By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Thousands more people poured into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh on September 28, prompting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to accuse Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing” and warn that no Armenian will remain in the breakaway region following a lightning military offensive that gave Baku total control over the ethnic-Armenian populated territory.
Pashinian’s spokeswoman, Nazeli Baghdasarian, said that a total of 76,407 people had entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as of 8 p.m. local time on September 28, amounting to more than half of the region’s estimated 120,000 inhabitants.
“This is a direct act of ethnic cleansing that we warned the international community about,” Pashinian told a government meeting on September 28, calling for concrete action by the international community.
“Statements condemning ethnic cleansing by various international players are important, but if they are not followed by concrete actions, these statements will be seen as creating moral statistics for history, so that in future different countries will have the opportunity to formally dissociate themselves from this crime, saying we have condemned it,” said Pashinian.
Pashinian added that if the trend continued, no ethnic Armenians will be left in Karabakh in the coming days.
Baku has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and said it wants to “reintegrate” the enclave’s ethnic Armenian population into Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry on September 28 urged ethnic Armenians to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We call on Armenian residents not to leave their homes and become part of Azerbaijan’s multi-ethnic society,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russia, which used to be Armenia’s main military backer but has been criticized by Yerevan for its peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh, said fleeing Armenians had nothing to fear.
“It’s difficult to say who is to blame [for the exodus]. There is no direct reason for such actions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an apparent rejection of Armenia’s claims of ethnic cleansing.
“People are nevertheless expressing a desire to leave…. Those who made such a decision should be provided with normal living conditions,” Peskov added.
The exodus began after Azerbaijan opened the only road leading from Karabakh to Armenia four days after a cease-fire agreement that ended the September 19-20 Azerbaijani military operation which gave Baku complete control over the region.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the last three decades over the region, which had been a majority ethnic Armenian enclave within the internationally recognized border of Azerbaijan since the Soviet collapse.
The region initially came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a war in 2020, however, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh should be able to remain in their homes with respect for their rights and security, if they choose, and those who leave and return should be allowed safe passage overseen by a neutral, independent third party.