• Reuters

Karabakh Armenians Say Ceasefire Being Implemented, Aid Is Arriving

REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
Men install an Armenian flag next to a checkpoint on the road leading to Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region, near the village of Kornidzor, Armenia September 22, 2023.

NEAR KORNIDZOR, Armenia (Reuters) – The ethnic Armenian leadership of breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh said on Saturday that the terms of their ceasefire with Azerbaijan were being implemented, with work proceeding on the delivery of humanitarian aid and evacuation of the wounded.

Earlier, the Karabakh Armenians held another round of talks with Azerbaijani officials in the town of Shusha, three days after theceasefirethat followed a lightning 24-hour offensive in which Baku retook control of the mountainous region.

Work is underway too to restore electricity supplies by Sept. 24, the Karabakh Armenians said in a statement which also referred to “political consultations” on the future of the region, which they call Artsakh, and its 120,000 Armenian residents.

Russia’s defense ministry said that, under the terms of the ceasefire, the Armenian separatists had begun handing over their weapons to Azerbaijan, including more than 800 guns and six armored vehicles. Moscow has 2,000 peacekeepers in the area.

With Armenians suffering serious shortages of food and fuel after a months-long de facto Azerbaijani blockade, an aid convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) headed into Karabakh on Saturday, the first since Baku’s offensive.

The ICRC said in a later statement that the convoy had transported nearly 70 metric tons of humanitarian supplies, including wheat flour, salt and sunflower oil, along the Lachin corridor, the only road link from Armenia to Karabakh.

An ICRC team also carried out the medical evacuation of 17 people wounded during the fighting, it said.

Separately, Russia said it had delivered more than 50 tonnes of food and other aid to Karabakh.

More than 20 other aid trucks, bearing Armenian number plates, have been lined up along a nearby roadside since July. Azerbaijan said at the time this convoy amounted to a “provocation” and an attack on its territorial integrity.

PROTECTING CIVILIANS

Azerbaijan wants to integrate the long-contested region of Karabakh and has promised to protect the Armenians’ rights but says they are free to leave if they prefer. Armenians say they fear they will be persecuted if they stay.

Azerbaijan’s interior ministry said on Saturday its main task was ensuring the safety of the Armenian civilian population and that it was providing them with tents, hot food and medical assistance.

“We are also working on issuing documents to the Armenian population, passports and so on,” ministry spokesman Elshad Hajiyev told Reuters. “There are already people who have applied to us.”

U.S. Senator Gary Peters, who visited the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on Saturday, said the situation in Karabakh required international observers and transparency from Azerbaijan.

“We’ve heard from the Azerbaijani government that there’s… nothing to worry about, but if that’s the case then we should allow international observers in to see,” Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, told reporters.

Armenia, which lost a 2020 war to Azerbaijan over the region, has prepared space for tens of thousands of Armenians from Karabakh, including at hotels near the border, though Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he does not want them to leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary.

Azerbaijan launched its “anti-terrorist” operation on Tuesday against Nagorno-Karabakh after some of its troops were killed in what Baku said were separatist attacks.

Karabakh was more militarized than Baku realized, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president, said on social media on Saturday, publishing a list of weapons and ammunition that had been seized in the past three days, including four tanks, 300 explosives and 441 mortar shells.

‘ABANDONED WORLD’

Accounts of the fighting were chilling.

Armenui Karapetyan, an Armenian in Karabakh, said he was now homeless, holding just a few possessions and a photograph of his 24-year-old son who died in 2020, after leaving his home in the village of Kusapat.

“Today we were thrown out into the street – they made us vagabonds,” Karapetyan told Armenia A1+, a partner of Reuters.

“What can I say? We live in an unfair, abandoned world. I have nothing to say. I feel sorry for the blood of our boys. I feel sorry for our lands for which our boys sacrificed their lives, and today… I miss the grave of my son.”

Thousands of Karabakh Armenians have massed at the airport seeking the protection of Russian peacekeepers there.

Svetlana Alaverdyan, from the village of Arajadzor, said she had fled with just the clothes on her back after gun fights gripped the village.

“They were shooting on the right, they were shooting on the left – we went out one after another, without taking clothes,” she told Armenia A1+.

“I had two sons – I gave them away, what else can I give? The superpowers resolve their issues at our expense.”