Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians distrust Azerbaijan despite promises of amnesty | International
Azerbaijan has vowed not to imprison or prosecute Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh fighters who surrender to the Azerbaijani military. “Military personnel who voluntarily lay down their weapons will be free,” said presidential advisor Hikmet Hajiyev on his X (formerly Twitter) account. Later, in statements to EL PAÍS he reiterated the offer and said that no ex-combatants will be persecuted: ”If they lay down their weapons they will be free. If they are soldiers of the Armenian Armed Forces, they must return to Armenia. If they are local residents, they can stay or leave, depending on their personal decision.”
However, the presidential advisor clarified that these measures will not apply to those who "committed war crimes against Azerbaijani citizens during the First Karabakh War" (1991-94), in which the Armenians won and expelled hundreds of thousands of people. from several Azerbaijani provinces. This week, after a new bombing and hundreds of fatalities, the Armenian fighters of Nagorno Karabakh have surrendered to Azerbaijan upon realizing the lack of international support.
David Babayan, advisor to the Government of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh (as the Armenians call this enclave in Azerbaijani territory), explained to the Reuters agency that there are still “no concrete results” and that there are “issues to be resolved” regarding the amnesty. and the guarantees offered to the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has promised that the “cultural, democratic and religious rights” of Armenians will be respected, but he has also stressed that the enclave will be “reintegrated” into the administrative structure of Azerbaijan and that all its inhabitants must comply with the laws and the Constitution of the country.
However, Armenians do not trust Baku's promises and many have expressed their desire to escape, according to several sources consulted by this newspaper inside the enclave. “We Armenians know that we cannot live with the Azeris, we have suffered it on our skin. We do not feel safe,” explained a former official of the Karabakh administration, who has been living in Armenia for more than nine months because the Azeri blockade of the enclave has prevented her from returning to Nagorno Karabakh, where a good part of her family is: “ “I just hope my family and friends can get out.”
“How can we live under Aliyev or even believe him?” asked a resident in Stepanakert, the capital of the enclave, giving as an example of her distrust that despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in 2020, after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijani troops continued to advance and attack Karabakh positions. “Actually, no one knows what will happen,” a Karabakh government source acknowledged to EL PAÍS. In fact, thousands of people have taken refuge at the airport near Stepanakert – the main base of Russian peacekeepers – awaiting evacuation.
“The insecurity and vulnerability of Karabakh Armenians is due to the absence of guarantees, the lack of an international presence and the obvious failure of deterrence measures,” explains Richard Giragosian, director of the Center for Regional Studies in Yerevan: “Once disarmed, Karabakh Armenians will be completely dependent on Azerbaijan's promises, which do not inspire confidence given violations of other previous ceasefire agreements.”
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Azerbaijani presidential advisor Hajiyev assured that the Lachin corridor - which connects Nagorno Karabakh with the neighboring Republic of Armenia - will be opened so that those who want to do so can leave. However, the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinian, stated that the evacuation of Armenians from Karabakh “should not be plan A, not even plan B.” “We must do everything possible so that our compatriots, the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, have the opportunity to live in their homes without fear, with dignity and security,” he said. Of course, he acknowledged that his government has made plans to welcome 40,000 Karabakhis who could flee. At the end of the last decade, Nagorno Karabakh had about 150,000 inhabitants, although an estimated 30,000 fled after the 2020 war. Several thousand more were stranded in Armenia at the beginning of the Azerbaijani blockade of the enclave last December.
Sending humanitarian aid
Following the request made by the Karabakh authorities at Thursday's meeting with emissaries from Baku, an Azerbaijani convoy with 40,000 tons of food and hygiene products left the town of Agdam this Friday towards the interior of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Karabakh authorities also confirmed having reached an agreement with the Azerbaijani side for the passage of a humanitarian convoy from Armenia, through the Lachin corridor. A Reuters reporter reported that seven Russian peacekeepers' vehicles, including trucks, crossed the Armenian border on Friday.
And the situation inside the enclave is increasingly dramatic: there is no electricity, there is a lack of fuel and thousands of people evacuated from the front towns are wandering the streets of Stepanakert. Some make fires in the streets to cook and keep warm. “You see families walking with bags in their hands in which they carry some clothes, people who have lost everything, their villages, their homes, their way of making a living,” Gev Iskajián, director of the Armenian National Committee in Nagorno Karabakh: “We try to share what we have, but the pantries were already empty before the Azerbaijani attack, due to the months of blockade.” It is difficult for people to even receive one meal a day.”
Hajiyev held a meeting this Friday with the International Committee of the Red Cross, after which it was agreed to increase the staff of the humanitarian organization in Karabakh. An agreement was also made to send ambulances to pick up seriously injured people in areas besieged by the advance of Azerbaijani troops and, throughout the morning, images of Red Cross vehicles in the direction of Martuni, a town from which a nurse He told EL PAÍS on Thursday that there are numerous injured people who cannot be treated due to lack of medicine.
Meanwhile, in Armenia, demonstrations against the Government have intensified, with thousands of people in the streets calling Pashinián a “traitor” for not having intervened in favor of Artsakh and demanding the opening of a “humanitarian corridor” to evacuate the Karabakhis. . At least 84 people have been arrested in these protests, including several leaders of the opposition, which the Executive accuses of trying to "destabilize" the country and "wanting to take it to war" with Azerbaijan.
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