Turkey’s Erdogan meets with Azerbaijan’s Aliyev as thousands flee Karabakh

(Updates to reflect video and images available for story)

(Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will meet his ally Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Monday, as thousands of ethnic Armenians began an exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan defeated the breakaway region’s fighters last week.

Erdogan will pay a one-day visit to Azerbaijan’s autonomous exclave of Nakhchivan – a strip of Azerbaijani territory between Armenia, Iran and Turkey – to discuss the situation in the Karabakh region with Aliyev, the Turkish president’s office said.

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

On Sunday, Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership told Reuters that the region’s 120,000 Armenians did not want to live as part of Azerbaijan and were fleeing the region for fear of persecution and ethnic cleansing.

Russian news agency RIA quoted an Armenian government statement early Monday morning saying more than 1,500 people had entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh as of midnight (2000 GMT).

According to a Reuters reporter in the Karabakh capital, called Stepanakert in Armenia and Khankendi in Azerbaijan, those with fuel had begun driving along the Lachin corridor toward the border with Armenia.

Reuters images showed dozens of cars driving out of the capital toward the corridor’s mountainous curves.

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

Erdogan, who supported Azerbaijanis with weapons in the 2020 conflict, said last week he supported the goals of Azerbaijan’s latest military operation but played no role in it.

According to Armenia, more than 200 people were killed and 400 injured in last week’s Azerbaijani operation, a hostility that was condemned by the United States and other Western allies of Armenia.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said it had seized additional military equipment from Armenian separatists, including rockets, artillery shells, mines and ammunition.

Karabakh Armenians do not accept Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region integrates. Armenia called for the immediate deployment of a UN mission to monitor human rights and security in the region.

“99.9 percent prefer to leave our historic country,” David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, the president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, told Reuters.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Michael Perry)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

Brian Ashcraft

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