Thousands of displaced Artsakh residents starting leaving to Armenia over the weekend and continuing on Monday, a week after the large-scale Azerbaijani military offensive aimed at forcing Baku’s complete control over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian government said that some 6,650 people crossed into Armenia through the Lachin Corridor as of 5 p.m. local time. The Artsakh Armenians were being escorted by Russian peacekeepers.
Yerevan pledged to provide accommodations to the Artsakh residents entering Armenia.
Artsakh authorities urged the region’s remaining population to stay put for now to allow the displaced residents and the injured to leave first.
“All citizens who wish to move from Artsakh to Armenia will have that opportunity,” a statement from the Artsakh government said.
“The authorities of Artsakh will continue to remain in place and carry out state administration until they fully complete the transfer of citizens wishing to travel to Armenia,” added the statement.
The Artsakh authorities opened depot to distribute free fuel to Artsakh residents planning to travel by car.
An explosion in one such fuel distribution center rocked Stepanakert Monday night, with reportedly 200 severely injured people and fatalities.
The explosion complicated an already fraught situation in and around the capital, as those rush to leave created massive traffic jams along the roads leading to and including the Lachin Corridor.
Azerbaijani seems to have depopulated the Martakert region.
The mayor of the northern Karabakh town of Martakert, Misha Gyurjyan, told Azatutyun.am that Azerbaijani troops entered the region on Sunday night after its entire population headed to Stepanakert in a convoy of about a thousand vehicles. He said that “quite a few” Martakert civilians went missing during the September 19-20 hostilities and remain unaccounted for.
People from Martakert and nearby villages were among the refugees who arrived on Monday morning in the Armenian border town of Goris where they were received by aid workers redirecting them to their new places of residents.
“We are from the village of Gandzasar,” said one of them. “The Azerbaijanis are already there. The village suffered many casualties.”
Two other Martakert women said they lost contact with their children during the fighting and still do not know their whereabouts. As one of the mothers explained, “I was at our military positions during the fighting. When I left them I couldn’t get home because the roads were blocked,” Azatutyun.am reported.
The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement on Monday saying that its peacekeeping contingent continued to take steps to stabilize the situation in Artsakh.
“The absolute priority of all our efforts is to prevent a new outbreak of armed confrontation and casualties among civilians,” the statement said.
The Russian peacekeeping contingent has provided massive humanitarian support to the Armenian population. Over the past two days, they have delivered 125 tons of humanitarian aid and 65 tons of fuel to the region, the statement added.
There are now around 700 displaced Artsakh residents at the Russian peacekeeping headquarters at the Stepanakert airport, of whom 400 are children.
“We hope that the positive results of this process will contribute to the speedy resumption of work on the implementation of the set of agreements between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia for 2020-2022, including the unblocking of transport communications, the delimitation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the coordination of a peace treaty and the development of humanitarian contacts,” the Russian foreign ministry statement said.