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More than 100,000 people flee Nagorno-Karabakh region fearing ethnic cleansing, Armenia claims

More than 100,000 people have now fled the Nagorno-Karabakh region in fear for their lives, Armenia claims.

Refugees have been streaming across the border since Azerbaijan seized control of the semi-autonomous territory on 20 September.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has been run by its ethnic Armenian population for almost 30 years.

Former leader Ruben Vardanyan was arrested by Azerbaijani authorities while trying to leave the region last week and charged with financing terrorism.

Azerbaijan has said the self-declared “Republic of Artsakh”, as it is known by Armenians, will be dissolved and integrated into the rest of the country.

Armenians fear reprisals against their community including ethnic cleansing after centuries of conflict between the two sides.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has alleged that Azerbaijan’s ultimate goal is to draw Armenia into hostilities.

Ani Badalyan, spokesperson for Armenia’s foreign ministry, said the total number of people to have left Nagorno-Karabakh is now 100,417 out of a population believed to be around 120,000.

In a tweet, Ms Badalyan said: “Message from resident of #NagornoKarabakh, reflecting feelings of 100.417 indigenous people who left NK so far: “I left my house to stay alive. Let the world know that we are homeless now!” The world knows.”

People march during a rally in support of the former head of Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist government Ruben Vardanyan, in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. On Thursday, Sept. 26, Azerbaijani authorities charged Ruben Vardanyan, the former head of Nagorno-Karabakh's separatist government, with financing terrorism, creating illegal armed formations and illegally crossing a state border. A day earlier, he was detained by Azerbaijani border guards as he was trying to leave Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia along with tens of thousands of others. (Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via AP)
People march during a rally in support of the former head of Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist government Ruben Vardanyan, in Yerevan, Armenia (Photo: Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via AP)

Western governments have been urging both sides to respect international law and for Azerbaijan to allow officials in to monitor the treatment of the ethnic population.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi also confirmed more than 100,000 people have now crossed the border into Armenia.

A UN mission is due to be deployed into the region this weekend.

Agency representative Kavita Belani said many of those arriving are children separated from their families.

“People are tired. This is a situation where they’ve lived under nine months of blockade,” she said.

“When they come in, they’re full of anxiety, they’re scared, they’re frightened and they want answers as to what’s going to happen next.”

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