Azerbaijan Showcases Captured Weapons as Nagorno-Karabakh’s Displaced Population Seeks Aid and Shelter

In a display of military might, Azerbaijan’s armed forces paraded heavy weapons, including tanks, guns, and RPGs, captured during the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. This presentation to journalists marks the first access given since Armenian separatists agreed to disarm earlier this week. However, amidst the military display, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, with thousands of displaced civilians left without shelter or sustenance.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in the South Caucasus, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Still, for the past three decades, large portions have been controlled by ethnic Armenians. The recent lightning-fast operation by Azerbaijan to reclaim the territory has led to significant humanitarian concerns.

Armenian leaders have reported that thousands of people in the region are without access to food and shelter, and only one aid delivery, consisting of 70 tonnes of food from the International Red Cross, has been allowed through so far. Russia has also mentioned delivering aid, although the exact quantities remain unknown.

Displaced from their villages and separated from their families, several thousand people find themselves sleeping in tents or out in the open near the airport in the main city of Stepanakert (known as Khankendi by Azerbaijan). The airport is in proximity to a base for Russian peacekeepers, five of whom tragically lost their lives during the recent fighting.

Amidst these dire circumstances, Armenia has called upon the United Nations to send a mission to monitor the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, asserting that their very existence is now under threat. Azerbaijan, however, denies these allegations, expressing its intention to reintegrate the region’s ethnic Armenian residents as equal citizens of the country.

The conflict has exacted a heavy toll, with at least 200 ethnic Armenians, including 10 civilians, losing their lives as Azerbaijan’s military advanced into the enclave. As the situation remains volatile, it is unclear what will happen to the 120,000 ethnic Armenians who reside in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan claims it wishes to reintegrate the region and has stated that “no one is kicking anyone out.” They also mention the preparedness of refugee camps outside of Karabakh to accept civilians. However, deep mistrust lingers on both sides, potentially dissuading many ethnic Armenians from relocating.

Azerbaijan has assured the United Nations that it will treat Karabakh Armenians as “equal citizens” and offers amnesty to fighters who surrender their weapons, allowing them to leave for Armenia if they so choose. Meanwhile, Armenia has established facilities to accommodate thousands of civilians, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan expressing his desire for them to stay unless absolutely necessary.

Despite these assurances, many in Stepanakert seem inclined to leave. Journalist Siranush Sargsyan revealed, “I don’t know anyone who wants to stay here. I have very close elderly relatives who lost their sons in previous wars, and they prefer to die here. But for most people, for my generation, it’s already their fourth war.”

US Senator Gary Peters, leading a congressional delegation to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, has called for the creation of an international observer mission, emphasizing the urgent need for transparency and accountability. He stated, “I think the world needs to know exactly what’s happening in there.”

While areas visited by the BBC appeared empty of civilians, with only police, soldiers, and a few construction workers visible, there has been no major violence reported since the surrender. However, the pressing humanitarian crisis underscores the immediate need for international assistance and oversight in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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