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UN team arrives in Nagorno-Karabakh amidst mass exodus of ethnic Armenians

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A United Nations mission has landed in Nagorno-Karabakh as a wave of ethnic Armenians flee the region, triggered by Azerbaijan’s recent recapture of the breakaway enclave.

A spokesperson for the Azerbaijani presidency confirmed the arrival of the UN mission on a Sunday morning, primarily tasked with assessing the region’s urgent humanitarian requirements.

This mission, spearheaded by a high-ranking UN aid official, marks the first UN access to the area in approximately three decades. Armenia has sought the intervention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to compel Azerbaijan to withdraw its troops from civilian establishments in Nagorno-Karabakh and grant the UN access. In February, the ICJ had already ordered Azerbaijan to ensure unhindered movement through the Lachin Corridor, which connects to and from the region.

The World Health Organization has reported that well over 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have sought refuge in neighboring Armenia.

Armenian separatists, who had controlled Nagorno-Karabakh for thirty years, agreed to disarm, dissolve their government, and reintegrate with Baku following a swift Azerbaijani offensive.

This dramatic turn of events deals a significant blow to the centuries-old aspiration of Armenians to reunite their ancestral lands, which have been divided among regional powers since the Middle Ages. Almost the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh, estimated at 120,000 residents, fled the territory in the aftermath of these events, leading to a refugee crisis.

Reporting from the city known as Stepanakert to Armenians and Khankendi to Azerbaijanis, Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid described tens of thousands of people leaving the area in recent days, characterizing it as a “mass exodus.” He painted a bleak picture of a “ghost town with no soul.”

The Azerbaijani presidency announced that Baku’s migration service has initiated operations in the city to register Armenian residents and facilitate their “sustainable reintegration into Azerbaijani society” under the “patronage of the Azerbaijani state.”

Armenian Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Nazeli Baghdasaryan, reported that “100,490 forcefully displaced persons arrived in Armenia” by Sunday morning. Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing,” an allegation firmly rejected by Baku.

Armenia, with a population of 2.8 million, faces a formidable challenge in accommodating the sudden influx of refugees. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal for 20 million Swiss francs ($22 million) to aid those escaping the crisis.

In parallel, Azerbaijan is engaged in “reintegration” discussions with separatist leaders while detaining senior figures from its former government and military command. Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General, Kamran Aliyev, disclosed the initiation of criminal investigations into war crimes attributed to 300 separatist officials, urging them to surrender voluntarily.

A historic meeting between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is scheduled for Thursday in the Spanish city of Granada, facilitated by Western mediation. Given the deep-seated ethnic animosity stemming from three wars over the past few decades, previous rounds of negotiations mediated by Brussels and Washington have thus far failed to yield a resolution.

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