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UN team in Karabakh ‘struck’ by the sudden manner of the exodus

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A United Nations team visiting Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan said on Monday (2 October) they were struck “by the sudden manner in which the local population fled their homes”, but stopped short of accusations of ethnic cleansing.

At the same time, the UN observers said they did not see any damage to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and housing or to cultural and religious sites.

The team on Sunday visited the Karabakh capital known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan. The visit came weeks after Azerbaijani forces took control of the enclave on its territory populated by ethnic Armenians, triggering an exodus of more than 100,000 Armenians.

“Our colleagues were struck by the sudden manner in which the local population fled their homes and the suffering that the experience must have caused them,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said told reporters.

“They did not come across any reports – either from the local population or from others – of violence against civilians following the latest ceasefire,” he said. “No destruction of agricultural infrastructure or dead animals were seen by members of the UN team.”

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing – a charge denied by Baku, which has insisted the enclave’s Armenians were welcome to remain in the territory. Baku has also insisted it has no intention of attacking Armenia itself.

Hikmet Hajiev, a close aid to the President of Azerbaijan, insisted that there was “no single case of violence or atrocity against civilians” and that if the residents of Karabakh accepted Azerbaijan citizenship, their rights and security would be we protected, and that the Azeri authorities would establish “a municipality system so that they can govern their affairs at a local level, and religious and cultural rights will be assured.”

I am thankful to @afpfr for the interview. But the sentence below should be clarified. I told @afpfr that ‘there were Armenian citizens in Karabakh.’ Even I elaborated that almost every and each resident has been holder of the passport of Republic of Armenia and during the… https://t.co/NTDAx0kSp2

— Hikmet Hajiyev (@HikmetHajiyev) October 2, 2023

Armenia urged the European Union on Monday to sanction Azerbaijan for its military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and warned that Baku could soon attack Armenia itself unless the West takes firm action.

While Moscow and Washington accused each other of destabilising the South Caucuses region, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev last week hosted talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at which he hinted at the prospect of creating a land corridor between their two countries via Armenia.

The UN mission aimed to assess the situation on the ground and identify humanitarian needs of both people remaining and those on the move, Dujarric said, adding that community representatives told UN officials “between 50 and 1,000 ethnic Armenians remain currently in Karabakh.”

Dujarric said no shops seemed to be open in the city and that Azerbaijan was preparing to resume health services and some basic utilities in the city.

“The team stresses the need to rebuild trust and confidence, adding this will require time and effort from all sides,” Dujarric said. “The UN plans to continue to regularly visit the region.”

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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