Almost entire population of Armenians flee Nagorno-Karabakh

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Almost all ethnic Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan seized the region last week.

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians have departed, out of Nagorno-Karabakh’s estimated population of 120,000.

The devastating exodus raises the potential end of centuries of Armenian presence in the region.

Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, said the departure of almost the entire ethnic population amounted to “a direct act of an ethnic cleansing and depriving people of their motherland”.

Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry rejected this claim, saying the exodus was “their personal and individual decision and has nothing to do with forced relocation”.

On Thursday, the leaders of the separatist ethnic Armenian government – the self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh – said that it would dissolve itself by the end of the year.

Nagorno-Karabakh, while recognised as part of Azerbaijan, had been run by ethnic Armenians for three decades following six years of separatist fighting, which ended in 1994.

The cause of the ethnic Armenians, predominately Christians, had been supported by Armenia as well as Russia.

Artak Beglaryan, an Armenian former separatist official, said that most of those remaining “are officials, emergency services employees, volunteers, some persons with special needs”.

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Azerbaijan had said it wants to reintegrate the area and treat its residents as equals, however many ethnic Armenians do not trust these claims.

Armenia’s ambassador-at-large, Edmon Marukyan, said the assurances from Azerbaijan were “lies” and “total propaganda”.

At least 200 ethnic Armenians and dozens of Azerbaijani soldiers were killed when the Azerbaijani forces moved in last week.

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The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned that the dramatic numbers leaving the region have created a humanitarian crisis.

The UNHCR said many of those fleeing “are hungry, exhausted, and need immediate assistance”.

Many thousands had lined up for days to make it into Armenia after the only route into the country, a winding mountain road, became jammed.

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