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Armenian refugees supported by diaspora communities

5 October 20230 comments

Australia’s Armenian community is rallying to support around 120,000 of their compatriots who have become refugees fleeing the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh – a territory internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond its control – were forced to flee after a military operation by the Azerbaijani military seized control of the region.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the enclave in 30 years – with Azerbaijan regaining tracts of territory around Nagorno-Karabakh in a six-week conflict in 2020.

Melbourne Armenian community member Tania Hagopian said local Armenians were organising donations of cash and material goods for Karabakh Armenians forced to flee their homes.

And, she said some families were preparing for the arrival of relatives from Nagorno-Karabakh in Melbourne.

“We are all very desperate and sad about what is happening. It’s been going on for a long time but the world has only just woken up,” Ms Hagopian said.

“Azeri soldiers are burning houses in what is a cold and mountainous area,” she said.

“We are talking about just 120,000 mostly poor farmers and families who are mostly women and children. Just about every household lost one or two males in the 2020 war.

“And over the last nine months Azerbaijan has blocked the region meaning that people have died from lack of food or medication. It’s effectively a genocide,” Ms Hagopian said.

She likened it to the Armenian genocide of 1915 when, under the Ottoman Empire, the mass murder of around a million Armenians was carried out during death marches in the deserts of Syria.

“This is all about power and Azerbaijan getting control of the oil and gas resources,” Ms Hagopian said.

“The Armenians of Karabakh have lived through hardship for years and now there is no place for them.”

Ms Hagopian said there were reports on social media of Azerbaijan soldiers killing male civilians.

“There is a post on social media showing Azeri soldiers cutting the ears off an 80-year-old man and burning his house. This is why people are running away, they don’t trust the Azaris,” she said.

“They have to run and some people are dying on the way. It is approaching winter in the area which means temperatures of minus 20 or 30 degrees.

“People are walking up to two day to reach the border and escape.”

Ms Hagopian said local Armenian communities were raising money and collecting clothes and other goods to be sent to the camps inside Armenia.

“Many young Armenian Australians have gone to Armenia to help out. They are organising supplies and things people need.

“We are also organising donations of money and we are collecting clothing and other necessities to be sent to the camps,” she said.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says the refugees include many elderly people, women and children.

The UNHCR has called on all sides to protect civilians and to fully respect international humanitarian refugee law allowing them safe passage.

All parties must “refrain from actions that would cause displacement of civilians and ensure their safety, security and human rights and nobody should be forced to flee their homes”, the agency said in a statement.

“It’s essential that the rights of the displaced populations be protected and that they receive the humanitarian support they are owed,” said the spokesperson.

Armenia has been a point of geopolitical tensions for decades.

The Armenian government has recently argued openly with Russia, once its security guarantor, in a sign of shifts in the geopolitical landscape that are the genesis of the crisis.

In a statement, Russia’s foreign ministry blamed the Armenian leadership for the events in Nagorno-Karabkh, saying it “ran to the west” instead of working with Russia and Azerbaijan to achieve peace.

Armenia said more than 200 people were killed and 400 wounded in the recent attack by Azerbaijan forces, which was condemned by the US and other western allies of Armenia.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians have expressed suspicion over Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region is integrated.

While Armenia has called for an immediate deployment of a UN mission to monitor human rights and security in the region.

Most Armenians are reported to want to leave the region if it come under Azerbaijani control.

The European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee said the EU should impose serious consequences if there are attempts to remove Karabakh Armenians from their homes.

“This weekend’s developments in Nagorno-Karabakh underscore the serious concern for the Armenian population there,” EU foreign affairs chair David McAllister said.

“The reported blockages of humanitarian aid corridors, amid Azerbaijan’s public reassurances for the safety of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, do not contribute to the de-escalation of the situation. Instead, they will likely lead to the expulsion of the local population,” he said.

The centre-right German politician also cautioned that: “the ceasefire as well as the meeting between representatives of the Karabakh Armenians and the Azerbaijani government in Yevlakh were first steps, but they cannot remain the only ones.

“Azerbaijan must grant access to humanitarian organisations into the region, and guarantee the living standards, in order to credibly underline its commitment to lasting peace,” Mr McAllister said.

The conflict in the region has seen families separated with children were arriving in neighbouring Armenia unaccompanied, according to the UN.

There were also reports of people being detained by the Azerbaijani authorities, and the Armenian health ministry said some people, particularly the elderly, died while on the 40-hour journey due to malnutrition and a lack of medicine.

Tens of thousands of now-homeless people are on the move camping in hotels, schools, private homes, in their cars and even the streets, after they left their homes and homeland that no longer exists.

The crisis unfolded recently when Azerbaijan launched a lightning military campaign to take back the majority ethnic Armenian enclave that is internationally recognised as being part of Azerbaijani but has enjoyed de facto statehood for three decades.

In the 9 months leading up to the blitz, the Azerbaijanis had imposed a blockade strangling food, fuel, gas and water supplies to the area.

Weakened by the siege, outnumbered and outgunned by a military bolstered by Turkey, the Armenian separatist forces capitulated almost immediately.

Their political leaders said they would dissolve their government by the end of the year, triggering the exodus.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Armenian government.

People have taken to the streets demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan resign over his failure to defend Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia was already struggling financially and now needs to provide housing, medical care and jobs for thousands of refugees scattered across the country.

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