Azerbaijan said it does not have plans to force thousands of ethnic Armenians to leave the embattled Nagorno-Karabakh region and instead insisted they would have ‘guaranteed’ safety if they stay, the foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president said Thursday.
Foreign policy adviser to president calls ethnic cleansing allegation an ‘insult’
Azerbaijan said it does not have plans to force thousands of ethnic Armenians to leave the embattled Nagorno-Karabakh region and instead insisted they would have “guaranteed” safety if they stay, the foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president said Thursday.
Hikmet Hajiyev said Azerbaijan, which took back control of the area after an all-out assault last week, has a “comprehensive” plan to provide secure and better living conditions for those ethnic Armenians. But he said those who are afraid are ultimately free to go.
“We would like just to see them to stay,” Hajiyev said in an interview with CBC News.
“Azerbaijan continues to make its appeal to the local population that security is guaranteed…. But in the meantime, we cannot stop freedom of movement. It is a sovereign and individual choice of everyone on the ground.”
WATCH | Azerbaijan doesn’t want mass exodus, foreign policy advisor says:
Azerbaijan doesn’t want mass exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh, foreign policy advisor says
Azerbaijan said it does not have plans to force thousands of ethnic Armenians to leave the embattled Nagorno-Karabakh region and wants them to stay, the foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president says.
The government’s message is the latest development in a decades-long fight for control of the region, which lies within Azerbaijan’s borders but has an overwhelmingly ethnic Armenian population.
The separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh said the republic as it’s been known for the last three decades will no longer exist by the end of the year — both because the government will be dissolving itself and because there will be “no Armenians left.”
More than half of territory’s population flees
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for more than 30 years. Azerbaijan reclaimed control of the region last week after an all-out assault on Sept. 19.
The victory triggered a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians who had been living in the mountainous region for decades, saying they had no choice but to leave or risk violence or retaliation.
Armenian officials said 200 people were killed in the 24-hour onslaught before Russia brokered a ceasefire. The Azerbaijan government said it lost 190 servicemen of its own and denied allegations civilians were among those killed.
“Certainly, yes, because there’s no verified facts,” Hajiyev said.
“Our assessment shows that there was not [any] or minimal collateral damage … unfortunately, what we see is there a lot of elements of disinformation.”
The region has been closed to international observers and front-line journalists for months, making it difficult to independently corroborate information handed out by various governments. Hajiyev said Azerbaijan intends to allow an international expert team from the United Nations into the area “in a matter of days,” with the potential for media access as well.
Armenian officials said more than 70,000 people — more than half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population of 120,000 — had fled to Armenia by Thursday morning, with little hope of ever returning to their homeland.
Narrow, winding roads leading out of Nagorno-Karabakh have been lined with vans and trucks packed with desperate families who left with only a few belongings. In the Armenian town of Goris, families boarded buses to other parts of the country without any plans for where they might stay once they arrived.
Speaking Thursday, Hajiyev said the Azerbaijani government sent buses to Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert, after Armenian residents who don’t have cars asked for help, but it was not forcing people to board.
“Azerbaijan will do its utmost, utmost best and to provide such a corridor so civilians — in a decent and safe manner — could go in which direction they choose,” he said, adding that the government’s “vision” is to have Azerbaijanis and Armenians living “side by side in dignity and in prosperity and mutual respect.”
WATCH | Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh:
30,000 Armenians — and counting — flee Nagorno-Karabakh
Roughly 30,000 ethnic Armenians who live in Nagorno-Karabakh have already decided to flee their homeland with many more potentially to follow. It appears many in the population of about 120,000 see leaving the long-disputed region in Azerbaijan as safer than the risk of living under Azerbaijani rule.
In Yerevan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said there will eventually be “no Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh.” He called Azerbaijan’s attack “a direct act of an ethnic cleansing.”
Hajiyev said the allegation was “an insult and humiliation.”
“Azerbaijan is not and will never, ever use [ethnic cleansing] — and there is no such an effort on the ground, force against civilians,” the foreign policy adviser said.
“If people and civilians are forced to live by violence, by atrocity, that has another definition.”
WATCH | Armenian refugees explain why they won’t go back to Nagorno-Karbakh:
‘I will never go back’: Armenian refugees flee after Azerbaijan’s offensive
Thousands of Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh packed up what they could and began leaving their homes after military forces from Azerbaijan claimed control over the disputed region.
With files from Briar Stewart and The Associated Press