iranian-Armenian.
Sunday, Pope Francis called for “dialogue” between Azerbaijan and Armenia to put an end to “the humanitarian crisis” with the support of the international community.
The chaotic flow of refugees has revived accusations of “ethnic cleansing” and Yerevan has launched a new appeal to the International Court of Justice, demanding urgent measures to protect the enclave's residents.
Azerbaijan refutes these accusations and assures residents of the enclave that they are free to leave or stay, Hikmet Hajiyev, an advisor to the Azerbaijani president, told AFP on Saturday.
“We deliberately refrain from putting up Azerbaijani flags, we know that civilians remain and we know their fears,” said Hikmet Hajiyev.
Negotiations next week< /h2>
Talks between Azerbaijani officials and Armenian officials from the enclave are scheduled for Monday in Stepanakert.
Negotiations between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, are also expected next Thursday in Granada, Spain, under Western mediation, to resolve their historical differences.
The refugees' fears are being fueled, according to Yerevan, by a series of “illegal arrests”, although Azerbaijani authorities have pledged to allow rebels to leave if they surrender their weapons.
Several officials in the enclave have been detained, accused of “terrorism” and other crimes.
On Sunday, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General, Kamran Aliev, announced that he was investigating possible war crimes committed by 300 separatist leaders, whom he called to surrender to the authorities.