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UN arrives in Nagorno-Karabakh: “It is a ghost town now”

The first UN mission arriving in Nagorno-Karabakh this Sunday notes that almost the entire ethnic Armenian population has fled the region.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said the UN team on the ground – the first UN mission to the region in 30 years – would “identify the humanitarian needs” of both the people left behind and “people who are on the move”.

Most Armenians who fled Nagorno-Karabakh said the international mission’s visit came too late, after Azerbaijan recaptured the territory in a lightning-quick military operation last month.

Sitting on a bench outside the central Republic Square in the Armenian capital Yerevan, Aren Harutyunyan, who left the region known to Armenians as Artsakh last week, held the “international community” responsible for the departure. Harutyunyan, 53, who arrived in Yerevan on Friday, said:

What is there left for the UN to monitor? No one is there any more, everyone is gone, it’s a ghost town.

Armenian authorities said that by Monday evening, more than 100,500 people, from a population of about 120,000, had fled to Armenia from Artsakh.

Al Jazeera TV footage from the weekend shows Stepanakert’s empty central square littered with rubbish, abandoned prams and scooters. Harutyunyan grumbled, referring to the months-long Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia:

Where were the international monitors when we were being starved? It is too late now.

Nagorno-Karabakh rescue service spokesman Hunan Tadevosyan said on Sunday that the number of civilians remaining in Stepanakert could be “counted on the fingers of one hand.”

On Monday, Azerbaijan’s officials said they would guarantee “the equal rights and freedoms of everyone” in Nagorno-Karabakh, “regardless of ethnic, religious or linguistic affiliation”.

However, most Armenians have decided to leave the region because they do not believe that the Azerbaijani authorities will treat them fairly and humanely, nor do they believe in guarantees of preserving their language, religion and culture.

Many Armenians remember the outcome of the previous round of hostilities. In 2020, during a six-week war, Azerbaijan regained part of the region in the South Caucasus Mountains, as well as adjacent territories previously claimed by Armenian forces.

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