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Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh: “We left so we would stay alive, not to live”

The Armenian government claims that more than 28,000 of Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents have fled to Armenia.

Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh began to flee their homes en masse following the Azerbaijani military operation. At least 200 ethnic Armenians and dozens of Azerbaijani soldiers were killed because of hostilities. Armenia and Azerbaijan concluded a ceasefire agreement under which the Armenian army laid down its weapons.

On Tuesday, hundreds of cars and buses carrying people and their belongings travelled to Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Everyone is leaving in whatever one can. Some Armenians fled by jumping into the back of open-top lorries, others on tractors. Narine Shakaryan, the grandmother of four children, arrived in her son-in-law’s car with six people in it, Reuters reported.

Narine said the 77-kilometre journey took 24 hours and they had not had a chance to eat the whole time. At the border, Ms Shakaryan told Reuters that she was carrying her three-year-old granddaughter, who she said had fallen ill during the jorney:

“The whole way the children were crying, they were hungry. We left so we would stay alive, not to live.”

On the way out of the Karabakh capital, known in Armenia as Stepanakert and in Azerbaijan as Khankendi, petrol stations were full.

The Karabakh Human Rights Ombudsman said 68 people had been killed, 105 others were missing and about 300 injured in Monday’s explosion and fire at a fuel depot. The 68 people are now in medical centres in Armenia. Authorities have not explained the cause of the explosion.

USAID head Samantha Power, in the Armenian capital Yerevan, urged Azerbaijan “to maintain the ceasefire and take concrete steps to protect the rights of civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh”.

Earlier, Ms Power had handed Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan a letter of support from the US Government. She noted that Washington does not accept Azerbaijan’s use of force and that appropriate retaliatory measures would be considered in such a case. Ms Power called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to honour his pledge to protect the rights of ethnic Armenians, to fully open the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting the region to Armenia, and to ensure the delivery of aid and the work of the international monitoring mission.

In turn, Aliyev promised to guarantee the security of Karabakh Armenians, but said his “iron fist” had sent the idea of the region’s independence into history. The enclave is a part of Azerbaijan that has been outside Baku’s control since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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