Nagorno-Karabakh’s half population flees

YEREVAN: The separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh said Thursday it will dissolve itself and the unrecognized republic will cease to exist by year’s end after a three-decade bid for independence, while Armenian officials said over half of the region’s population has already fled.
The moves came after Azerbaijan carried out a lightning offensive last week to reclaim full control over the breakaway region and demanded that Armenian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh disarm and the separatist government disband. A decree signed by the region’s separatist President Samvel Shakhramanyan cited a Sept. 20 agreement to end the fighting under which Azerbaijan will allow the “free, voluntary and unhindered movement” of Nagorno-Karabakh residents to Armenia. Some of those who fled the regional capital of Stepanakert said they had no hope for the future.
“I left Stepanakert having a slight hope that maybe something will change and I will come back soon, and these hopes are ruined after reading about the dissolution of our government,” 21-year-old student Ani Abaghyan told The Associated Press.
Lawyer Anush Shahramanyan, 30, lamented that “we can never go back to our homes without having an independent government in Artaskh,” referring to Nagorno-Karabakh by its Armenian name. The mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from the mountainous region inside Azerbaijan began Sunday. By Thursday evening, over 78,300 people — more than 65% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population of 120,000 — had fled to Armenia, and the influx continued unabated, according to Armenian officials. –Agencies