Senior U.S. officials head to Armenia as Karabakh’s Armenians begin departure

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Biden administration officials were due to arrive in Armenia on Monday, a U.S. official told Reuters, after ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began a mass exodus on Sunday after Azerbaijan ousted the breakaway region’s fighters in a conflict from the Soviet era.

The visit by U.S. Agency for International Development Director Samantha Power and U.S. State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim would be the first visit by senior U.S. officials to Armenia since the ceasefire last week.

Power will meet with senior government officials and “reaffirm U.S. support for Armenia’s democracy, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, as well as commitment to addressing the humanitarian needs in Nagorno-Karabakh,” the official said.

Power will be the first USAID administrator to travel to Armenia, the official said, and will reaffirm the U.S. partnership with the country and “express deep concern about the ethnic Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh and take action to address the humanitarian crisis.” Discuss the crisis there.” “

“The United States is deeply concerned by reports of humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for unimpeded access for international humanitarian organizations and commercial traffic,” the official said.

The Armenians of Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond its control, were forced into a ceasefire last week after a 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.

Armenians do not accept Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region integrates. Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership told Reuters that the region’s 120,000 Armenians did not want to live as part of Azerbaijan for fear of persecution and ethnic cleansing.

The Armenian government said late Sunday that a total of 1,050 people had entered the country from Nagorno-Karabakh. It was unclear when most of the population would move to Armenia.

Armenia has prepared shelters for tens of thousands of Armenians from the region, including hotels near the border, although Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he does not want them to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

Thousands of Karabakh Armenians no longer have food.

Armenian authorities in the region said late Saturday that about 150 tons of humanitarian cargo from Russia and another 65 tons of flour shipped by the International Committee of the Red Cross had arrived in the region.

Karabakh has been ruled by a breakaway government since a war in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2020, with support from Turkey, Azerbaijan won a 44-day Second Karabakh War after decades of skirmishes and recaptured territories in and around Karabakh. That war ended with a Russian-brokered peace deal that Armenians accuse Moscow of failing to guarantee.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Donna Bryson and Michael Perry)

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