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Azerbaijan officially dissolves Nagorno-Karabakh

28.09.23 13:55

The breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh will cease to exist and its remaining ethnic Armenian population will have to accept being ruled as part of Azerbaijan, according to a decree issued Thursday.

In a statement, the unrecognized Karabakh Armenian administration said that de facto President Samvel Shakhramanyan had signed an agreement that would “dissolve all state institutions and organizations under their departmental authority by January 1, 2024.”

At the same time, the message reads, the local population must now “familiarize themselves with the conditions of reintegration presented by the Republic of Azerbaijan, with the aim of making an independent and individual decision about the possibility of staying (or returning) in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Since Azerbaijan reopened the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia on Sunday, 65,036 people have fled their homes, the Armenian government reported. Long lines of buses, trucks and cars have formed at the border, with many spending more than 24 hours in their vehicles.

The mass exodus comes after Azerbaijan launched a military offensive to conquer the breakaway region last Tuesday, forcing local leaders to accept a Russian-brokered surrender agreement and begin the dissolution of their three-decades-old unrecognized state.

Evacuations have been complicated by a rescue operation after at least 68 people were killed and around 300 injured in a fuel depot explosion in the region on Monday night. More than 100 others are still believed to be missing.

Speaking to POLITICO on Monday, Azerbaijan’s foreign policy chief Hikmet Hajiyev insisted those who have left would have the right to return, but many people arriving in Armenia say they fear they won’t ever see their homeland again.

On Wednesday, Azerbaijani forces also detained Nagorno-Karabakh’s former State Minister, Russian-Armenian oligarch Ruben Vardanyan, as he tried to escape the region alongside tens of thousands of others. On Thursday, Baku’s officials announced he would be charged with “financing terrorism, participation in the creation and in the activities of illegal armed formations or groups [and] illegal crossing of the border of Azerbaijan.”

Speaking to journalists on the border between the two countries on Tuesday, U.S. envoy Samantha Power accused Azerbaijan of having orchestrated a nine-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh that “created excruciating humanitarian conditions,” adding that “the attacks of last week have made a dire situation even worse.”

The USAID administrator also called for international access to the region amid “very troubling reports of violence against civilians,” POLITICO reports.