Thousands more people poured into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh on September 28, prompting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to accuse Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing” and warn that no Armenian will remain in the breakaway region following a lightning military offensive that gave Baku total control over the ethnic-Armenian populated territory.
Pashinian’s spokeswoman, Nazeli Baghdasarian, said that a total of 70,500 people had entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as of 2 p.m. local time on September 28, amounting to more than half of the region’s estimated 120,000 inhabitants.
“This is a direct act of ethnic cleansing that we warned the international community about,” Pashinian told a government meeting on September 28, calling for concrete action by the international community.
“Statements condemning ethnic cleansing by various international players are important, but if they are not followed by concrete actions, these statements will be seen as creating moral statistics for history, so that in future different countries will have the opportunity to formally dissociate themselves from this crime, saying we have condemned it,” said Pashinian.
Pashinian added that if the trend continued, no ethnic Armenians will be left in Karabakh in the coming days.
Baku has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and said it wants to “reintegrate” the enclave’s ethnic Armenian population into Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry on September 28 urged ethnic Armenians to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We call on Armenian residents not to leave their homes and become part of Azerbaijan’s multi-ethnic society,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russia, which used to be Armenia’s main military backer but has been criticized by Yerevan for its peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh, said fleeing Armenians had nothing to fear.
“It’s difficult to say who is to blame [for the exodus]. There is no direct reason for such actions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an apparent rejection of Armenia’s claims of ethnic cleansing.
“People are nevertheless expressing a desire to leave…. Those who made such a decision should be provided with normal living conditions,” Peskov added.
As the exodus continued, sparking more fears of a major humanitarian crisis, the de facto leader of Nagorno-Karabakh said the self-styled separatist entity will cease to exist as of January 1.
Samvel Shahramanian said the move was prompted by the situation created after Azerbaijan’s taking complete control of the region. His decree mentioned a cease-fire agreement reached last week to end the fighting under which Baku pledged to permit the “free, voluntary, and unrestrained passage” of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian residents, including ”servicemen who have laid down arms.”
WATCH: Thousands of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have flooded into the border town of Goris after enduring an arduous journey out of the the crisis-hit region. RFE/RL spoke with refugees in Armenia who said they left everything behind and hadn’t eaten in days.
The exodus began after Azerbaijan opened the only road leading from Karabakh to Armenia four days after a cease-fire agreement that ended the September 19-20 Azerbaijani military operation which gave Baku complete control over the region.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan announced that it had put former Nagorno-Karabakh separatist leader Ruben Vardanian in pretrial detention after charging him with financing terrorism and other crimes.
Vardanian, who served as prime minister in the de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh for less than four months before being removed from the post in February, was detained on September 27 as he was trying to cross the border into Armenia.
A Baku court ruled that Vardanian should be arrested and placed in pretrial detention for four months, Azerbaijan’s state security service said.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the last three decades over the region, which had been a majority ethnic Armenian enclave within the internationally recognized border of Azerbaijan since the Soviet collapse.
The region initially came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. During a war in 2020, however, Azerbaijan took back parts of Nagorno-Karabakh along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had claimed during the earlier conflict.
That fighting ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Those peacekeepers did little, however, to prevent the advances by Azerbaijani forces.
As concerns over the humanitarian situation in the region grew, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington would work with allies and partners on an international monitoring mission.
Yerevan over the weekend asked the UN to send a monitoring mission to assess the human rights and security situation as it attempts to absorb the ethnic Armenians.
The foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey on September 27 held a telephone conversation to discuss the situation, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said.
The foreign ministers of Russia and Azerbaijan also spoke by phone to discuss providing humanitarian assistance and ensuring the rights and security of the local Armenian population, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power and State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim visited Azerbaijan and met with President Ilham Aliyev on September 27.
“The focus of the group’s discussion was the urgent humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh,” USAID said in a statement.
Aliyev’s press service said during the meeting opinions were exchanged about the current situation, which arose as a result of “anti-terrorist measures” implemented in the region. Aliyev noted that talks are under way between representatives of Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh in the direction of reintegration, the press service said.
Aliyev also said Baku is ready to organize a visit to the region of a UN liaison office representative accredited in the country in the near future.
The U.S. delegation visited Azerbaijan after a trip to Armenia, where Power said Washington would stand in solidarity with Yerevan. She also announced a $11.5 million humanitarian aid package for Armenia, but said it is essential the international community gain access to Nagorno-Karabakh amid reports of injuries and a lack food and other essentials.