Almost 3,000 Armenians who were displaced by the recent Azerbaijani military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh have arrived in Armenia since their evacuation began on Sunday, the Government of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinián reported on September 25, 2023. EFE/ Beatriz Arslanián

The odyssey of thousands of refugees fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh

Beatriz Arslanián

Kornidzor, Armenia, Sep 25 (EFE).- In Kornidzor, southern Armenia, there is a long line of cars with bags, blankets, fuel canisters and gas bottles tied with ropes that belong to the thousands of refugees who fled Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan forced the Karabakh forces to surrender and disarm.

“I hope that when my children grow up, they won’t remember those days. I hope the hunger they experienced doesn’t resonate with them,” says Ashot, who arrived at the camp with his family on a Lada from the town of Martuni.

Gradually, the cars move forward very slowly, freed from the huge traffic jam at the checkpoint set up by Azerbaijan on the Hakari Bridge at the Berdzor-Lachin corridor, the only link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

A few kilometers away, entire families stop and descend to approach the tents set up by the Red Cross.

The Armenian government claims that 6,650 people have registered so far.

Tents set up by the Red Cross in Nagorno-Karabakh. EFE/ Beatriz Arslanián

God doesn’t love us

The sudden rain annoys those waiting for their relatives on the other side of the barrier.

Nairi is turned away by a policeman as she tries to enter the refugee reception area.

She is from Shushi, the famous cultural city of Nagorno-Karabakh, occupied by Azerbaijan in the 2020 war.

Since then, she has taken refuge in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. She has come to look for her cousin Sasún’s family.

“God doesn’t love us. He has already proven it,” she says, trying to communicate with Sasún again, but without success.

She assures that outside the Karabakh capital of Stepanakert, no one has reception.

In fact, since the Azerbaijani attack a week ago, it has not been possible to communicate with the inhabitants of the border region.

Meanwhile, a woman with two girls and a baby in her arms walks through the tent’s entrance.

Behind her comes her mother, documents in hand. She approaches the registration tables and hands out the paperwork.

“Rebecca, come quickly,” she calls to her daughter, who is receiving a blanket from a Red Cross volunteer.

Her daughters accept the cookies and juice offered by another volunteer. They sit and eat, then ask for more.

Ten months ago, the Karabakhis were hit by a humanitarian blockade. In the enclave, the shops are empty, there is no food or medicine, no electricity or gas.

Almost 3,000 Armenians who were displaced by the recent Azerbaijani military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh have arrived in Armenia. EFE/ Beatriz Arslanián

Hope was with “the boys”

With great physical and emotional exhaustion, the population faced the final attack of the Azerbaijani troops for 24 hours.

Then came the surrender and the desire to flee.

Syuzi, Rebeca’s mother, assures that the only hope and security of the Armenians of the enclave was their “boys”, referring to the Karabakh army.

“Without them it is very difficult. We cannot imagine living with Azerbaijanis. Imagine that what they call ‘integration’ has already started with a genocide,” she says.

Red Cross workers are urging civilians to leave the camp once their data has been collected. Physical space is limited, and the evacuation seems endless.

Most will be relocated to the neighboring town of Goris. For those who have nowhere else to go, the Armenian government is planning resettlement and assistance.

Despite the fact that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s “Plan A” was the permanence of Nagorno-Karabakh residents in their homes under “security guarantees”, the first choice of civilians has been to flee before the entry of Azerbaijani troops into Stepanakert, Jankendi for Azerbaijanis.

We are not terrorists

When Ashot arrives at the tent, he desperately asks the Red Cross worker how he can get fuel so his sister can leave the Karabakh village where he lives.

“It’s only five liters,” he cries, but no one can give him an answer.

He also points out that his brother has small children and that he burned his camouflage uniform so that the Azerbaijani military would not find him.

“He is not a soldier, he is a volunteer, like all of us, who have done nothing but defend our country. We are not terrorists, as they call us. We are a nation that only wants peace,” he says. EFE