Forcibly displaced citizens enter Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh (photo: government of Armenia)

‘People want to leave’: Artsakh Armenians Fear Living in Their Own Homes after Azerbaijan Offensive

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By Sona Hovsepyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN — 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh claim they have little trust in a reintegration effort. People are reluctant to live in conditions lacking proper food, medicine, and are terrified to remain in their own homes.

“People want to leave. Azerbaijan offers humanitarian aid and promises that life will be better than it has been so far, but the locals have no trust in these promises,” Alyona Hayrapetyan, a Nagorno-Karabakh-based journalist, said.

Following Azerbaijan’s 24 hours of large-scale bombardment, the latest data [as of September 25] reports 200 deaths, and more than 400 wounded. After the ‘anti-terrorist’ operation of September 19, more than 8,000 people were evacuated to the Russian peacekeepers’ base or the Nagorno-Karabakh capital of Stepanakert. Following the ceasefire, Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city, became a refuge for displaced citizens. They slept in basements, schools, and every available space, including the ground.

Armenian Red Cross Society (ARCS) with local self-governance bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, supports the operation of reception posts in Goris state theatre and Kornidzor Humanitarian Center, Syunik Region (Photo: government of Armenia)

After these events, on Sunday, September 24, the Nagorno-Karabakh Information Center announced that with the help of Russian peacekeepers, people could evacuate to Armenia. In response, residents hastily packed their bags and tried to find fuel to leave.

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Hayrapetyan, like others, wants to leave and adds that she doesn’t know anyone who wants to stay. She also described the situation following the breaking of the ceasefire by the Azerbaijani side, despite its denial.

“Rumors spread that Azerbaijanis were coming down to Stepanakert. I panicked too and took my things to leave. It’s still not clear whether it happened or not, but shots were definitely heard for about an hour,” claimed Hayrapetyan.

As she mentioned, people went to Stepanakert Airport, where the Russian peacekeepers’ base is located, not only in hopes of getting to Armenia but also for their safety, as Azerbaijan hadn’t targeted the Russian peacekeepers.

On the first day of Azerbaijan’s so-called ‘anti-terrorist’ operation, Hayrapetyan, like many others, lost contact with her parents. She eventually managed to reach them, but many people are still searching for their family members.

Ararat Mirzoyan, the Armenian minister of foreign affairs, announced during his speech at the UN Security Council emergency meeting that it’s hard to believe that all this is happening not a hundred years ago but today in front of the eyes of the international community in the 21st century.

He stated that the Azerbaijani social media segment is full of calls to find missing children and women, to rape them, dismember them, and feed them to dogs. Azerbaijani users are sharing the profiles of Armenian women from Nagorno-Karabakh on social media and making bids on who will get those women to rape when they are taken into Azerbaijani custody.

Mirzoyan also added “The images coming from Nagorno-Karabakh are truly shocking: women, children, elderly people left without shelter and food, moms desperately trying to find their lost children, wives crying from fear that Azerbaijan may imprison their husbands.”

The residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have already given up in frustration on the international community. The only thing they want is to move to Armenia and live peacefully. Ashot Harutyunyan’s family, residents of Martuni town (the name has been changed for their safety), including his pregnant wife and two young children, live in constant fear and anxiety. During the blockade Harutyunyan’s pregnant wife didn’t have the necessary vitamins, food and medicine. All this became a reason for a delay in childbirth. If possible the family also wants to evacuate to Armenia.

“We already have two kids, and we’re expecting our third. Our children cannot continue living in these conditions. The future here is unpromising,” said Harutyunyan.

As Harutyunyan told the Mirror-Spectator, humanitarian aid and reintegration won’t change their attitude and it is not possible to live in Azerbaijan. Even if it were, it would be a deception of the international community, he said.

Baku announced that residents of Nagorno-Karabakh would have a much better life, not only after Azerbaijan’s large-scale offensive on September 19, but even before that.

“I am sure that the life of Armenians who live in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan will be much better than during the times of occupation,” President Ilham Aliyev announced during his speech at the opening of the 10th Global Baku Forum on March 9 this year.

Aliyev stated that minority rights in Azerbaijan are protected by the constitution and that Azerbaijan is a country with a high level of religious and ethnic tolerance. However, research from international organizations, such as the European Parliament and Minority Rights Group, shows that Azerbaijan’s minority populations face discrimination and restrictions. According to the European Parliament analysis, Azerbaijan has more than fifteen ethnic groups, constituting 8.4% of the population, with Lezgins, Armenians, Russians, and Talysh being the main minorities.

As a result of the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh war, the entire Armenian population was forced to leave Azerbaijan, including the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic.

Despite Azerbaijan’s president stating that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh will live peacefully in Azerbaijan, the reality is quite different. As reported by the European Parliament, the tiny Armenian community is in a difficult situation.

Azerbaijani presidential advisor Hikmat Hajiyev held a press briefing following the ceasefire in which he outlined what he said would be the integration process of Nagorno-Karabakh and its residents. “Azerbaijan once again declares that it is ready for a smooth reintegration process. We are ready to respond to the humanitarian demands of the population. We are ready to provide stability and security in a short period,” Hajiyev announced.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared that Armenia is ready to host 40,000 families in case of a mass evacuation. Meanwhile, Pashinyan said that 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh should have the right to live in their homes with dignity and safety.

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