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Exodus and ethnic cleansing? The sudden end of a decadeslong dream in the Caucasus

The announcement came as around 70,000 of the enclave’s population of about 120,000 fled from the region, which sits within Azerbaijan’s borders, to neighboring Armenia, according to Armenia’s government, with more still arriving. 

Many residents hauled what few personal belongings they could gather into packed cars, trucks, buses and tractors, some pockmarked with shrapnel after days of Azerbaijani attacks. 

Armenia’s leadership has accused Azerbaijan of instigating a refugee crisis by launching a swift invasion this week. Azerbaijan has denied allegations of “ethnic cleansing,” saying it is not forcing people to leave, and would peacefully reintegrate the region and guarantee rights of ethnic Armenians.

Holding a wealth of monasteries, mosques and other religious sites, Nagorno-Karabakh is culturally significant for both Muslim Azeris and what was an overwhelming Christian Armenian population. Armenians in Azerbaijan have been victims of pogroms, while Azerbaijanis claim discrimination and violence at the hands of Armenians.

“Azerbaijan has won a comprehensive military victory and what we’re looking at now is the prospect of Nagorno-Karabakh without Armenians or with very few Armenians remaining,” said Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with the London-based Carnegie Europe think tank. “So in that sense, Azerbaijan has won.”

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