Half of the population of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region have been displaced since fierce fighting erupted more than a week ago between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan, the region's officials said Wednesday.
Baku and Yerevan have for decades been locked in a simmering conflict over the ethnically Armenian region of Azerbaijan, which broke away from Baku in a 1990s war that claimed the lives of some 30,000 people.
Both sides have defied calls for a ceasefire and accused the other of starting the new clashes that began on September 27 and have seen the heaviest fighting since a 1994 ceasefire.
“According to our preliminary estimates, some 50 percent of Karabakh’s population and 90 percent of women and children -- or some 70,000-75,000 people -- have been displaced,” Karabakh rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan told AFP.
Beglaryan said residents displaced by the fighting have sought refuge elsewhere in the disputed provence or have fled to safety in Armenia and other locations.
Intermittent shelling by Azerbaijan’s forces has turned Karabakh’s main city Stepanakert into a ghost town dotted with unexploded munitions and shell craters.
Azerbaijan has accused Armenian forces of shelling civilian targets in urban areas, including in the country’s second-largest city of Ganja, home to more than 330,000 people.
The number of Azerbaijan residents displaced by the fighting has yet to be determined, a foreign ministry spokesperson told AFP.
Nearly 290 people have been confirmed killed since the clashes erupted, including more than 47 civilians.
There are fears the fighting could expand into an all-out, multi-front war drawing in regional powers Turkey and Russia.
Armenia and Karabakh have declared martial law and military mobilization, while Azerbaijan imposed military rule and a curfew in large cities.
Talks to resolve the conflict have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.