YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—The Azerbaijani government publicized on Monday a plan to “reintegrate” Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian residents one day after the end of their mass exodus to Armenia that left Karabakh almost completely depopulated.
The outgoing authorities in Stepanakert said late on Sunday that the last group of residents was evacuated by bus and that only Karabakh’s leadership as well as a search-and-rescue team and a small number of possibly “helpless” civilians remain in the region.
The Armenian government reported the following day that the total number of Karabakh Armenians who have left their homeland since Azerbaijan’s September 19-20 offensive barely changed overnight and reached 100,520.
“This means that the flow of people [to Armenia] has basically stopped and that mainly officials and a tiny segment of the population remain in Karabakh,” a government spokeswoman, Nazeli Baghdasarian, told the press.
Karabakh’s population officially stood at around 120,000 prior to the exodus. The figure presumably included at least 10,000 Karabakh Armenians who fled their homes during and after the 2020 war as well as thousands of others who were unable to return to Karabakh due to the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin corridor.
Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, Gegham Stepanian, said that those who have “credible information about lonely or helpless people left behind in Artsakh” should contact the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). A spokeswoman for the ICRC office in Yerevan, Zara Amatuni, confirmed that the Red Cross is ready to help locate such individuals.
“As regards people who remain [in Karabakh,] want to relocate but can’t do that for some reasons — for example, disability or other situations that left them helpless — our organization is trying to track those cases and help them move to Armenia,” Amatuni told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
She said the ICRC office has received hundreds of phone calls from Karabakh refugees who lost contact with their relatives during the exodus sparked by the Azerbaijani offensive that left at least 200 Karabakh soldiers and civilians dead.
The exodus paved the way for the restoration of full Azerbaijani control over Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s leadership has denied a deliberate policy of “ethnic cleansing” and pledged to protect the rights of Karabakh Armenians willing to live under Azerbaijani rule.
Baku released on Monday a five-point program of “reintegrating” such people on the basis of the “territorial integrity and sovereignty over Azerbaijan.” The document says that the region will be governed by special representatives to be named by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Karabakh’s former premier Ruben Vardanyan, former Foreign Minister Davit Babayan, former army commander Levon Mnatsakanyan and his ex-deputy Davit Manukyan were arrested by Azerbaijani security forces while traveling to Armenia through the Lachin corridor last week.
Azerbaijan’s prosecutor-general said on Sunday that Baku also wants to arrest and prosecute about 300 other current or former political and military leaders of Karabakh. They apparently include three former Karabakh presidents: Arayik Harutyunyan, Bako Sahakian and Arkadi Ghukasian. Samvel Shahramanyaan, the current president, is reportedly trying to convince Azerbaijani authorities to let them as well as other prominent Karabakh Armenians leave the region.
Citing an unnamed Karabakh source, the Russian TASS news agency reported on Monday that Harutyunyan, Sahakian and Ghukasian remained in Stepanakert as of noon amid continuing negotiations with the Azerbaijani side.